A blowout victory back in the confines of a rainy Autzen Stadium was just what the doctor ordered, and it's just what the Oregon Ducks needed to get their feet back under them after a heartbreaking opening loss suffered a week ago.
The Ducks trounced the Nevada Wolf Pack, 77-6, improving to 1-1 on the season and getting back to their winning ways. While the first game of the year saw an impressive defensive performance from the team in green, the offense was at times stagnant and seemingly hesitant. That was not the case on Saturday, as the Ducks put on a veteran display of offensive excellence, at one point scoring touchdowns on eight consecutive drives. Meanwhile, the defense was at the top of their game again, keeping the Wolf Pack out of the endzone entirely throughout the game.
Seven days ago in Texas, we remarked about the feeling of familiarity, and how painful it could be. Saturday reminded us that sometimes 'familiar' doesn't always equate something bad — the Ducks looked familiarly brilliant at home against Nevada, and it was just what Oregon fans needed to re-instill their belief in this team. Let's take a look at what helped them along the way.
HERBERT FOR HEISMAN
It was a slow start out of the gates for quarterback Justin Herbert, who might have been feeling some nerves in his final home-opener at Autzen Stadium, which is justifiable. Through his first few drives, Herbert was 3-for-8 with just 26 yards and several inaccurate throws downfield. Then something clicked, and he settled in.
Throughout the rest of the first half, Herbert embodied the Heisman candidate that we've all come to know. He completed 10 of his final 11 throws in the half, throwing for 204 yards and four touchdowns. Time and again, Herbert looked off shorter routes over the middle and chose to air it out and throw the ball deep, resulting in multiple chunk plays that put the Ducks in position to score if the play didn't end in a touchdown already.
By the time Herbert was pulled midway through the third quarter, he had amassed 320 yards on 19-for-26 passing with five, count-em, five touchdowns. Herbert had a nice performance in Week 1 against Auburn, but the loss was detrimental to his Heisman hopes. He needed a game like this to get back into the mix up-top, and he delivered against Nevada.
A TIGHT END AFFAIR
The Ducks once again came into this game without the bulk of their receiving core healthy. Juwan Johnson was ruled out again, while Brenden Schooler and Mycah Pittman were still sidelined with injuries. The Oregon offense had to make due, and they leaned on a skilled group of tight ends to do so.
Herbert connected with senior Jacob Breeland to kick things off with a 66-yard touchdown up the seam and later followed it up by finding Ryan Bay for a 16-yard strike over the middle, putting the Ducks up 21-6. Later in the second quarter, Herbert took part in one of the most coveted plays in all of football — a Big-Man touchdown. Rolling to his right near the goalline already, Herbert darted a pass to tight end Brady Aiello, who was eligible on the play despite spending most of his time on the offensive line. Aiello brought the ball in and celebrated his first career touchdown catch with his teammates.
Down the road — specifically in two weeks against the Stanford Cardinal — it is pivotal that the Ducks get some of their playmakers back on the outside, but for the time being, it is just nice that the offense can rely on having enough depth at the skill positions to carry them through.
A DYNAMIC AND DANGEROUS DEFENSE
It was the storyline coming out of the Auburn game, and it remains the storyline still; the Oregon defense is a nasty unit that is capable of shutting down just about anyone. While safety Jevon Holland stole the show in Week 1, it was CB Deommodore Lenoir who made his presence felt early in this one, racking up four pass break-ups in his first four snaps, and putting on a clinic in open-field tackling.
Early in the game, a special teams blunder gave Nevada a 1st-and-goal from the Oregon 6, and for the first time in years, it didn't feel like a sure thing that the Wolf Pack would get in the endzone. They didn't — Oregon held them to 3 points — and a stout mix of pressure up front with lock-sticks on the outside gave the Ducks the cushion they needed. The final four possessions of the half for the Oregon defense ended in an interception, a turnover on downs, a punt, and the end of the half.
The 2019 recruiting class showed its strength in the second half of this game as well, with freshman linebacker Mase Funa picking up an interception and a fumble, while EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux flew around in the backfield and routinely made plays. All in all, 12 true freshmen saw their Oregon debuts on Saturday, with the bulk of them coming on the defensive side of the ball. The Ducks proved that their young, but they're deep, and capable of playing with just about anyone.