ARLINGTON, Texas — The Ducks offense was efficient and effective Saturday night, until it wasn’t.
Oregon dominated much of the early portion of the AdvoCare Classic in Arlington, Texas, but it failed to move the ball on the ground in the second half and ultimately cost the Ducks the game.
Pregame talk was all about the game being won in the trenches - Oregon's offensive line versus Auburn's defensive line - and that's exactly what happened. Auburn's D-line wore the Ducks down up front as they were nursing a dwindling lead, punctuated by a 4th-and-1 stop with less than two minutes left in the game that set up the Tigers' game-winning score.
That play turned the tide in the game. The energy in the stadium changed, and the Oregon contingent in the stands fell silent.
The Ducks’ rushing attack mustered just 13 yards in the second half. Thirteen yards, after gaining 77 in the first half, resulted in some deflated drives after big stops from the Oregon defense, and allowed the Tigers' offense to build confidence.
Auburn's defensive coordinator Kevin Steele made adjustments at halftime, but Oregon's offense fell stagnant regardless, both in execution and in play calling by offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo.
"We got behind the sticks," head coach Mario Cristobal said. "We were doing a really good job in the first quarter and a little bit in the second quarter, then besides the one drive in the third quarter, we got behind."
Right guard Dallas Warmack left the game in the second half and was replaced by inexperienced sophomore Steven Jones. That was a factor in the decreased production on the ground, but there was a significant amount of offense left on the field irrespective of personnel.
"We just didn't execute," quarterback Justin Herbert said. "In the first quarter, we came in fired up and excited and moved the ball really well. We didn't play as well in the last three quarters."
With Oregon sitting on a lead for the entire game up until the last-minute touchdown, the balance between managing the clock and maintaining the pace of the offense was admittedly mismanaged.
"It's tough, but it's something that we practice," Herbert said of the time management. "It's something we practice every Wednesday. I think we could have [run the clock]."
CJ Verdell ran the ball five times in the second half and gained just 12 yards. Travis Dye didn't get a single carry. For an offense predicated on the power-run game, that kind of production from the team's top two backs simply isn't good enough, and it showed in a big way Saturday night.
"It just comes down to those details of a play," offensive lineman Calvin Throckmorton said. "We'll really look at it tomorrow and see what we need to fix."
The perception of the Ducks surrounding this game, and by extension the Pac-12 Conference, will be negative. But for the Ducks, it’s just one loss, and they’ll have an opportunity to bounce back against Nevada next week.
“We know that this doesn’t define our season,” Throckmorton said. “It’s all about just coming together and staying together...I’m excited to see where we can continue to build and develop.