When Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal met with the media on Monday for his weekly press conference, he was surprisingly upbeat considering what unfolded at Autzen Stadium.
For 90 percent of Saturday’s game, the No. 19 Ducks physically dominated Stanford, the No. 7 team in the nation. But the other 10 percent of the game is where the Ducks lost focus in their eventual heartbreaking 38-31 defeat to the Cardinal.
“You see some great moments of physicality at the line of scrimmage — you see high level execution on both sides of the ball,” Cristobal said. “Then you see about 10 percent of the time where breakdowns were significant and resulted in some really big plays and change of momentum. Some of them were self-inflicted … those are the painful ones.”
Even with that defeat still lingering in his head — and with the national media scrutinizing the way he coached Oregon’s final drive in regulation — Cristobal appeared confident.
Cristobal is focusing on the tall task at hand with Saturday’s game against No. 24 California. Kickoff is set for 10:30 p.m. ET on FS1 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif.
“We’re going to stick by our players, and make sure we galvanize our team. … I think sometimes games like this do that for you,” Cristobal said. “You learn a painful lesson — in a painful manner — that should not only motivate you, but bring the most out of you as a true competitor.”
If the Ducks were hoping for a weak opponent in order to get their heads back on straight, it won’t happen when they hit the road for the first time this season.
The Golden Bears are 3-0 and ranked for the first time since the 2015 season. Their win over No. 20 BYU (which later upset then-ranked No. 6 Wisconsin) shows how talented and physical they are — particularly in the secondary.
“What they’ve shown is a tremendous amount of playmaking ability on defense,” Cristobal said. “They do a great job in the secondary.”
The Golden Bears are forcing three-and-outs on 39 percent of opponents’ drives and allowing a 25 percent conversion rate on third down — both tops in the Pac-12.
Cal is second in the nation with seven interceptions, one of which was taken back for a touchdown.
“It’s totally different expecting to make plays versus hoping to make them,” Cal defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander said after the victory over BYU. “These guys have incredible ball skills and are taking advantage of opportunities.”
The Golden Bears safeties are some of the best ball-hawking ones in the nation, combining for five interceptions. Junior Jaylinn Hawkins is having an all-Pac-12 start to the season, ranking second in the nation with three interceptions while junior Ashtyn Davis has two.
“We have to keep raising the bar and refuse to get complacent,” Hawkins said. “We’ve just got to up our standard. We don’t just want to be good — we want to be great.”
Hawkins and Davis are expected to test Justin Herbert — widely considered a top-pick in the upcoming NFL draft after his performance against Stanford.
In regulation, Herbert absolutely decimated the Cardinal. All of his skills were showcased against a bevy of NFL talent –throwing with power and accuracy and showing off athletic ability despite his 6-foot-6, 233-pound frame.
Through four quarters, Herbert was 25-of-27 for 331 yards and one touchdown. He showed off good poise in the pocket, often progressing through reads to find the open man. Dillon Mitchell had one of the best receiving games in Oregon history, finishing with 14 catches for 239 yards.
“He certainly proved tonight how dynamic he can be, especially when teams are playing a lot of man coverage,” Cristobal said of Mitchell. “We’ve always felt he could be that guy … it was great to see him get loose like that tonight.”
Despite all the criticism Cristobal received for choosing to run the ball at the end of the Stanford game instead of taking a knee and all but sealing the win, he strongly believes the Ducks will be ready to fly south come this weekend.
“The best thing about something like this, is that there is a lesson. It’s a lesson wasted if we cannot learn from it. We cannot waste it,” Cristobal said. “You have to move forward, and understanding that these lumps and painful stuff are part of developing and improving yourself as a player and as a team.”