LAS VEGAS — As the first half wound down, Oregon behind Boise State 17-0, Justin Herbert took a snap and scrambled to his right as the Broncos defense closed in. He threw the ball to the right sideline and it was intercepted by Kekaula Kaniho, who returned it for a touchdown.
Herbert was immediately met by defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt on the sideline, who gave the sophomore quarterback a pep talk.
“He just told me to keep in it and to keep the team focused and do my best to stay involved,” Herbert said.
With only 233 yards of total offense, the fewest in its bowl game history, Oregon’s offense struggled to sustain an attack in a scoreless first half. The offense finally executed, but only when the game began to get out of reach. Oregon looked out of sorts for most of the game, going three-and-out four times and being forced to punt on eight of its 16 drives, playing a big role in the 38-28 loss.
Herbert, who was 6-1 with the Ducks during the regular season, went 26-of-36 for 233 yards and two touchdowns. His two first-half interceptions, though, hurt the Ducks.
“I definitely forced some passes that weren’t needed,” Herbert said. “We, unfortunately, just didn’t move the ball the way we needed to. Just made some bad throws, bad decisions.”
Oregon’s defense did its best to stay in the game, scoring two touchdowns from turnovers.
First came Troy Dye, who scooped up a fumble on a Statue of Liberty attempt and returned it for an 81-yard touchdown. Then, Tyree Robinson intercepted Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien inside the Ducks’ end zone and Robinson returned it for a 100-yard score — the longest interception returned for a touchdown in Oregon history.
Those scores brought the game within 10 points, as Oregon trailed 24-14 at the half.
“Aw man, I was just studying my tail off all week here,” Robinson said. “I got one last year and I didn’t make it to the end zone so I was just glad I made it to the end zone. There was no better feeling than just helping my team before going into the half.”
The Ducks stumbled from the start, taking a timeout before the first ball was snapped by the Oregon offense.
Then, when frustration built, things got heated, including a play where Oregon running back Tony Brooks-James threw the ball at a defender who had just tackled him.
“He knows it’s unacceptable and we have a really good understanding among ourselves as a team, as players and coaches so confronting and demanding is part of football,” Cristobal said. “If a coach has to tiptoe around that stuff, then he shouldn’t be coaching. We’re hard on each other about that.”
It was not have the start to the Cristobal era that the Ducks had hoped for. Herbert says the loss will linger until next year, and like Herbert, Cristobal is looking ahead.
“We’ve got to get back to work once we come back off the break and re-establish ourselves, recognize the good things we accomplished this year and things that have to be made better,” he said.
Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow