EUGENE, Ore. — The pregame video that blasts across the jumbotron at Auzten Stadium proclaims it is the arena “where great teams come to die.”
If that’s true, then Autzen is also the place where teams like Cal go to get buried six feet under.
Saturday night was predicted to be a fast-paced conference opener between two stat-happy offenses: No. 2 Oregon racked up the nation’s second-most yards and points per game across their first three games. Meanwhile, Cal’s Jared Goff entered the tilt with the most passing yards in the nation.
Yet amid a steady downpour that didn’t let up for four quarters, early turnovers further drowned the Bears (1-3, 0-1 Pac-12). The Ducks (4-0, 1-0) poured in the points on their way to a 55-16 rout.
“This was a game of attrition in a lot of ways,” head coach Sonny Dykes said after the game. “Give Oregon credit. They are a good football team and executed well despite the rain. We had some major struggles with the rain.”
For the first time in school history, Oregon has scored at least 50 points in its first four games. The rain, however, turned Oregon’s notoriously fast offense a little trepidatious to open up the contest. Ducks’ running back De’Anthony Thomas injured his ankle returning the opening kickoff and was helped off the field, only to reappear on the sideline in the second half on crutches.
On the game’s opening drive, quarterback Marcus Mariota threw an incomplete pass intended for running back Byron Marshall.
But Mariota adjusted relatively quickly to the storm.
“I’ve been playing in the rain since I was a little kid,” the Honolulu native said. “Hawaii has its passing showers. So it really doesn’t bother me.”
Mariota finished the day with his own version of a passing shower, completing 11 of 24 passes for two touchdowns and rushing one score in himself before he got pulled in the third quarter.
Six plays into the game, Marshall rushed 14 yards to put his team up, 6-0, on the first score of the day. Yet Oregon botched its extra-point attempt — another result of the showers, as the ball slipped from the holder’s hands before the kicker even got a shot off.
Yet Cal’s first drive was far more disastrous. On a third and four at his team’s own 31-yard line, quarterback Jared Goff was sacked for a loss of seven yards. A dog pile ensued on top of the ball, and the Ducks emerged victorious.
Goff spent his team’s following drive handing off to running back Brendan Bigelow, who gained 14 total yards before losing six. The ball slipped out, and Oregon’s Rodney Hardrick recovered it for his team at the 33 yard line.
Oregon capitalized on the lucky break, and Josh Huff walked in another score to increase the edge, 13-0, with 8:56 left in the first quarter.
As the Ducks steadily racked up the points, Goff continued to sputter. With a little under nine minutes left in the first quarter, Goff fell beneath another Oregon sack at his own 31 yard line and coughed up the ball. Mariota marched his team the short distance to the end zone to pull ahead, 20-0.
“It’s been a little problematic for us, the last several weeks getting off to a bad start again,” Dykes said. “Tonight was no different.”
It was never a question that Cal’s defense would be unable to contain the explosive Ducks. The Bears ranked among the bottom dregs of the FBS in total defense, giving up a staggering 1,669 yards in three home tilts. Cal’s main hope for staying in the game lay in Goff’s efficiency.
As quickly as Goff’s star rose this season, it fell on Saturday night. The true freshman continued to literally fumble his way through the first quarter, completing just three of six attempts for 11 yards and two sacks — both at the hands of Oregon’s Deforest Buckner.
“The ball was slipping out of his hand,” Dykes said. “We felt like we were having a hard time getting anything done.”
In the waning minutes of the first quarter, backup quarterback Zach Kline came in for the Bears and remained in for the rest of the game. In his college debut, Kline finished 18-of-37 on passes with 165 yards on the evening.
“We needed to make a change and it felt like it gave us a better chance to move the football and score some points,” Dykes continued.
However, even Kline contributed to the Bears’ costly first-half errors. Of Cal’s first eight possessions, seven resulted in turnovers: four fumbles, one interception and two turnovers on downs. In fact, Cal relinquished every single one of its fumbles Saturday night.
The Ducks showed no mercy, and in the first quarter alone four of the Ducks’ six possessions resulted in touchdowns.
It wasn’t until the clock expired in the first half that Cal even lit up the scoreboard. A 46-yard field goal from Vince D’Amato gave the Bears a meager three points heading into the locker room. It wasn’t a sputter toward life so much as a sputter toward relevance.
The second half was the same lopsided monotony, as Oregon continued to dominate and the score continued to climb. Though Cal managed to rack up two touchdowns late in the contest, the effort went virtually unnoticed.
“We dropped balls all night long,” Dykes said. “Pretty much everything you can do poorly as a football team we did tonight.”