By SPENCER McLAUGHLIN
Contributor, 750 The Game
It felt like chipping in for par on the 5th-toughest hole on the golf course. You’ll have to hit the ball better on the four tougher holes to score well on them. But for now, you did enough to set yourself up for an escape that counts as if you had hit the green and lipped out a 7-foot putt for birdie.
Oregon beat Texas Tech 38-30 in Lubbock on Saturday thanks to timely plays on both sides of the ball. Bo Nix went for 359 yards through the air plus another 46 on the ground and two passing touchdowns. The defense forced four turnovers and had a crucial 4th down stop late in the game in Texas Tech territory. Once Jeffrey Bassa waltzed into the endzone for the clinching pick six – though Dan Lanning would have preferred he had just gone down – it became clear the Ducks were going to keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive.
The Pac-12 continues to look and play like the deepest conference in the country, with eight teams inside the top 25 of the latest AP poll. I’ve long struggled to see any team getting through nine league games without at least one loss, and that opinion has only been fortified after the first two weeks of the season.
Any Pac-12 team that wants to make the playoff will likely have to be 3-0 in their non-conference games. So for Oregon, mission accomplished. Hawaii is up next at Autzen Stadium where the Ducks are a 37.5-point favorite.
But let’s go back to Lubbock for a moment.
A defense that improved on paper during the offseason showed serious signs of being better on the field on Saturday night. They had 4 sacks, a number of other pressures (including on Bassa’s pick 6), and looked much faster than they did a season ago.
That unit had 3 drives on the field in the 4th quarter before intercepting Texas Tech’s hail mary on the last play of the game. Those drives? Turnover on downs, a field goal after a drive that failed to reach the red zone, and an interception returned for a touchdown.
But there’s still work to be done.
Oregon amassed 124 yards worth of penalties against the Red Raiders, with infractions on both sides of the ball. The offensive line, incorporating a new center and left tackle, had more than a couple of procedure penalties in a tough road environment. The defensive penalties still felt more punitive for the Ducks.
If not for a pass interference penalty on 3rd and 18 in the first half, Oregon gets the ball back up 15-7 after having scored on each of their previous 2 drives. The Red Raiders should have been punting the ball from inside their own 25 back to Bo Nix and the offense. Instead, they strung together a touchdown drive and suddenly it was 15-13. Even if Oregon had just managed a field goal, 18-7 would have given a completely different tone and tenor to the football game.
Coming out of the halftime break, Oregon’s defense was on the field. One pass interference and one conversion by TTU on 3rd and 12 later, the Ducks were trailing 20-18. 14 penalties totaling 124 yards on the day. They escaped in this one, but better teams in the Pac-12 aren’t likely to let such things transpire.
The penalties were frustrating for Oregon fans to watch as the Ducks failed to get out of their own way. The running game was dormant outside of Bo Nix making plays with his legs. The Ducks’ talented trio of RBs (Bucky Irving, Noah Whittington, and Jordan James) tallied just 67 yards on 22 carries. That won’t cut it either going forward.
But was it all negative? Absolutely not. Bo Nix looked like the Heisman-caliber quarterback he had been hyped up to be on billboards in New York and Dallas. The skill position players to catch the football are talented and VERY deep. The defense looks faster and more physical up front for both the defensive line and the linebackers–the latter still haven’t seen Iowa transfer Jestin Jacobs, who could be expected to start once healthy.
This game felt remarkably similar to the Washington State game in 2022. Self-inflicted wounds and a thrilling win sealed with a pick 6. After that game in Pullman, the Ducks won 5 in a row by an average of about 23 points per game.
For now, they’re 2-0 and their CFP aspirations remain intact.
Spencer McLaughlin is an Oregon Ducks football contributor to 750 The Game. He also hosts the “Locked On Oregon Ducks” and “Locked On Pac-12” podcasts and has work featured throughout the season here.