Oregon’s defense holds off Nebraska’s second-half comeback for a 42-35 win

For the first time in a long time, Oregon’s defense led the Ducks to victory.

Thanks to four interceptions and a number of late-game stops, including an interception from Ugo Amadi with two minutes left in the game, Oregon (2-0) held off Nebraska (1-1) on Saturday at Autzen Stadium for a 42-35 win. Oregon managed 409 yards of total offense and all 42 of its points in the first half, but got shut out on only 157 yards of offense in the second half.

“We were good the first half,” head coach Willie Taggart said. “Second half, not so good. But it’s great that our guys found a way.”

Quarterback Justin Herbert finished 25-for-33 for 365 yards with three touchdowns and one interception while running back Royce Freeman rushed for 153 yards, his second straight game with over a 150 yards rushing, on 29 carries with two touchdowns.

With Oregon ahead 42-28 with five minutes remaining in the game, Freeman fumbled at Oregon’s 22-yard line. The ball was recovered by the Cornhuskers, who scored two minutes later to make it a one-score game at 42-35.

The Ducks, who led 42-14 at halftime, were suddenly in danger of falling behind.

Matters only got worse for the Ducks as they were forced to punt after a three-play drive that yielded minus three yards. Oregon players said they knew Saturday’s game would be hard-fought. So, when Nebraska took advantage of a stalled Ducks’ offense in the second half, the Ducks were ready.

“Coach Leavitt told us before the game it was going to come down to us, stopping them in the last couple minutes,” linebacker Troy Dye said. “We knew we were going to deal with adversity so we were ready for it.”

Nebraska began its ensuing — and potentially game-ending — drive on its own 43-yard line. But on the first play of the drive, Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee under-threw a receiver and the ball was snatched out of the air by Amadi, who returned the ball 21 yards to Nebraska’s 35-yard line with just over two minutes remaining in the game.

Lee finished with 252 yards on 19-for-41 passes with three touchdowns and four interceptions.

From there, Oregon ran out the clock and took home the victory to improve to 2-0 on the season.

It truly was a tale of two halves for Oregon, with the offense shining in the first and the defense holding firm in the second. Seeing Oregon’s defense make big stops was surely a welcome sign given its struggles the past two season.

“Coach Leavitt and coach Taggart always talk about us, the defense, going out there and earning respect each and every game,” cornerback Arrion Springs said. “We’re just trying to do that, prove that we can stop the run and just be better this year at defense overall.”

Amadi was not the only standout on Oregon’s defense. True freshman Thomas Graham Jr. made an impact with two interceptions of his own. He was also second on the team with seven total tackles.

“He’s a big time player,” Taggart said. “For him to be as young as he is and know as much football as he does, it’s great to have him. It’s great to know we’re going to have him for a long time.”

Oregon’s defense will be tested once again next week when the Ducks head to Laramie, Wyoming, to take on Josh Allen and the Wyoming Cowboys.

Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris

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Gus Morris

Gus Morris

Gus Morris covers Oregon football, basketball and women's golf for the Emerald. Caffeine addict. Bay Area sports. I know words, I have the best words.