It didn't start pretty, but it got the job done.
Despite a sluggish first half that included two inexcusable Oregon turnovers, the No. 12 Oregon Ducks defeated the Stanford Cardinal 35-14 at Autzen Stadium to open the 2020 Pac-12 College Football Season.
Here are the key takeaways from the contest.
1. Poor Turnovers
In the first half, Oregon turned the ball over twice: Tyler Shough threw an awful interception where he never even saw the linebacker in zone coverage to give Stanford the ball one play after receiving a punt. The defense held Stanford to a missed field goal, but Shough cannot be read as easily as Levani Damuni did on that play.
Then, right as Oregon entered the red zone, running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio fell over with no contact and fumbled the ball to take away what would have been at least a field goal for the Ducks. This play likely was a fluke due to a wet football, but there's still no excuse. After the defense bailed out the offense again to force a punt, the Ducks jogged back onto the field to begin the next drive from its own four-yard line.
2. Deep Shots on Full Display
While Shough's intermediate passing wasn't too impressive, his deep balls were immaculate. All throughout training camp, Oregon players raved about Joe Moorhead's offense which prioritized taking shots down the field, and Ducks fans got to see why.
For his second completion of the game, Shough connected with sophomore wide receiver Mycah Pittman who snagged the ball with his left hand as he fell to the turf. The play was a 44-yard gain.
That wasn't the last of it, as Johhny Johnson III also caught a 38-yard bomb from Shough to set up a DJ Johnson touchdown to give Oregon a 14-7 lead going into the locker room.
Both downfield completions led to Oregon touchdowns indicating how key they will be to offensive production under Moorhead.
Early in the second half, Shough found Johnny Johnson III again in the endzone but it was overruled on replay. Still, it shows how lethal the offense is with the new philosophy.
3. Offensive Line Needs Work But Found Its Groove
With Penei Sewell opting out of the 2020 season, the Ducks lost all five starters from 2019 when the line was a finalist for the Joe Moore Award.
Saturday, the new unit looked like a group that had never started a game before the evening. The Ducks kept trying to run in between the tackles with little success. CJ Verdell had just 32 yards rushing on 12 first-half carries (2.7 yards per rush), and that included Verdell's touchdown run that came off an option play on the left edge. Without that, Verdell averaged 2.0 yards per carry in the first half.
While the play-calling helped open up the running game for Shough, who had 46 yards rushing on 6 first-half carries, Verdell should be averaging at least 3.3 yards per carry for these plays to be worth calling. For that to happen, the line needs to open up running lanes as Verdell can run through arm tackles but not multiple defenders.
The offensive line found its groove in the second half, helping junior Travis Dye rush for a touchdown to take a double-digit lead in the third quarter. If the unit can replicate its second-half production, then the Ducks will be fine.
4. Tyler Shough is Up for the Challenge
Making his first career start with Justin Herbert playing on Sundays, Tyler Shough gained confidence as the game went on and helped the Ducks win comfortably. His accuracy pushing the ball downfield has already been noted earlier in this article, but Shough also found immense success on the ground, rushing for 85 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
With Moorhead calling the plays, the Ducks will run the quarterback more than in previous seasons and Shough's play Saturday showed why that can be deadly for Pac-12 defenses to defend.
Next, Oregon will travel north to Pullman, WA to play the Washington State Cougars on Saturday, November 14th.