Oregon was the first of 9 Pac-12 teams to play its bowl game, and the Ducks are the first of those teams to fall after losing 38-28 to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday. The loss spoiled the debut of new Ducks coach Mario Cristobal, hired to replace Willie Taggart after Taggart left to take the Florida State job earlier this month.
It wasn’t a great day for Oregon, which finishes the season at 7-6 and lost its third consecutive bowl game dating back to the national championship against Ohio State in 2015. Here are some things we learned about the Ducks on Saturday:
Oregon’s other rushers don’t scare teams like Royce Freeman does
It wasn’t a surprise that not having Royce Freeman in the backfield would impact Oregon’s offense, but there was no way anyone could have expected things to go this bad.
The Ducks ran for 47 yards, their fewest since gaining 31 in a loss at Boise State in 2009. Oregon came in averaging 268 rushing yards per games, second-best in the Pac-12.
The poor run production wasn’t just the fault of those doing the running, though. Oregon’s offensive line was downright atrocious and unable to create holes.
Biggest surprise in this game is the Oregon OL. Was impressive all season on film. Struggling today.
— Yogi Roth (@YogiRoth) December 16, 2017
Without a run game to compliment him, quarterback Justin Herbert was lost for most of the game. He was 10-of-15 in the first half but for only 43 yards, turning it over 3 times including a pair of interceptions (one getting returned for a touchdown). In the second half he settled in, finishing with 233 yards and 2 TDs on 26-of-36 passing and he was also Oregon’s leading rusher with 17 yards.
New offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo, promoted after Mario Cristobal got the head coaching gig, has his work cut out for him this offseason. Herbert could be a Heisman Trophy contender in 2018 but that will either require having him be more capable of carrying the offense or getting more help from his rushers.
Ducks’ defense deserves credit for not quitting
How much worse would this game have turned out if not for Oregon’s defense stepping up, time after time?
Sure, the Ducks allowed 481 yards, third-most this season, but it could have been much worse with how little help they got from the offense. Four first-half turnovers put the defense on its heels quite often, with Boise State getting the ball inside Oregon’s 35-yard line twice in the first half, but the Broncos only managed 10 points off those takeaways with 7 coming on a pick-six in the second quarter
The defense was on the field for 90 plays, 50 in the first half, yet in the second half it forced 4 consecutive punts after Boise went up 31-14. That enabled Oregon’s offense to finally build some momentum, getting into the end zone for the first time with 10:07 left in the fourth quarter.
Before that Oregon’s scoring was entirely the result of its defense, scoring twice in a 30-second span just before halftime. Linebacker Troy Dye scooped up a fumble and ran 86 yards for the touchdown and a few plays later Tyree Robinson had a 100-yard interception return.
It was the first time the Ducks had fumble- and interception-return TDs in the same game since 2015 against Georgia State.
The Taggart turmoil took a toll on this team
Far too much has happened to Oregon since it last played a game, blowing out rival Oregon State in the Civil War on Nov. 25. It’s gone through a coaching change, with Willie Taggart bolting for Florida State less than a year after being hired—and while deflecting any interest in leaving in the weeks leading up to that departure—and then players successfully lobbied for Mario Cristobal to get the job.
That’s not the kind of distractions you want when preparing for a bowl game, and with Oregon one of the first teams to play there wasn’t much time to get things in order. And it showed against Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, with arguably the Ducks’ worst performance of the season.
Were the Ducks not motivated to play? That seems unlikely, particularly since they fought so hard to get Cristobal hired. But was all the noise related to Taggart’s will-he-won’t-he-oh-look-he-did saga make it difficult to properly focus?
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