Justin Herbert couldn’t find his groove.
The Ducks’ offense stalled for the majority of the first quarter against Nevada. And Herbert couldn’t seem to find his receivers, despite them being wide open. After two drives that resulted in 12 plays and only 43 yards, third time was the charm for Herbert as he found his rhythm.
As the offense started to find success, the defense continued to dominate Nevada from start to finish, and No. 16 Oregon dominated the Wolfpack, 77-6.
“We just didn’t execute, didn’t move the ball as well as we liked to,” Herbert said when asked about the slow start. “Fortunately we got it fixed and started moving the ball better for the remainder of the game.”
Herbert and the offense had plenty of opportunities early to pounce on Nevada. Herbert missed tight end Jacob Breeland on a throw that would have resulted in a touchdown. On the next play he overshot Ryan Bay, which resulted in a punt on the first drive for Oregon.
On the second offensive drive of the game, he missed Johnny Johnson III as he was streaking across the field, a missed throw that would have, again, ended in a touchdown. Heading into the third drive, Herbert was a mere 4-8, but then he found his rhythm.
The next time Herbert had to find Breeland, for a potential touchdown play, he did not miss him. Herbert hit Breeland, who finished with a career-high 112 receiving yards, in stride as he was running up the middle of the field, which resulted in a 66-yard touchdown.
“We started off a little slow, but once we got rolling, got our mojo, we were just dominating and playing our game,” Breeland said. “It was really good to see our defense and our offense the way that we did.”
Last week against Auburn, the Ducks offense did not display much of a downfield aerial attack. This week was a different story. Herbert led the offense with 310 passing yards, going 19-for-26 and ending the game with five touchdowns.
The Ducks, following a field goal by Nevada early in the second quarter, rattled off 70 unanswered points. Oregon as a whole had touchdowns come from the offensive and defensive side, as 11 different Ducks found the end zone.
“A lot of guys have stepped up during this little injury spell that we’ve had,” head coach Mario Cristobal said. “It kind of puts you to the test. Guys got to step up and prove themselves and guys have...it worked to a tee tonight.”
When the offense was trying to get rolling, the defense tamed Nevada early. The Ducks’ most impressive defensive stand came early in the first quarter. The defense had just gotten off the field following a three-and-out, but a muffed punt that hit an Oregon player gave Nevada the ball back on the Oregon 12-yard line.
The defense, despite being backed up deep into their own territory, stood tall and only allowed a field goal.
Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos and the defense allowed just six total points from Nevada and no touchdowns, which kept the Ducks close while trying to find their offense.
“They were the determining factor in the swing of momentum,” Cristobal said. “For them to hold them to three there...it was awesome. They are certainly coming on strong.”
The defense only allowed 109 passing yards and 83 rushing yards. Oregon’s defense forced Nevada to commit four turnovers, with two recovered fumbles and two interceptions, all resulting in points. Oregon’s defense smothered Nevada the entire game, whether it was the first or second team. In all, the defense had 13 tackles for loss, five sacks and held Nevada to an abysmal 2.8 yards per play.
“That’s the trademark of the defense that coach Avalos has brought here,” Cristobal said. “The players have taken ownership in it...it’s very indicative of the progress that they are making. They are buying and believing in scheme.”
Oregon will play Montana in its final non-conference game on Saturday, September 14th with kickoff slated at 7:45 p.m.
“We played a complete game in all phases and proud of our guys for their effort and look forward to getting better and moving on,” Cristobal said.
Follow Gabriel on Twitter @gabe_ornelas