With under a minute remaining in the first half, Oregon’s defense was in a tough spot. Leading 21-10 but with Cal driving to its 28-yard line, the Ducks needed a big play to keep the Golden Bears from scoring before the half and taking the momentum.
Drayton Carlberg delivered.
The defensive end used a great swim move to beat a Cal offensive lineman and put pressure on Golden Bears quarterback Brandon McIlwain. Carlberg hit McIlwain, causing a fumble that Lamar Winston Jr. returned 61 yards for the score.
“Carlberg for two consecutive weeks has really shown that he's going to be a tremendous factor for us going forward,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. “The guy you saw he plays with tremendous passion, relentless effort guy, high-motor guy.”
That momentum swing gave the Ducks all the cushion they needed as No. 19 Oregon (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) cruised to a 42-24 victory over No. 24 Cal (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12). The win — on the Ducks’ first road trip of the season — comes one week after their heartbreaking loss to No. 7 Stanford last week.
Quarterback Justin Herbert had another phenomenal week, finishing 16-of-22 for 225 yards and two scores. Wide receiver Dillon Mitchell was once again Herbert’s favorite target, catching seven balls for 105 yards one score.
“You can ask Dillon, the key to him these past couple of games is how he has been practicing the last three weeks — he has really taken it upon himself,” Cristobal said. “The last three weeks in practice he's just been relentless about his approach to everything, the details of his craft, and it's showing up on gameday.”
The Oregon secondary had a great game, limiting the combination of McIlwain and Chase Garbers to 15-of-30 for 172 yards, one score and four interceptions. They’ve struggled entering the game but knew that Cal was going to test them in order to keep up with Oregon’s offense — and they rose to the challenge.
Cal made the game interesting in the end, forcing two Oregon punts on back-to-back drives late in the game. With 3:02 remaining and the Golden Bears trailing 35-24, Duck safety Ugochukwu Amadi picked off McIlwain’s pass and returned it 32 yards for the score, yelling “ballgame” as he crossed the goalline.
“There's no bigger momentum swing than a pick-six, anything of that nature,” Cristobal said. “It's a 14-point swing especially when they're marching… can't say enough about Ugo.”
The pick-six was Amadi’s second of the season and third total interception of the season.
Oregon began the second half with a score, using the momentum from the first half to make an early statement.
On the first play of the half, CJ Verdell took the ball 74 yards before being brought down from behind at the one-yard line. Two plays later, touchdown specialist Cyrus Habibi-Likio scored to make it 35-10. It was his sixth rushing touchdown of the season on just his ninth carry.
The Golden Bears picked up momentum later in the third quarter after a score and Oregon fumble had them threatening in Ducks territory. But, Holland (two interceptions) intercepted Garbers in the endzone, allowing the Ducks to eat up valuable clock before a missed Adam Stack field goal.
Oregon’s other big defensive stand came after the missed field goal. It took the Golden Bears seven plays to get the ball to Oregon’s two-yard line, setting up first-and-goal. But, the Ducks held strong, stopping McIlwain on fourth down at the one when he tried a quarterback keeper.
“In real critic moments the defense stood up and did a great job,” Cristobal said.
The Ducks then went on an 11-play, 49-yard drive that ate up 6:35 of the clock before resulting in a punt.
Cal started the game playing well, taking the opening drive all the way to Oregon’s six-yard line before settling for a field goal. The Ducks responded by outscoring the Golden Bears 27-7 the rest of the half, including two touchdown passes by Herbert.
Verdell and freshman running back Travis Dye each ran for over 100 yards. Dye finished the game with 115 yards on 20 carries and a score while Verdell — nursing an ailing MCL — finished with nine carries for 106 yards.
Oregon now enters its bye week full of confidence, and in perfect time to get healthy. The Duck return to action on Saturday, October 13 when they face their rivals to the north, No. 11 Washington, in Eugene. Game time is TBD.