Apparently, all Oregon needed to turn their sluggish offense around was just another set of new uniforms, and Uncle Phil was more than happy to oblige. The University of Oregon legend even went so far as to put a radar on Ed Dickson’s number 83 for Jeremiah Masoli. Jeremiah, you remember your teammate Ed, right? Boy, did he ever.
After forgetting that he had one of the nation’s top tight ends at his disposal during the first three games (4 receptions for 58 yards), Masoli quickly made up for lost time, looking for Dickson early and often, connecting 11 times for 148 yards and three scores, spelling a disastrous 42-3 defeat for a No. 6 California Golden Bears team that was clearly not prepared to deal with the raucous environment at Autzen Stadium.
With non-conference play leaving much to be desired from the Ducks offense, as well as several pundits questioning themselves for picking Masoli as a dark horse Heisman candidate, Oregon needed to make a statement that they were still the same high-flying offensive attack that earned them a 42-31 drubbing of Oklahoma State in last year’s Holiday Bowl. And man oh man, what a statement they made.
After a fumble on the opening kickoff (again Walter, really?) and a three and out, which brought all sorts of “here we go again” face palms from the student section, the defense stepped up and held Cal to a field goal and a punt; a major win, considering the short distance between dangerous Jahvid Best and the end zone.
The energy the defense displayed on those stops must have translated to the offense, because on Oregon’s next series, the Ducks walked on to the field with an aura of confidence, a swagger even, that they didn’t show at all during their first three games.
Looking much more comfortable in the pocket, Masoli calmly checked his reads and accurately hit Jeffrey Maehl and D.J. Davis on screen passes for back-to-back first downs.
With speedy LaMichael James and a stable of other capable backs imposing the threat of the run, the Oregon offense finally was able to move the ball at will. Although the drive ultimately ended in a tying-field goal, that was all the confidence the Ducks needed for the offense to finally get in a rhythm.
Instead of locking into a single receiver even before the snap and forcing throws to covered receivers, Masoli patiently waited in the pocket and took what the defense gave him, which was a plethora of screens, short throws over the middle on drag routes, and designed roll-outs that found the seams in Cal’s usually stingy defense. The result? 524 yards and a 42 spot on the scoreboard.
The defense, who were once again without T.J. Ward and Walter Thurmond (who was injured on the opening kick-off), did a masterful job of containing Best, thanks in part to a series of drops by Cal receivers that must have damaged quarterback Kevin Riley’s confidence in the passing game, because Riley, who was visibly flustered by most likely the loudest crowd he had ever faced, continuously missed open receivers, allowing the Ducks stack eight in the box which let Oregon hold Best to just 55 yards on 18 carries.
Masoli finished an efficient 21-25 for 253 yards and three touchdowns, James contributed his second straight 100-yard game, ending with 118 and a score, and Remene Alston, Kenjon Barner, Andre Crenshaw and Masoli combined to add over another century mark to the rushing total.
The defense added four sacks, numerous pass break-ups and allowed just 207 total yards to a Cal offense that had averaged just less than 500 yards in each of their first three contests.
With the confidence of today’s huge win and noticeable improvements in each game, Oregon finally seems to have hit their stride at just the right time, knocking off back-to-back ranked opponents for the first time in the Chip Kelly era.
In college football, when you lose is almost more important than who you lose to, and in a month, voters will look back at the Boise State game as simply an 11-point loss on the road to an undefeated Bronco squad who were playing for their season. And even though it was a horrific game, that really doesn’t sound too bad.
So with the defense looking frighteningly legitimate and the offense re-finding their high-flying form, the Ducks have the early edge on the Pac 10 and a serious chance to sneak their way back into the BCS mix.