A loud roar erupted from the bowels of Autzen Stadium, starting with the student section, and slowly built to a crescendo. The game clock ticked off the few remaining seconds, and the Oregon Ducks did what they haven’t been able to do since 2005 — beat California.
Everything clicked for the Ducks (3-1, 1-0 Pacific-10 Conference) under the sun on Saturday in their 42-3 win over No. 6 California. The offense that couldn’t buy a touchdown in the first three games of the season suddenly got three. Tight end Ed Dickson came up big, catching 11 passes for 148 yards and all three of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli’s touchdown throws. And the defense, which has been the star so far this season, was a wall that the Golden Bears couldn’t overcome.
“It was a great win,” Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said. “It was a great win for these guys and I’m just really excited for them…what a tremendous football game.”
The hype coming into the game was about Heisman hopeful Jahvid Best of Cal and his five touchdowns from last week. But this week, Oregon’s defense held the Bears to a season low 207 yards of total offense, and Best had 55 yards on 16 carries.
“I’m not trying to be sarcastic when I’m saying this,” Kelly said. “(The key is to) tackle him. We were going to get 11 guys to tackle him. If we could have hit him when he was coming off the bus we would have done it. Our guys got after him every single play and they wrapped him up. It wasn’t just one guy holding him either. That’s what you have to do.”
As for Oregon’s offense, which came in ranked No. 111 in the nation, this was a breakout performance. As a team, the Ducks compiled 524 yards on 84 plays, including 288 yards passing and 236 rushing.
Freshman running back LaMichael James had another 100-yard rushing game, getting 118 yards and a score on 21 carries. Oregon’s second leading rusher was fourth-string back Remene Alston with 42 yards and a score on six carries.
“I think (LaMichael’s) play is kind of understated in this offense,” Masoli said. Masoli, who threw for 253 yards on 21-of-25 passing, says that James was what the Ducks needed.
“The way he moves through the D-line and stuff like that. The way he’s so shifty and can accelerate on people definitely gives us an edge.”
Although the game finished well, the first few plays for Oregon didn’t bode well for what came next. Returner Walter Thurmond III was hit on the opening kick off and he fumbled the ball — which Cal recovered on the Oregon’s 22-yard line — and he left the game with a right knee injury. Three plays later Vince D’Amato kicked a 47-yard field goal and it was 3-0 Cal just one minute into the game.
That was followed by Oregon going three and out on its first series and Cal started their second possession on their own 41. Oregon’s defense held the Bears, however, and forced them to punt after six plays, and 17 plays later, the Ducks evened the score with a 30-yard field goal from Morgan Flint.
“We didn’t have a great start on the first drive, but we did a great job the second time,” Masoli said. “It was just a matter of executing and we did.”
From that point on, Cal couldn’t even sniff the red zone. The Bears never reached Oregon’s 20-yard line and the Oregon defense held strong for 14 straight possessions without allowing another score.
“Our offensive and defensive lines played tremendous,” Kelly said. “Football starts with fundamentals and they did a great job. I’m really proud of them.”
And from a quarterback’s standpoint, Masoli says that having a defense behind him playing that well is a huge relief.
“It gives you a huge confidence,” he said. “The only reason they scored is because we had a fumble on the first kick off. Besides that, the defense shut them out with one of the best running backs in the nation. I’m very happy with it.”
The Ducks were also happy with the emergence of Dickson, who before today’s game had four catches all season. He had seven alone at halftime for 88 yards and a touchdown.
“Those milk cartons with Ed’s picture on them helped a little bit,” Kelly said. “He was a missing child for the first couple of games. Ed is a quality player. I believe he’s the best tight end in the Pac-10. He’s a game changer at that position.”
Dickson said his performance and that of his teammates led to a rewarding win.
“If it takes me blocking, or catching the ball and having three touchdowns that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “It feels really nice. The credit goes out to the O-line and Masoli.”
Dickson continued, saying that it was their goal to come out and out work Cal, but he didn’t expect to win by 39 points.
“We wanted to get to a good start in Pac-10,” he said. “We knew they were going to come out and play tough. We didn’t know that we were going to jump on them like that. They’re a good football team and they’re going to win a lot of games in the Pac-10. We just didn’t want to give them a chance. It goes to show that if you go and play, any team can beat any team.”
There still is one nagging issue for the Ducks despite the victory. Thurmond, who didn’t return to the game after the first kickoff, was on the sidelines with a bag of ice over his knee to keep down the swelling.
“We’ll find out after his doctors appointment tomorrow,” Kelly said. “The chief (doctor) told me that he thinks he will be back. It doesn’t look like a season deal. We’ll figure out what we have to do.”
For the rest of the team, it will be a quick night of celebrating, then looking ahead to the one-win Cougars of Washington State.
“Like coach said, we have 24 hours to celebrate, then we’re back at work,” Dickson said. “We have Washington State this week. We have to play them like we played this week.”