The season in review: Game 1, Oregon 58, Bowling Green 24
A first in a series, reviewing all 12 of the Ducks regular season games, looking for the trends and developments that shaped their progress as they put together an 8-4 season in year one of the Mario Cristobal tenure as head coach (5-4 in the PAC-12).
What happened: Oregon struggled out of the gate and fell behind 10-0 before scoring 37 consecutive points to take command and win over MAC bottom feeder Bowling Green, 2-10 last year and 3-9 in 2018.
Highlights: Justin Herbert only completed 10 passes in 21 attempts, but five of those went for touchdowns, two to sophomore Jaylon Redd. Herbert also scored on a quarterback keeper for six total scores, keeping the early Heisman hype alive.
Early alarm bells: The sluggish start in this one presaged a season where Oregon would play their way out of three crucial road games by stumbling in the first quarter.
Oregon receivers dropped three passes early leading to two quick punts, while the defense struggled to get a handle on the Falcons Air Raid offense. Bowling Green marched to a field goal and a touchdown to take a quick 10-0 lead before the Ducks even began to play football.
Engineering a comeback proved easy against an outmanned opponent, but the habit would haunt the team later on in road losses to Washington State, Arizona and Utah.
Defensively, the Ducks showed a complete inability to cover pesky slot receiver Scott Miller, who finished the game with 13 catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns. They repeatedly lost him on crossing routes and a variety of passes throughout the game.
The inability to shut down a favorite target would prove costly when PAC-12 play began. Additionally, Bowling Green running back Andrew Clair bounced off arm tackles to roll up 113 yards on 25 carries, a mark he would exceed only once all season, against the Toledo Rockets. At 5-10, 192 he was far from the most powerful back the Ducks would face in a season they sometimes struggled for consistency in tackling and proper run fits.
Devastating injury: starting tight end Cam McCormick was lost for the season with a knee injury. McCormick may be able to petition the NCAA for a 6th year of eligibility as a medical redshirt.
Encouraging developments: Freshman running backs C.J. Verdell (redshirt) and Travis Dye (true freshman) showed early promise carrying the football. Verdell was quick to the hole and consistent, leading all UO rushers with 13 carries for 51 yards, while Dye got 7 carries for 37. Freshman tackle Penei Sewell graded out very well in his first-ever college start.
By the numbers: the Ducks had 21 points off turnovers, and just 3 penalties for 35 yards, the last an improvement that would hold up over the season. Five passing TDs were an Oregon record for a season opener. The defense gave up 5 drives of over 30 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown to Miller.
Statistical oddity: little-used senior Taj Griffin had the longest play of his Oregon career, taking a screen pass from Herbert in the third quarter and turning it into an 83-yard touchdown. It would be one of only two passes Griffin caught all year, as he announced his intention to leave the program and become a graduate transfer after game 3.
Post-game verdict: the new-look offense performed well, but there were some inconsistencies. Tight ends were absent, the offensive line failed to dominate a smaller Falcon defensive front. The wide receivers suffered too many dropped passes and displayed an inability to create separation. The defense had a similarly uneven performance. In all, the flaws revealed in this contest would lead to a good but not great 8-win season.
Herbert's 10-21 outing too was a microcosm of the season: he could make great, NFL-level throws, but at other times, the Oregon passing game was a shell of its storied past. Jeff Maehl and Keenan Howry never had days like these.
Link to the "PAC-12 in 60" broadcast on YouTube: HERE.