A win may be a win but for No. 20 Oregon, it sure didn’t feel like it today.
Entering Saturday’s game against winless San Jose State, the Ducks were favored by 41.5 points, and many expected this would be a blowout.
Instead, Oregon (3-0) came out sloppy and stayed that way for most of the game, resulting in a much closer-than-anticipated 35-22 victory over the Spartans (0-3).
Not only did the Ducks fail to cover the spread, the offense was so unfocused that it failed to score 40 points for the first time this year.
“I think you always have to fight against it,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said of letting down mentally when facing an inferior opponent. “We have to play better… we have to make sure that it doesn’t affect us.”
Quarterback Justin Herbert finished the game 16-of-34 for 309 yards and three touchdowns, but it could’ve been a lot more impressive if his receivers could catch a ball. For the third game in a row, the Ducks pass-catchers let their quarterback down with multiple dropped balls that bounced right off their hands.
Herbert wasn’t perfect either, often throwing the ball erratically and forcing it into tight situations. His two interceptions were the most he’s thrown all year, this coming against the nation’s second worst pass defense in San Jose State.
Johnny Johnson III, despite two dropped passes and being demoted to the second unit, finished the game three catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns.
Oregon’s offense appeared to be on its way when goal line specialist Cyrus Habibi-Likio opened up the scoring with a 3-yard run on the Ducks’ second possession of the game. Minutes later, Herbert found tight end Jacob Breeland for a 66-yard scoring reception, putting the Ducks up 14-0 midway through the first quarter.
But the offense stalled from there as dropped passes, missed blocks and a lack of execution kept the Ducks from advancing the ball.
“We did not play up to our standard up front when it comes to the run game,” Cristobal said of Oregon’s 2.7 yards per carry.
More than a quarter and a half later and after two San Jose State field goals, Oregon scored again on Johnson’s first touchdown reception, this one for 39 yards for 21-6 halftime lead.
The second half began with an interception when Oregon freshman safety Jevon Holland stepped in front of a pass and returned deep into Spartans territory. But, a breakdown in focus led to a stupid roughing the passer penalty on the play, negating the interception.
San Jose State ending up outscoring the Ducks 16-14 in the second half, finishing off the extremely lackluster performance by Oregon’s offense.
A bright spot was Oregon’s defense.
The rush defense was sensational for the Ducks, giving up 29 yards on 28 carries to the Spartans. The pass defense was also effective, giving up just 267 yards on 20-of-41 with two interceptions.
Oregon had 11 pass break-ups, showing a consistency of being around the ball. Safety Ugochukwu Amadi finished with eight tackles and two passes broken up, and totaled 100 yards on three punt returns.
Outside linebacker Justin Hollins was everywhere, racking up eight tackles with one sack, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one interception.
“Great performance by him, very disruptive back there,” Cristobal said of Hollins.
The Ducks can now turn all of their focus to Stanford, who comes into next week’s matchup undefeated and 1-0 in Pac-12 play. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. and will air on ABC.
“It’s the right kind of mood in there,” Cristobal said of the locker room postgame. “It’s a mood where we learned a lesson, we have to be more consistent and when things don’t go our way, our response has to be much better.”