After a night of offensive miscues, turnovers and missed field goals, the Oregon defense shined.
In a game that could have easily spiraled out of control, the Ducks' defense checked the Golden Bears at every turn. California had only 256 total yards in a night dominated by defense.
California had seven three and outs, including four in a row in a critical strech in the third quarter. Two more drives ended in California turnovers and on two separate occasions. California missed field goals that would have either expanded the lead or cut the deficit.
The Ducks did concede a touchdown early, breaking a three-game streak of holding opponents out of the end zone. Devon Modster threw a 22-yard bullet to Christopher Brown Jr. to put California up 7-0. California would hold this lead until midway through the third quarter.
During halftime, as the Ducks faced a 7-0 deficit and had blown multiple scoring opportunities, Troy Dye gave an passionate speech that allowed the Ducks to rally in the second half.
"I thought it was great that before anyone could say anything, Troy Dye addressed the team," head coach Mario Cristobal said. "With words that were powerful, that made it very clear that we were not playing up to our standard."
As a team, Oregon stuffed California in the running game, forcing untested quarterback Modster to throw the ball. California only had 66 rushing yards in the game and no Cal running back was able to break through the Oregon front seven. The Bears' top rusher was Brown Jr., who had 42 yards on 15 carries for a paltry 2.8 average.
Modster was often on the run as the Ducks front line beat California’s offensive linemen. Modster also took a lot of hits as he was sacked four times and hit on four other occasions.
Yet again, Oregon forced key turnovers. The first interception came at the end of the first half as Modster lofted a ball into the end zone. Jevon Holland picked it off for a big return as time expired.
In the second half, as California marched down the field, the Oregon defense was able to clinch the game. Holland was able to get his hands on Modster’s pass again and tip it to the veteran Dye. The play encapsulated the Oregon defense.
Freshman and the top recruit in the nation Kayvon Thibodeaux recorded two sacks; it was his best game in his short career at Oregon.
“My blood was going, I felt like a shark with blood in the water. When my name got called I was able to come up with a play,” Thibodeaux said.
Oregon is not a program known for its defense, but the Ducks have flipped the traditional script this year.
“We’re building this culture, this tradition, this standard," Thomas Graham Jr. said. "When I come back in ten years, I want to be like 'this is what I helped start.'"
Cristobal added: “I think the belief has always been really high. These guys have a really high standard. It’s exciting to watch."
After the defense collapsed against Auburn, in the second half, the Ducks have played at an elite level. The defense dominated against Nevada and Montana. They proved that this team could stifle Pac-12 competition like Stanford. And they proved it again on Saturday.
“Just week after week we have to reset. Win one reset, win another reset.” Holland said.
Oregon will have a chance to reset on Friday night against Colorado.