ARLINGTON, TX – The No 11 ranked Oregon Ducks started their 2019 season with a loss, falling to the No 16 ranked Auburn Tigers 21-27 at AT&T Stadium. Oregon moves to 0-3 all time at AT&T Stadium, with their previous trips to Arlington including losses to LSU in the 2011 AdvoCare Classic, and to Ohio State in the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014.
In his time as head coach, Mario Cristobal has attempted to redefine Oregon’s identity with “Oregon Football 2.0”, a physical team that can run between the trenches, and compete with the country’s biggest powerhouses. With a win, Oregon would have proved that vision was coming to fruition, immediately jumped into National Championship contention, and returning senior quarterback Justin Herbert would be at the top of the 2019 Heisman candidates.
Instead, Auburn’s true freshman quarterback Bo Nix marched the Tigers down to take their first lead of the game with 9 seconds left in the 4th quarter, capping off a 2:05 drive with a 26-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide-receiver Seth Williams.
The Ducks now find themselves in a deflating uphill battle the rest of the season. To this point, no team has rebounded from a week 1 loss to enter the College Football Playoff, and they’ll likely need to escape the rest of this season without another loss to even enter the conversation about sneaking back in. A season that includes road trips to Stanford, Washington, and USC, along with a home game against Washington State.
While a tough road lies ahead, Oregon has the leadership and foundation needed to recover. Cristobal stated “I think our guys all recognize our goals are still in front of us… we have a really good group of leaders, and our program is built from the inside out… We build it on the right stuff, so when situations like this hit, that you’re prepared to bounce back and move forward”.
Oregon showed moments of their potential Saturday, and despite walking away with a loss, they didn’t fail the SEC test.
Leading into the game, one of Oregon’s largest question marks came at the wide-receiver position. Oregon lost their biggest playmaker in Dillon Mitchell last season and filled the void most notably with Penn State transfer Juwan Johnson. Johnson was surprising held out of Saturday’s contest, after Cristobal told media he was “100 percent” earlier in the week. In addition to Johnson, senior receiver Brenden Schooler and junior tight end Cam McCormick were also inactive due to injury.
Oregon’s depth was tested at the position, and redshirt freshman Spencer Webb stepped up to the challenge by reeling in a 20-yard touchdown from Herbert on his first career reception. In total, 8 different players stepped up to fill the void at receiver by getting involved in the passing game, totaling 242 yards and a touchdown.
In his debut as Oregon’s defensive coordinator, Andy Avalos’s defense was brilliant. Holding Auburn to only 3 points on 3 red-zone appearances. At the center of Avalos’s defense was senior linebacker Troy Dye, who recorded a career high 15 tackles (10 solo). A feat that hasn’t been achieved by an Oregon player since Joe Walker in 2015 and become a new AdvoCare Classic record.
Much like last season, the biggest issue for Oregon is consistency. After their explosive start in the first half, Oregon’s offense was held scoreless for the final 21:23 of game time. Speaking about his offense’s stagnant second half, Herbert simply stated “We just didn’t execute. I think the first quarter we came our fired up, and excited, and moved the ball really well. Unfortunately, we didn’t play as well in the last three quarters”.
Oregon will look to start the rebound next Saturday, September 7th in Eugene, where they will face Nevada (1-0) in their home opener.