- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
It’s tough to walk away from Oregon’s 24-17 win over the California Golden Bears with much more confidence than you had going into it. The Ducks lost their first game of the season two weeks ago against Stanford, and a well-placed bye week gave them an opportunity to correct mistakes and get back on the right track entering the second half of the slate.
On Friday night, it didn’t look like they made many improvements at all, needing a 4th quarter comeback led by QB Anthony Brown in order to escape with a victory against a now 1-5 team that is near the bottom of the Pac-12 power rankings. For the second straight game, Oregon’s defense faced a 4th and goal situation with less than 5 seconds on the clock and their inferior opponent looking for a chance to send the game into overtime.
The result was better against Cal on Friday, but it’s still not a situation that you want your top-10 ranked team to repeatedly be in.
A win is a win, and the Ducks live to fight another day, but the questions we had about this team going into the bye week have only been magnified. There were some good moments on Friday and some bad. Here are a few takeaways we had from Oregon’s close win over Cal:
Travis Dye is ready for the workload
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
Going into this game, we all wanted to see how running back Travis Dye would be able to handle an increased workload with fellow RB CJ Verdell out for the season with a lower leg injury.
Dye responded as well as you could have expected, rushing for 145 yards and a touchdown while adding 73 yards receiving as well. With the performance, Dye moved into the No. 10 spot on Oregon’s all-time rushing list and calmed a lot of worries about the offense’s ability to tout a strong running game with Verdell out for the season.
“If you look over the years, Travis has always been a tremendous offensive weapon for us in everything,” Mario Cristobal said after the game. “Certainly, we are going to miss CJ [Verdell]. CJ is a tremendous player as well, but these two guys together did so much and maybe some of it gets lost because of some of the attention that goes to different players. But Travis has always been the complete, ultimate teammate and competitor. Tonight, he got some more opportunities and just played really, really tough and physical. His hard work in the offseason really showed up and paid off in different ways. He was all over the place tonight, so he will keep getting those opportunities as long as it works out for him.”
Dye is a small-statured back, standing at just 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, but he was able to play much bigger than that on Friday, shouldering the load in the offense and driving Oregon down the field. If there is any worry that the Ducks’ running game might fall back a step without Verdell, that should be put to rest now.
Penalties continue to be an issue for Oregon
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
One of the biggest problems that the Ducks have had all season is an inability to get out of their own way. Routinely, they shoot themselves in the foot, usually by committing a needless penalty that halts the momentum of a drive or gives the opposing offense an unearned first down.
This happened yet again on Friday night, with Oregon racking up 9 penalties for a total of 82 yards. At times they were deep in the red zone with a chance to score, and a penalty knocked them back into field goal range. Other times, inexcusable unsportsmanlike conduct fouls gave Cal new life. It’s a problem that has followed the Ducks throughout the entire season.
“We have worked it really hard, and it has not paid off like we expected it to,” Cristobal said after the game. “I have to look at myself because I preach a really aggressive brand of football. We work it that way, we also work to avoid penalties – we have officials at every practice – but it is just not getting through.”
Through six games, Oregon ranks 123rd in the nation when it comes to penalty yards per game, averaging 79.67 a contest. That is a ranking out of 130 FBS teams.
Shooting yourself in the foot with unnecessary mistakes? You could say it’s a problem for the Ducks.
“There is a clear line that we can not cross, and some of these penalties are unavoidable but some are just selfish,” Cristobal said. “I have to find a way to get through in some way, shape, or form, and I am going to do that.”
Anthony Brown is the guy, for better or for worse
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
Throughout the game, a loud array of boos rained down from the student section whenever QB Anthony Brown fell short of expectations. That happened often in the second half, with the Ducks routinely getting stopped on third down or playing short of the sticks. Chants for Ty Thompson were abundant, and unrest was palpable.
Brown answered those boos by leading two 60-plus yard scoring drives to eventually give the Ducks the lead, and his stat-line for the game — 20-for-28 with 244 yards and 2 TD — was good enough to let him live another week.
Despite what fans want to see, it appears that the Oregon coaches and players are steadfast in their decision to ride with the sixth-year senior.
“AB is our guy, he’s our leader, and we’re rolling with him regardless,” offensive lineman Ryan Walk said after the game.
Brown responded well to the overwhelming criticism on Friday night, but you have to wonder how much the coaching staff and players took note of the uneasiness of the crowd. They can say that AB is their guy, but will disapproval from a fanbase at least force them to look at the shortcomings from the quarterback?
That’s a question that we don’t have an answer to, but one that we’ve been encouraging Mario Cristobal to look at in-depth. For now, though, it’s pretty clear that there is no QB change on the horizon, and the Ducks are going to stick with their sixth-year senior, for better or for worse.
Kayvon Thibodeaux and Noah Sewell are elite
(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
The defensive excellence that we saw from both Noah Sewell and Kayvon Thibodeaux on Friday night is hard to comprehend.
Yet again, Sewell played the entire game and led Oregon in tackles with 12, six of which were solo. The sophomore linebacker also has one sack, one tackle for loss, and one pass breakup. At this point in his college career, it’s not crazy to start putting him up there with some of the greats to ever play for the Ducks.
“I think he’s the best. He’s the best I’ve been around at that position,” Cristobal said after the game. “I mean it’s almost deja vu with when Penei was here and I felt that way. I feel the same way about Noah. That’s a guy that last year didn’t get a lot of time to train and only played in 6 or 7 games. Now we’re in this season and every single game he is taking over. He’s doing so many great things and he does it in a physical manner. He is a knock back tackler who changes the game at the line of scrimmage, he can rush the passer, he covers a lot of ground from sideline to sideline and makes up for sometimes when there is a missed tackle. He’s an elite player and elite human being.”
As for Thibodeaux, the future first-round NFL draft pick had to sit out for the first half due to a targeting-related suspension from the Stanford game, but he made the most with his two quarters on the field. Thibodeaux finished the game with five tackles and one sack, and according to PFF, had 11 QB pressures in his 22 pass-rushing snaps.
His dominance and destruction set both College Football Twitter and NFL Draft Twitter ablaze with admiration and anticipation for his future at the next level.
While the Ducks may not be one of the best teams in the nation as a whole, it’s clear that they have some players that are as talented as anyone playing the game.
It's time to reconsider the ceiling for this Oregon team
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
The Ducks picked up a win on Friday night, but the victory was anything but inspiring. A host of flaws continually pops up each and every week, and at this point, the inconsistency that has haunted this Oregon team seems capable of rearing its ugly head at any time.
While they sit at 5-1 with a clear path towards a return trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game and an outside opportunity to make it to the College Football Playoff, it’s becoming increasingly harder to admit anything other than the fact that this Oregon Ducks team may not be that great.
That statement needs some clarification. The Ducks are good. They are arguably the best team in the Pac-12 conference. However, this team is not great. This is not a squad worthy of a top-5 ranking in the nation, or even a top-10 ranking if we’re being honest. It is a collective group with many flaws and few answers six weeks into the season.
They have some of the most talented players in the nation who will undoubtedly be playing on Sundays in the near future, but time and again, they are unable to put it all together and piece together a dominant win. At this point in the season, we now have a big enough sample size to call this team what it is: A talented football team that has the ability to be great but is inconsistent enough that it’s hard to trust they will look good any week.
Whether that changes going forward is yet to be seen, but unless we admit who this team really is, the rest of the season has a chance to be pretty frustrating to watch.