Coming into Saturday’s matchup with Cal, Oregon faced the same questions it has all season defensively. Namely, would the Ducks be able to stop a team with an aggressive passing attack led by junior quarterback Jared Goff.
After all, the Ducks gave up over 700 yards of offensive in a three overtime thriller a week earlier against Arizona State and teams with potent offenses have been tearing the Ducks up all season long.
But Saturday was a different story as the Ducks (6-3, 4-2) held a slumping Cal (5-4, 2-4) team to 432 total yards in a 44-28 victory at Autzen Stadium. Despite falling behind early thanks to a couple costly mistakes, Oregon dominated time of possession and made Goff’s night uncomfortable for a majority of the game.
Cal jumped out to a 10-0 lead thanks to a blocked punt that led to a Stephen Anderson touchdown catch and a Matt Anderson field goal on the next drive following a Vernon Adams interception in the end zone.
At that point, Goff was 5-of-10 passing for 71 yards and a touchdown and Cal looked poise to take advantage of what could’ve been the makings of another underwhelming defensive performance by the Ducks.
But as the game wore on, Goff felt more pressure from Oregon and his performance suffered as a result. He finished 18-for-41 with two touchdowns, an interception, and he was sacked twice by defensive end DeForest Buckner and cornerback Tyree Robinson. Altough he was able to connect on an 80-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to Bryce Treggs and on a 57-yard pass to Maurice Harris, Goff was largely limited going deep against the Oregon secondary overall, which drew praise from secondary coach John Neal.
"It's not easy when they get out and they spread you and they put the tight ends in the game," he said. "And you're just looking out there going 'Oh you know they're going to throw it deep and they're going to block everybody'. When you make those plays, they're enormous."
Robinson and Buckner led the Ducks with seven tackles each though Robinson was credited with six solo tackles to Buckner’s five. Safety Khalil Oliver also made his presence known with a pick at the end of the game to end Cal’s last offensive possession.
The Cal run game, led by Vic Enwere’s 68 yards, finished with only 103 total yards against the Oregon front and was unable to offset the troubles present in the passing game as Oregon racked up 31 unanswered first half points to keep the game out of reach for the Golden Bears.
One notable change for Oregon defensively was the move of Neal to the press box while defensive coordinator Don Pellum stayed on the field. Neal felt his coaching was lacking from the sidelines and elected to make the switch and the defensive unit adjusted accordingly.
"I did like it," he said. "I felt comfortable and (Pellum) and I communicated a lot more. I thought the whole system was really solid tonight."
Neal said that he plans on being in the box going forward. The Ducks take on Stanford in their final regular season road contest next weekend.