The No. 23 Oregon Ducks (3-2) limped out of California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California after suffering a 21-17 loss to the then-winless Cal Golden Bears (1-3) on Saturday.
I say limped because the amount of self-inflicted wounds and mental miscues was flat out inexcusable, some even leading to points on the scoreboard for Cal.
The Bears had a 19-play, 80-yard drive in the second quarter that could have easily been stopped before they crossed midfield. The Ducks defense had forced a 4th-and-1 and a Cal punt, but Travis Dye trotted on the field late for a punt return and no one substituted off leaving 12 men on the field. Cal first down.
On this same drive, the defense stopped Cal short on a third down passing play, but Kayvon Thibodeaux got up and shoved a Cal offensive lineman. He got hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, gifting Cal with a fresh set of downs from the one-yard-line.
Two costly penalties that kept this drive alive.
Then the Bears may have got some help from the Pac-12 refs.
After a few big time defensive stops keeping the Cal running backs out of the endzone, Bears QB Chase Garbers tried to find tight end Jake Tonges but the pass was defended by safety Bennett Williams. Then that yellow flag came out once again and Williams was called for pass interference.
Cal scored on the very next play.
But it should have never got to the point and head coach Mario Cristobal knows it.
“Very costly. Kept two drives going and ended up resulting in points. Not good enough. Penalties, assess when they were called, why they were called, got to play cleaner football. Got to play more disciplined football, which means you got to coach more disciplined football and we do a good job in practice, we have done a good job in practice.
Oregon finished the game with nine penalties totaling 60 yards. That’s pretty uncharacteristic for a Cristobal-led program that prides itself on physicality and disciplined football.
It’s those penalties that are unnecessary that come back to haunt you, and that was evident against Cal.
Thibodeaux knows it too.
“It was tough to see that but we just got to be more disciplined as players and think about our teammates before we think about ourselves,” said senior defensive lineman Austin Faoliu. “I think if we do that, we’ll be good.”
Despite the miscues that kept drives alive, the second half was a much better story defensively. Oregon’s defense netted one yard allowed in the fourth quarter: eight yards through the air and minus seven on the ground.
It was the second-half defensive performance that the Ducks have been waiting on all season, even though the result was another loss.
“For us, it kind of just motivates us,” said sophomore safety Verone McKinley III. “That’s the standard for us to play defensively and we just want to keep doing that for these next games or two. We were supporting the offense at all times, we were up off the bench making sure we support them so it's just time for us to come together. We saw we had a better game probably today and we’re just going to keep building off of it.”
Although this is back-to-back losses for the Ducks, Oregon can still have the chance next Saturday to win the Pac-12 North title and have a chance to repeat as Pac-12 champions.
But first, learning from the mistakes against Cal and taking care of business hosting the Washington Huskies (3-1) at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon on Saturday.