Red zone key to Duck victory

Leslie Montgomery

The Oregon offense, seemingly spinning its wheels in the Ducks’ first three games, appeared in midseason form against the Cal Golden Bears — or at the very least, last season’s form.

The Ducks’ offense accounted for 524 yards and 42 points Saturday, the most since the 2008 Holiday Bowl victory over Oklahoma State (565 yards, 42 points). Oregon also accumulated 26 first downs (compared to 22 each in the final two games of 2008), converting on seven of 15 third-down attempts (and two of two fourth-down attempts) after entering the game ranked No. 113 in the nation in third-down conversions.

Though Oregon did fumble the ball three times on offense, losing it twice, the red-zone execution more than made up for the miscues, as the Ducks went five-for-five within the 20-yard line.

“We performed the way (we thought we could) today,” quarterback Jeremiah Masoli said. “We thought we could do it.”

Blast from the Past

Longtime Oregon fans found themselves waxing nostalgic about the defense in the 1995 Rose Bowl season throwback uniforms, as though Kenny Wheaton was flying around the defensive backfield and Chad Cota was rushing the passer.

Not since the Ducks’ 35-0 shutout of Stanford on Oct. 25, 2003, had an Oregon team held an opponent to three points or fewer. The Ducks last held a Cal team to three points or fewer on October 22, 1960, a 20-0 defeat of the Golden Bears.

“That was the best I’ve ever felt coming off of a game,” defensive tackle Brandon Bair said. “I feel great. I feel like I could play another one.”

While the offense was converting on its end zone opportunities, the defense denied Cal even the opportunity. The Golden Bears never snapped the ball once inside the 20-yard-line.

“The kids were dialed in. They did a great job,” defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said.

Asked if he ever expected that level of play from his defense, Aliotti said, “No way. Cal’s a very good football team. Jeff Tedford is an excellent football coach. It just went our way today. The kids played hard and got after it. I think it was huge that we held them to a field goal…(that was) bigger than the outcome of the game.”

Dickson’s Day

Senior tight end Ed Dickson helped break an ignominious mark when he sailed into the end zone in the second quarter on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Jeremiah Masoli. It was the first passing touchdown of the season for the Ducks. Dickson spent the rest of the day making marks of his own.

The Bellflower, Calif.-native tied Josh Wilcox for most receptions in a game by a tight end — and ironically, Wilcox set his mark during the 1995 Rose Bowl against Penn State. Dickson’s 148 yards are second only to Tim Day’s 152 against Washington State in 2004. Including his three touchdown receptions, Dickson set three career highs on Saturday after catching four passes in the previous three games combined.

Costa makes appearance

Oregon head football coach Chip Kelly sent fans away with a feel-good story, as quarterback Nate Costa took over for Masoli with 12:45 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Hilmar, Calif.-native had missed the past two seasons with knee injuries before appearing against Purdue as a holder on extra points and field goals. Costa got an early shot at throwing on Oregon’s two-point conversion attempt after Dickson’s first touchdown pass in the second quarter, completing a two-yard pass to kicker Morgan Flint to put the Ducks up 11-3.

“It was a good feeling. It’s been a long road (back),” said Costa. “I did pretty good when I got in there. I took care of my opportunities.”

Costa rushed three times for three yards and completed four of seven passes for 35 yards, breaking a streak in the process. Before Saturday’s game, Costa had never thrown an incomplete pass, dating back to his freshman year of 2006. (He received a medical redshirt in 2007.)

Thurmond injury

Though Walter Thurmond III suffered a right knee injury on the opening kickoff, Kelly is confident that the senior cornerback’s injury will not prevent him from playing against Washington State next Saturday.

Thurmond III was seen after the game practice wearing a knee brace but walking under his own power.

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