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Oregon Blasts Helpless Cal Defense in 63-19 Loss in Eugene

November 4, 2023

AUTZEN STADIUM - Under rainy skies in Eugene, #6 Oregon romped over a helpless Bears defense in a 63-19 win at Oregon.

Continuing their trend of porous defense, the Bears took things to a new level in the loss, sometimes leaving receivers with as much as 5-10 yards of separation through much of the game, particularly in the second half. The Ducks scored touchdowns on six of their last seven drives to close out the game in their decisive win. The Bears surrendered 444 yards through the air and 597 yards overall in the loss.

The game got off on the right foot for the Bears after winning the opening coin flip, deferring to receive the kick in the second half, stopping the opening kick return on the Duck 16 and immediately intercepting a Bo Nix pass off the hands of receiver Gary Bryant Jr by safety Patrick McMorris at the Oregon 37, all in the span of the opening 12 seconds. 

The Bears were unable to capitalize, settling for a Mateen Bhagani field goal attempt from 41 that was blocked after a high snap but the Bears caught a break with an offsides call and a sideline interference penalty adding an additional 15 yards. Again, the Bears were unable to capitalize, as QB Fernando Mendoza was hit while throwing on the next play as the ball harmlessly floated into the waiting arms of Duck safety Steve Stephens at the Oregon 14.

On the ensuing drive, the Bears had Oregon pinned at the Cal 47 with 2nd and 37 after a pair of Duck penalties but undeterred, Nix hit receiver Tez Johnson in stride, splitting nickel back Kaylin Moore and McMorris for a 47-yard TD to take a 7-0 lead with 7 minutes remaining in the quarter. The broken coverage on the 2nd and 37 play was emblematic of the kind of defensive breakdowns that have continually derailed the Bears’ season.

After a pair of 3-and-out possessions, disaster struck again for Cal. Facing 3rd-and-3 on the Cal 22, Mendoza coughed up the ball under pressure with the fumble recovered by the Ducks at the Cal half-yard line. A Bo Nix keeper gave the Ducks a 14-0 lead with 4;40 remaining in the quarter.

Mendoza struggled much of the day under Oregon’s heavy pressure, sticking in the pocket and often taking big hits and seeing balls tipped several times in the contest. Overall, Mendoza completed 18 of 34 passes for 177 yards and one interception with no TDs. Despite the pressure, the Bears only surrendered one sack on the day.

"This is a top defense, and they're number six in the country for a reason," Mendoza noted after the loss. "But at the end of the day, we can't make excuses. Our offense at times, we sliced right through them, except for myself. In the beginning portion, our defense did a great job and scored a touchdown. And they also got the ball for us in the red zone. So that's on myself for having two turnovers, especially against the number team in the nation, for us to win. Although we have extremely talented players, they're extremely well-coached over there. We were talking about previously that for us to win, we needed to be close to perfect on decision making in the mental and realm and I certainly wasn't there today."

The Bears finally got things going on the next drive, going 48 yards in 6 plays on the strength of Mendoza completions of 16 yards to WR Jeremiah Hunter and 30 yards to receiver Trond Grizzell but the drive stalled, as the Bears settled for a 43-yard Bhaghani field goal to move to 14-3.

Following the kickoff, the Ducks took a page from the Cal playbook on the next play from scrimmage as receiver Tez Johnson while in motion ran directly into the snap, with the ball spinning back to the Oregon 9 where cornerback Nohl Williams scooped it up and returned it for a touchdown to pull the Bears to within 14-10 with 1:32 left in the quarter. The Bears managed to put 10 first-quarter points on the board despite only gaining 51 yards in the quarter.

After the Ducks missed a 53-yard field goal attempt, the Bears took over with good field position at their 43, driving to the Oregon 12 before their drive stalled. Bhaghani came on to convert a 27-yard kick to pull the Bears to within 1 at 14-13 with 11:28 remaining in the half.

It was the closest they’d get the rest of the day.

The Ducks extended their lead on the next possession, methodically driving 72 yards in 12 plays, with Nix punching it in on a 1-yard keeper to go up 21-13 with 5:21 left in the half.

After forcing another 3-and-out, Oregon took over at their 37 and made quick work of the porous Cal defense, going 63 yards in 6 plays, with Nix hitting receiver Tez Johnson on a 14-yard TD pass with NB Littlejohn badly trailing to go up 28-13 with 1:39 left in the half.

On the next possession, the Bears were only able to burn 30 seconds on the clock before going 3-and-out, giving the Ducks yet another opportunity to score after botched coverage on a 47-yard Johnson return gave the Ducks prime position at the Cal 21. Four plays later, the Ducks hit paydirt again on a 7-yard Nix to Troy Franklin TD pass with cornerback Jeremiah Earby trailing on the play, giving the Ducks an insurmountable 35-13 lead into the locker room.

After the break, the Bears put together their best drive of the day to that point, going 75 yards in six plays, with 18-yard and 26-yard receptions by receivers Brian Hightower and Jeremiah Hunter moving the ball to the Oregon 20 before running back Jaydn Ott bounced outside for an impressive 20-yard TD run. After the failed conversion, the Bears trailed Oregon 34-19 just 1:13 into the 2nd half.

After trading 3-and-outs, the Oregon punt pinned the Bears on the Cal 3. Unable to move the ball, a 43-yard Lachlan Wilson punt gave the Ducks the ball at the Cal 49. They wasted no time getting back on the scoreboard, driving the 49 yards in just five plays, extending their lead to 42-19 on a 6-yard Bucky Irving run with 8:30 left in the 3rd quarter.

The Bears went on another strong drive on the next possession, driving 70 yards to the Oregon 5 after a 21-yard Hunter catch brought the ball to the Oregon 5 before disaster struck. Running back Jaivian Thomas bobbled the handoff and was blasted with a helmet-to-helmet shot and dropped like a rock, not moving an inch until he was strapped to an emergency board and slowly carted off the field. 

"He's at the hospital undergoing tests," head coach Justin Wilcox noted after the game of Thomas. "He's alert, interacting with doctors. He does have movement feeling in his extremities, which is good news, but there's still a lot of testing going on and we're all praying for him."

"I'll say this: Jaivian Thomas, I regard him as one of my best friends on the team," Mendoza said after the game. "He's the best human beings ever made. So when he went down, my heart sunk and I know that all of our teammates' hearts sunk.

"I told the team by sideline that Jaivian would want us to keep on fighting through that. And I know Jaivian is a fierce competitor. He puts in a ton of passion and is a really talented young player and I believe he'll play football for a long long time. It was really tough seeing Jaivian go down but today we just need to keep our heads up and keep Jaivian in our prayers."

Oregon recovered the fumble at their 1 and drove 99 yards for another TD. Maybe suffering from the mental strain of seeing their fallen teammate, the Bears displayed pitiful pass coverage in the drive, sometimes leaving receivers as much as 10 yards in the clear on several passes on the drive as Oregon went up 49-19 with 14:11 left in the game.

The Ducks forced another 3-and-out on the next possession and took over at their 44 after a 17-yard Johnson return. Four plays later, the Ducks were in the end zone again after backup running back Jordan james ran straight through five tackles for a 16-yard TD to extend Oregon’s lead to 56-19 with 9:51 left in the game.

After forcing a turnover on downs at the Cal 41, the Ducks put the final nail in the coffin, driving the 41 yards in 10 plays for a final touchdown on a 6-yard Traeshon Holden reception from backup QB Ty Thompson to push it to the final 63-19 margin.

When asked about the team’s struggles against some of the better teams in the conference like Oregon after the game, Wilcox said: "I'm more concerned with our team. Those are very talented teams. The level of speed and size and explosiveness is pretty evident. A couple of years ago, we're up here playing (with the game decided on) the last play of the game and these last couple of years just look different. We've had a harder time. And so I've got to do a better job with with the team, continuing to develop the players on our team, continuing to recruit and recruit talented guys who can help us contend and obviously, we're way far away (from that) today. I've got to do a better job."

The defense was led by safety Craig Woodson with 15 tackles and freshman MLB Cade Uluave with 14 tackles and 1 TFL.

The Bears will next face off against Washington State at home at 1 pm at Memorial Stadium.

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Oregon Blasts Helpless Cal Defense in 63-19 Loss in Eugene

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