It’s hard not to feel a Pandora’s box of emotions if you’re an Oregon fan after the Ducks’ 45-24 win over Cal.
On the one hand, that was unquestionably Oregon’s most complete game of the season and a rejuvenating bounce-back effort after their loss to Arizona State.
On the other hand, quarterbacks Justin Herbert and Taylor Alie as well as running back Royce Freeman left the game due to injury. While Herbert reportedly suffered a broken collarbone, the full extent of injuries to other Ducks remains to be seen.
With all that in mind, let’s grade the Ducks’ performance against Cal:
You barely need a curve to give a team that hangs 45 points on the board against Justin Wilcox an A-grade. That’s what Oregon justifiably earned against the Bears.
Obviously the passing game gets the curve because of Herbert’s injury. Before he left the game, the sophomore was 7-of-8 passing for 86 yards and a score. Taylor Alie was then 9-of-13 for 41 yards and a pick. Then when he left, Braxton Burmeister attempted, and completed, a single pass for 4 yards.
The Ducks turned to the ground game with the carousel of signal-callers, and it paid dividends. Even without Freeman for most of the night, Oregon tallied 328 yards on 56 carries including five touchdowns. Kani Benoit had a signature game with 138 yards and two scores.
That production came on a night where Cal essentially knew Oregon had to lean on its backfield following Herbert’s departure. It’s a testament to Oregon’s offensive line and the depth at running back.
With Oregon’s ability to score points in droves, only 24 points allowed is a brilliant performance from the Ducks’ defense.
The watermark for this night comes from the Oregon box, which limited Cal to just 8 rushing yards. That’s not a typo. Cal only had 8 rushing yards on 29 carries. They also notched 7 sacks on the night.
The Oregon secondary was solid for the most part, making plays to stifle drives on a somewhat consistent basis. Bears quarterback Ross Bowers did have 255 yards and 3 scores through the air, while wideout Kanawai Noa had 7 catches for 126 yards including a 75-yard touchdown. So Oregon still gave up some big plays.
Nevertheless, the defense rose to the occasion and gave its offense a huge lift as injuries mounted.
Special Teams: A-
No news is always good news for a special teams unit. Ducks kicker Aidan Schneider didn’t miss a single kick, and the return game didn’t have any miscues.
The only minor criticism can be levied at punter Adam Stack, who had six punts yet none of which landed inside the 20 or even for a touchback.
The best grade of this game goes to Willie Taggart and his staff.
Coming off a deflating loss to Arizona State, the Ducks were already facing heaps of adversity. The mounting injuries only piled it on. It seemed like a Cal comeback after Oregon had raced out to a 17-0 lead was inevitable.
Instead, the Ducks never relented the advantage and showcased its roster depth. That’s proof positive of how sound Taggart’s gameplan was as well as how strong his leadership is.
Oregon enters a brutal stretch of games in October, starting with Washington State at home next week. Still, Saturday instilled hope into Eugene.
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