Stop me if this sounds familiar: Oregon plays its Pac-12 opener against an improving program led by a first-year coach with a reputation for running a prolific offense who comes to Autzen Stadium, only for that team to fall victim to a blowout loss by the Ducks on the backs of a standout performance by the Oregon defense taking advantage of a litany of turnovers.
But where Saturday’s game differed from last year’s opener against Arizona, was also the biggest story from Saturday’s contest: The weather – and what was supposed to be a matchup of two modern offenses turned into a slog of old-school, ball-control football, or as much as a game with a final score of 55-16 can be.
Rain had been in the forecast, but few could have expected the monsoon that arrived shortly after kickoff that changed the complexion of the game. Instead of the shootout many had predicted, both teams struggled early on to maintain possession of the ball, with each team fumbling on seemingly every exchange of the ball, but it was the outcome of those fumbles that determined the game.
While Oregon recovered all three of its fumbles on its opening drive, lost fumbles ended Cal’s first four possessions. The Bears added another interception to their extensive list of turnovers two series later, all part of a lopsided quarter that saw Oregon’s Byron Marshall nearly outgain Cal by himself. The Ducks jumped all over Cal’s mistakes, chased starting quarterback Jared Goff from the game before the end of the first quarter, and by the time the storm cleared at quarter’s end, it was 27-0. The rout was on.
The precipitation may have eased up, but the torrent of big plays from Oregon players did not, the biggest of which came from those replacing De’Anthony Thomas.
The game’s opening play was also its scariest, as Thomas left the game with what appeared to be a lower leg injury and did not return. In his absence, Oregon did its best to show the wisdom of the “next man up” philosophy and was evident in the play of fellow running backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner. Marshall had 19 carries for 130 yards and two touchdowns, while Tyner shook off an early turnover to carry the ball 13 times for 94 yards and added a touchdown, with most of that production coming in the second half.
But it was the player who replaced Thomas as punt returner this season – Bralon Addison – who was the star of the night. Addison had a breakout game, returning two punts for touchdowns, the second of which was a 75-yard highlight for the ages, one that electrified the die-hard fans that remained to see it. Addison became the first Oregon player to do so since Cliff Harris, against New Mexico in 2010, to return two punts for touchdowns, and showed that he’s every bit the weapon as a returner that Harris, or the player that bridged them – Thomas – were themselves.
The defense turned in another outstanding performance, only allowing touchdowns long after the game’s outcome was decided, that showed that this team is every bit as good as advertised.
Early on, they capitalized on Cal’s inability to hold onto the ball, ending each drive by recovering a fumble. Bears’ starting quarterback Jared Goff, who had been celebrated as one of the top freshman quarterbacks in the nation coming into the game, only to find himself on the bench long before the end of it. Goff, who hadn’t thrown for fewer than 371 yards in his first three games, managed only 11 Saturday night.
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said in his postgame press conference that his original intent had been to disguise looks to confuse Goff, but that the weather had negated the necessity of doing so. Oregon managed to force six Cal turnovers, and got another three stops on fourth down. Aliotti said there is still room for improvement from this unit, meaning that this defense could be downright scary as the season progresses if all starts clicking for them.
That says a lot for a team that just vanquished a divisional foe by 39 points in a monsoon. The rain may stop, but the season rides on whether the points and forced turnovers can keep coming down in buckets.
- Saturday was the first Pac-12 game for both Mark Helfrich and Sonny Dykes.
- Colt Lyerla returned to the starting lineup following a one-game absence.
- Larry Scott met with media members in the press box at halftime of Saturday’s game. Scott was asked about many topics, including many on the Pac-12 Network’s on-going negotiations with various cable and satellite providers. When asked about Oregon’s new facilities, Scott said, that what Oregon has done “deserves national attention.”
- Saturday marked the first time Oregon has ever scored 50 points in four consecutive games.
- Torrodney Prevot looks every bit as good as advertised, making a couple of huge plays which were negated by penalties.
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