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Cal Football

Oregon Preview: Ducks Are Good and Getting Better

October 2, 2019
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Oregon, ranked 13th in both polls, has a lot going for it when the Ducks (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) host Cal (4-1, 1-1) Saturday afternoon at 5 p.m.

Number one is senior quarterback Justin Herbert, who is second in the conference in passing yardage (281.8 yards per game) and first in passer rating (183.1). These days a quarterback who plays as a senior is usually not good enough for the NFL or he would be gone by then. That is not the case with Herbert.

The 6-6, 237-pounder would have been a very high draft choice, possibly the first, had he opted to turn pro after last season. But he chose to return to Eugene for one last go-round, and so far he has done nothing to hurt his stock. He is 96-for-129 passing for 1,127 yards, 14 touchdowns, and zero (count ‘em zero) interceptions. His 32 consecutive games played with a TD pass and 174 attempts without an interception are the longest on-going streaks in FBS.

He has a strong arm, is mobile and hard to tackle when he gets going. 

Under second-year coach Mario Cristobal, the Ducks are far from a one-man show. Herbert has a talented receiving corps that is about to get a whole lot better with the imminent return of some hitherto missing pieces. The senior-heavy offensive line is good at protecting Herbert and opening holes for ball carriers CJ Verdell (231 yards in 54 carries) and Travis Dye (153 in 30). 

Oregon Athletics
Troy Dye (35)

The defense, led by linebacker Troy Dye (Travis’ big brother)  and nose guard Jordon Scott -- both second-team All-Pac-12 in 2018 -- is among the best in the country, The Ducks are first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (10.5 points per game), and total defense (267.8 yards per game). They also have sacked opposing quarterbacks 15 times; Devon Modster, look out.

“Those guys are very athletic,” Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin said. “They move well, they get to the football well. They react well.  Your margin for error, your timing on certain things, it’s bang-bang. Your windows are going to close, your doors are going to close. You might think you have the edge and they’re going to get there. They’re impressive.”

Dye might be among the most impressive. Called an “athletic freak” by some NFL scouts, he, like Herbert, mulled declaring for the draft last spring. He would have been a first or second-rounder, and if he stays healthy, it will probably be the same this time. Scott is on the watch lists for the Outland Trophy and the Bronko Nagurski Award and is a load in the middle.

The cornerbacks, Thomas Graham and Deommodore Lenoir, are both returning starters and make life difficult for opposing receivers. 

Where the Ducks figure to get better soon is at wide receiver. Senior Brenden Schooler, freshman Mycah Pittman and transfer (Penn State) Juwan Johnson, who have missed the first four games with injuries, are back on the depth chart and presumably good to go.

The Ducks had been going with many receivers who were either new to the position or new to the school. Offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said now he might be able to open the playbook a little more. “You don't need to be limited in certain packages because guys haven't done it," Arroyo told the Oregon media.

Oregon Athletics
Mario Cristobal

Oregon, which had a bye last weekend, is coming off three straight victories, in which it outscored the opposition 133-15. But the most impressive game this year is the 27-21 loss in the season opener to Auburn, currently ranked seventh. The Ducks did not trail until the final nine seconds. If they play that well Saturday, the Bears are in trouble.

 

Notes

  • California leads the overall series, 40-39-2. But the Ducks have won two straight and nine of the last ten.
  • Jacob Breeland is tied for the lead among FBS tight ends with five TD receptions. He has 14 catches for 239 yards and five TDs in the last three games.
  • Punter Jacob Malmone is third in the conference, averaging 46.4 yards on 17 punts.
  • On the other end, the Ducks’ Jevon Holland is first in the nation in punt return average at 24.5 yards per kick.
  • Because of the nature of the Ducks’ games, freshman Camden Lewis, considered a five-star recruit coming out of high school, has attempted just two field goals and missed them both.
  • The Ducks have outscored opponents 84-15 in the first half this year and have not allowed a first-half touchdown.
  • Oregon has limited opponents to just ten conversions in 34 third-down attempts.
  • In their last 29 games as a ranked team, the Ducks have won 26.
  • Herbert has thrown nine TD passes against the Bears, tied for his most against any one team.
  • Under Cristobal, the Ducks are 8-1 in Autzen Stadium.
  • Junior Johnny Johnson III leads the Ducks with 22 pass receptions. 

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