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Oregon’s Loss to Auburn Feels Hauntingly Familiar

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The ghost of Dyer past?

NCAA Football: Advocare Classic-Auburn vs Oregon Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

ARLINGTON, TEXAS

TIGERS 27 - DUCKS 21

The Oregon Ducks (0-1, 0-0) lost to the Auburn Tigers (1-0, 0-0) in Arlington, Texas by a score of 27 to 21. The desolation of the receiving corps alongside a fourth quarter collapse from the offense led to a 15-point comeback for true freshman Bo Nix and the Auburn Tigers.

The Ducks will look to rebound this Saturday against the Nevada Wolf Pack, who are coming off of a game-winning field goal against the Purdue Boilermakers, while the Tigers get ready to play back-to-back tune-up games against Tulane and then Kent State.

As week one’s only ranked vs ranked match-up, Oregon received more national coverage than usual this past weekend, which is still overall a good thing. The second half meltdown certainly doesn’t help Oregon or the PAC-12’s image, but depending on how these once great powers finish the season, it’s still possible Duck fans look back at this as a character-building loss.

But one thing is for sure, we were awfully close to a program defining win before it slipped out of our hands in the final seconds.


OREGON RECEIVING

Johnny Johnson: 7 rec - 98 YDS

Jaylon Redd: 9 rec - 64 YDS

Spencer Webb: 3 rec - 28 YDS - 1 TD

Jacob Breeland: 4 rec - 26 YDS

Josh Delgado: 1 rec - 9 YDS

Travis Dye: 1 rec - 7 YDS

Bryan Addison: 1 rec - 6 YDS

CJ Verdell: 2 rec - 4 YDS

Going into this season it was clear that the receiving corps was the unit most in need of a reliable playmaker, which made Oregon’s recent string of injuries especially devastating; JR Waters, Mycah Pittman, Brenden Schooler, and Juwan Johnson all were absent due to injury. Johnson’s injury took Duck fans by surprise as it wasn’t fully announced until game time, a game-changing loss considering the Penn State transfer was slotted to start after quickly earning the job in fall camp.

Things got off to an ugly start when Cristobal was forced to use a timeout on the game’s opening play from scrimmage, but the Duck pass-catchers made a statement by amassing 64 yards through the air in the opening drive. Johnny Johnson III was especially lethal in the first couple minutes of the game, catching a 47-yard pass to set up a Duck touchdown drive to take the lead.

Jaylon Redd, who would finish with the second most receiving yards after Johnson III, remained a reliable option for Herbert and was able to save a handful of drives by providing a quick option in the slot. In a time with so much attrition at receiver, Redd’s experience and speed are more valuable to the team than ever.

Oregon’s second drive nearly put them up two scores after Avalos’ squad was able to force the three-and-out, but a dropped short pass to redshirt freshman Bryan Addison in the end zone resulted in true freshman Camden Lewis’ first field goal attempt, an attempt that flew wide right from 20 yards away.

Spencer Webb made the best and first catch of his career by using his big body to box out a defensive back in the end zone, giving him the space needed to snatch the 20-yard score in the third quarter. Tight end Jacob Breeland appeared to be once again healthy and contributed 26 yards on 4 receptions. Delgado, Addison, Verdell and Dye each caught just a single pass.

NCAA Football: Advocare Classic-Auburn vs Oregon Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

OREGON PASSING

Justin Herbert: 28/37 - 242 YDS - 1 TD

Heavy lies the crown on the hometown Heisman hopeful. Justin Herbert once again had moments of greatness followed by moments of overly cautious play that left the offense in a bad position.

Herbert’s favorite target left for the NFL in the offseason, forcing the senior QB to find new go-to options. As two of the most experienced receivers on the roster, Redd and Johnson III were called upon to recreate Mitchell’s production and overall succeeded in providing reliable outlets for the passing game. For awhile, the success of the passing game made Oregon faithful forget about 2018’s frequent dropped passes, that is until redshirt freshman Addison dropped a potential score.

Herbert’s only touchdown pass of the game took place near the end of the first quarter: following an Auburn drive that cut the Duck lead to 7-3, Oregon needed just three plays to go 75 yards for the score. Herbert hit Webb for the 20-yard touchdown pass which put the Ducks up by two scores.

NCAA Football: Advocare Classic-Auburn vs Oregon Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The first horrific flashback of the evening occurred with 6:15 left in the first half, just after an astounding 81-yard punt return from Jevon Holland. Duck fans were jolted back to last season’s Stanford implosion once Big Kat Bryant picked up an unforced Oregon turnover (a mishandled mesh) and returned it 83 yards. Fortunately, Addison showed great hustle by sprinting the length of the field and tackling Bryant on the 3-yard line where Avalos was able to force the Tigers to settle for a field goal.

Herbert was 1-of-4 in his next couple of drives and finished the half 10-of-16 with 122 yards in the air and a touchdown. After forcing a three-and-out to start the third quarter, Oregon put together their final scoring drive before the Auburn defense began to shut them down. Herbert hit Johnson III, Verdell, Breeland, and Webb to work his way down the field in a 9-play, 53-yard drive. The fact that Oregon’s two most impressive drives took place on their opening possession of the game and their first possession in the third quarter suggests Cristobal and crew are good at scripted drives but easy to figure out once they get a lead.

The rest of the game brought back some terrible memories from Oregon past. How many times have we seen Oregon become overly cautious with a second half lead (Alamo Bowl, ‘16 Wazzu, ‘17 Nebraska, ‘18 Stanford come to mind). To Cristobal’s credit, Oregon didn’t just run it up the middle for the remainder of the game; in the last 22 minutes of play, the Ducks threw the ball 15 times and ran the ball eight.

The conservative style of play after Oregon’s third quarter touchdown amounted to two three-and-outs, zero points and only 75 yards of offense. If the goal was to run down the clock Herbert left a lot of time on the table, but the amount of passing plays suggests Cristobal was anxious for a game winning drive but could not outwit the Auburn defense to sustain their goal.

Herbert’s final play was a Hail Mary that soared over everybody. He wasn’t the reason we lost this game, but it’s hard not to be left wanting more from a senior quarterback with all the physical abilities to be an NFL starter.

NCAA Football: Advocare Classic-Auburn vs Oregon Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

OREGON RUSHING

CJ Verdell: 14 car - 76 YDS - 1 TD

Travis Dye: 6 car - 23 YDS

Darrian Felix: 2 car - 7 YDS - 1 TD

Cyrus Habibi-Likio: 2 car - 5 YDS

The talking point for this game was Oregon’s offensive line against Auburn’s defensive line, and that particular match-up mostly lived up to expectation. The Ducks performed valiantly against the Tiger’s vaunted pass rushers, allowing three sacks and six tackles for a loss. But just like in the Redbox Bowl, Oregon’s rushing offense came to a grinding halt against an elite front seven.

CJ Verdell saw the most time out of all the running backs, finishing with 76 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. All night, the sophomore barreled his way through the line but was rarely able to break through to the next level. Fortunately, he wasn’t asked to run farther than a yard to score Oregon’s first touchdown of the evening on 4th and goal.

Oregon’s next attempt on 4th down was nowhere near as successful. With 5:30 left in the game, the Ducks were on the Tiger 41-yard line with one-yard to go for the first down. Everyone in the world knew a run to the left was coming, and the second Herbert handed Verdell the ball from the pistol a slew of Auburn defenders had already blown up the line.

WHAT THE DUCK?

This week’s WTD moment has to be when Cristobal and company called not just one but two timeouts before a critical fourth-and-one. Herbert was taken out of the play due to a minor knee injury and the Ducks called a timeout both to calm down the offense and apparently attempt to sub back in Herbert.

But the officials were quick to send Oregon’s veteran quarterback back to the sideline, as the rules stated that Herbert needed to wait at least one play before reentering the game. Unfortunately, it happened to be one of the game’s most crucial plays and Cristobal appeared to be completely unaware of the rule.

The Ducks called ANOTHER timeout yet still managed to get stuffed on the proceeding rushing attempt. This is only one of Cristobal’s questionable in-game decisions but it leaves the worst taste in your mouth out of all of them.

Dye had trouble finding playing time behind Verdell and managed just one rushing play longer than 10 yards. At one point, both Dye and Verdell were sidelined due to minor injuries, resulting in sophomore Darrian Felix playing the most meaningful minutes of his young career. Though he only carried the ball twice before Verdell was able to return to the game, Felix made the most of his touches by scoring Oregon’s only second half touchdown of the evening after freezing a couple defenders with some nifty misdirection.


It was like the Stanford game and the 2011 National Championship all rolled into one, only with less at stake.


NCAA Football: Advocare Classic-Auburn vs Oregon Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

NOTABLE TIGERS

Bo Nix: 13/31 - 177 YDS - 2 TDS - 2 INT - 7 car - 42 YDS

Boobie Whitlow: 24 car - 110 YDS

Seth Williams: 4 rec - 41 YDS - 1 TD

Sal Cannella: 2 rec - 42 YDS

K.J. Britt: 7 tackles - 2 solo - .5 sack - 1.5 TFL

Jeremiah Dinson: 13 tackles - 8 solo - 1 sack - 2 TFL

Big Kat Bryant: 1 fumble recovery

There was no clear MVP for the Auburn Tigers, though Nix’s legacy is sure to take off with a shot of adrenaline now that he’s led his team to a comeback victory in his college debut. Truth is, Nix showed flashes of what has so many excited for him, but more often than not looked like a freshman.

Twice the young quarterback killed drives via interception and Oregon’s constant pressure had him dodging linebackers on a regular basis, which is another testament to his athleticism. But none of his early game blunders will be remembered, only his final drive.

With two minutes left in the game, Nix led the team 60 yards in 11 plays to score the game’s final touchdown. The drive was kick-started when Nix kept the offense on the field by converting a fourth-and-three by powering through a defender. The play seemed to spark the freshman’s confidence as his accuracy began to increase (potentially in part due to a gassed secondary) and he was able to connect with Seth Williams for the game-winning score.

NCAA Football: Advocare Classic-Auburn vs Oregon Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

OREGON DEFENSE

TIGER PASSING: 177 YDS - 13/32 - 2 TD - 2 INT

TIGER RUSHING: 206 YDS - 43 car - 1 TD

TURNOVERS FORCED: Ducks 2 - Tigers 1

Just like the 2011 National Championship game, Oregon’s successful defense was ultimately let down by their floundering offense. Avalos’ new defense thrived on confusing young Nix and a shifting point of attack saw multiple Oregon defenders sprinting towards the quarterback.

Sophomore Jevon Holland lived up to the tall task of replacing Ugo Amadi by snatching his sixth career interception and returning a punt for 81 yards. Troy Dye led the team with 15 tackles but occasionally underperformed when called into pass protection. Next to him, Isaac Slade-Matautia made six solo tackles and appears to be ready to take on a larger role as a starter.

Thomas Graham Jr. recorded the second pick of the night in the second quarter. The turnover ended an 11-play, 65-yard drive in the Oregon red zone and protected the 14-3 lead at the time.

For fans desperate to find the silver lining, look no further than the tenacity of this defense. They were called upon far too often but adapted to Avalos’ system remarkably quickly. As painful as it sounds, Duck fans should start to expect these close gut-check games when Cristobal isn’t able to coast through a contest with his superior talent. And the more often these nail-biters occur the more important the discipline and depth of this defense will become, so we should at least take solace in the fact that they looked competent in week one on the road against a ranked team.

ALL-GANG GREEN TEAM

  • Troy Dye: 15 tackles - 10 solo
  • Isaac Slade-Matautia: 6 tackles - 6 solo
  • Jevon Holland: 4 tackles - 3 solo - 1 INT
  • Thomas Graham Jr: 4 tackles - 2 solo - 1 INT
NCAA Football: Advocare Classic-Auburn vs Oregon Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

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