EUGENE, Ore. — After being obliterated 48-14 at USC last season, a beleaguered Jeff Tedford told reporters that he was proud that his team “won the second half” after trailing by 42 points at halftime.
While Tedford did not proclaim a first-half victory in Thursday night’s 43-15 loss at the hands of No. 9 Oregon, the Cal head coach could hardly explain his team’s total collapse in the second half after a 15-14 halftime lead evaporated into the drizzly Eugene evening at Autzen Stadium.
Riding another stellar performance from Heisman hopeful LaMichael James and wicked second halves from both Darron and De’Anthony Thomas, the Ducks (4-1, 2-0 in the Pac-12) extinguished any of Cal’s upset hopes with a blistering offensive barrage in the second half, annihilating the Bears (3-2, 0-2) on both sides of the ball and outscoring them 29-0 in the final 30 minutes.
“We couldn’t cover them in the secondary,” Tedford said. “We tried to play some man and the quarterback played really well. They dialed up some stuff in the second half that got after our man-to-man coverage and they made some big plays.”
The Thomas-to-Thomas connection — De’Anthony caught six passes for 114 yards and two scores — was often at the expense of freshman defensive back Stefan McClure, who filled in for starter Marc Anthony. Anthony left the game in the first half with a separated shoulder.
“They went to that side a few times,” Tedford said. “Other guys still got stuck in man and they’ve got a lot of speed.”
After scoring 14 points in the first half, the Ducks scored touchdowns on their first four second-half possessions, displaying tremendous balance in both their running and passing game.
It was a relatively clunky first half for the Ducks’ offense, but they showcased their speed in the second half anchored by the splendid James, who rushed for over 200 yards in his third consecutive game, and was spelled strongly by backup Kenjon Barner. With markedly improved play from Darron Thomas and stellar performances from both running backs, Oregon executed its offense as soon as the whistle blew in the second half.
Starting on its own 12-yard line to start the second half, the Ducks ran on the first seven plays of their opening series which appeared to stabilize the previously shaky Thomas, who was 8-for-19 in the first half and ended his half with a woeful interception to Cal safety D.J. Campbell.
Aided by a pass interference penalty and consistent gains by his running backs, Thomas found De’Anthony Thomas for a 23-yard touchdown pass at the right pylon and the Ducks never looked back after taking the lead with 9:59 left in the third quarter.
The Ducks received a significant blow when James went out with an arm injury early in the fourth quarter. James, who rushed for 239 yards on 30 carries, said that his arm “got knocked out of place,” but that he will “definitely wear an Oregon uniform again this year.”
While Oregon finally found its compsure, the Bears completely lost theirs. Quarterback Zach Maynard’s feet kept dancing in the pocket and his throws kept sailing away from frequently open receivers all night after his subpar play was salvaged by running back Isi Sofele and kicker Giorgio Tavecchio in the first half. Maynard ended up completing just 20 of his 41 passes for 218 yards, while Sofele gained 119 yards on the ground on just 12 carries.
“The offensive line did a great job, I just need to get the ball out faster,” Maynard said. “I need to set my feet and give the receivers balls they can catch.”
Tavecchio seemed to exorcise whatever demons existed from last season, knocking through two early field goals and then connecting on a stunning 54-yard try that brought Cal to within five points. Tavecchio’s night was far from perfect, though, as his 40-yard attempt at the end of the first half was blocked by Napa, Calif., product John Boyett.
Before Anthony exited with his injury, Thomas was 5-for-10 for 36 yards and no touchdowns. After Anthony exited and McClure entered, Thomas began to click with both Josh Huff and his fellow Thomas, De’Anthony, to finish the game 13-of-25 for 198 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
James made the types of big plays that he has all season, with many of them occurring while buried in his own territory. The junior burst down the sideline for a 53-yard touchdown run just 30 seconds after Cal took an early 3-0 lead.
Two possessions later, Thomas barked out an intelligent audible that would free up James on the weak side, who galloped 47 yards to set up the Ducks’ second touchdown of the quarter.
The Bears won the first half, but even Tedford conveyed the pain of the lost opportunity.
“There were good things, sure,” Tedford said. “But we didn’t win the football game.”