There are a wide variety of things you could call ‘tone-setting’ plays in college football and it’s safe to say that No. 6 Oregon scoring a long touchdown on the second offensive snap of the game would qualify as one as they look to clinch a division title on Saturday night.
The Ducks jumped out to a 21-6 halftime lead over visiting Arizona in a rather convincing effort at Autzen Stadium as they continue to look impressive in the beauty contest that is the College Football Playoff race at this point.
A Wildcats coverage bust led to that initial score, as Johnny Johnson III raced 73 yards to pay dirt to showcase right from the get-go that things were clicking on all cylinders offensively. Oregon QB Justin Herbert wound up at the break with 218 yards and tossed another touchdown off a nifty reverse flea-flicker right into the waiting arms of Juwan Johnson from 53 yards out.
The Ducks didn’t miss All-America-caliber left tackle Penei Sewell as a result with the mammoth offensive lineman sitting out the first two series for what school officials said was being late to a meeting. Given that the first of those drives lasted all of two plays and the second was a 3-and-out, he certainly lucked out despite the tardiness.
Things didn’t go so well for WR Mycah Pittman. The freshman has been one of the team’s top options since getting healthy but it sure looked like he might not return the rest of the regular season after suffering from a horrible looking injury to his wrist/forearm. He was carted off the field after being looked at by trainers and while he won’t be missed this game the way the two Johnsons are playing, is a long term injury worth monitoring for sure.
As for Arizona, Grant Gunnell started at quarterback (4-of-6, 28 yards) but was eventually replaced by Khalil Tate as things wore on in the second quarter. The latter did seem to provide some spark in helping move the ball down the field but the end result was just a pair of field goals and a decent deficit to overcome after the break.
Keep in mind that the Wildcats are hoping to even their record on the year at 5-5 and remain in the running for a bowl game while Oregon will no doubt be looking for style points in the second half to impress the Selection Committee and lock up the Pac-12 North title at the same time.
Pac-12 After Dark never fails to disappoint. Unless, perhaps, you’re commissioner Larry Scott watching the league’s hopes for a College Football Playoff bid nearly hit the skids.
No. 11 Oregon got a last second 26 yard field goal from freshman kicker Camden Lewis to stay alive in the elusive postseason chase, snapping a four-game skid to Washington State 37-35 in the kind of contest you just rarely see anywhere else except deep into Saturday night out West.
Leading the way for the Ducks was not quarterback Justin Herbert but the guy he shares the backfield with in CJ Verdell. The speedy tailback notched a career-high 257 yards on the ground as he found the end zone three times. That included breaking off an 89 yarder nearly untouched that delighted the Autzen Stadium crowd and for good measure the sophomore nearly doubled as the leading receiver (50 yards, just shy of Juwan Johnson‘s 64) to boot.
The team averaged six and a half yards per carry as a result of the rushing effort and milked the clock like an option team, not needing to rely on Herbert (21-of-30, 222 yards passing) all that much as the signal-caller’s FBS-leading streak of 35 games with a touchdown pass came to an end. The likely first round pick did turn in an efficient performance against a defense that dared him to hand the ball off and came up big in marching the team right down the field for the game-winning field goal with under a minute left.
Such positive vibes on offense were offset by the play of the UO defense, which didn’t handle Mike Leach’s Air Raid attack quite as well as they had recent Pac-12 opponents. Cougars QB Anthony Gordon tossed a pick-six and another early interception but otherwise was on point in throwing for 406 yards and three scores — including a go-ahead touchdown on fourth down with an even 60 seconds left on the clock. Shifty tailback Max Borghi was all over the field as the top weapon like usual, rushing for 54 yards and a TD while also catching eight passes for 70 yards.
It was all for not however, as Oregon netted their first win against Wazzu in Eugene since 2013 and ended an overall four-game losing streak to their division rivals. The Ducks pretty much locked up the Pac-12 North in the process too, sitting atop the standings as the conference’s only undefeated team in league play while holding tiebreakers over every other team in the division sans Civil War rival Oregon State. They can potentially clinch a trip to Santa Clara next weekend when they visit USC.
Maybe more importantly for Scott and the fans out West, they also didn’t shoot themselves in the foot with another inexplicable loss for a national contender and will continue to keep the Pac-12 in the hunt for a College Football Playoff bid into November alongside league favorite Utah. It wasn’t pretty but surviving and advancing is the name of the game at this point on the calendar in this wild and crazy sport.
One of the many Penn State players to enter the transfer portal this offseason has found his new home, and it will actually be closer to his real home. Brandon Polk, a native of Virginia will be returning to his home state for his final year of eligibility. With a brief message on Twitter and Instagram, Polk announced he will play this upcoming season for FCS powerhouse James Madison.
Polk will be eligible to play immediately this fall for the Dukes as a graduate transfer (and normal NCAA transfer rules would allow an FBS player transferring to an FCS school to be eligible right away anyway).
Polk played in 11 games for the Nittany Lions last season and caught nine passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Polk is one of two graduate transfers leaving Penn State this offseason via transfer, joining Juwan Johnson (Oregon) in looking to finish off their college careers in a different uniform.
Former Penn State wide receiver Juwan Johnson has officially transferred to Oregon, the Ducks announced Tuesday.
“Juwan’s a big time addition to our program,” lead Duck Mario Cristobal said in a statement. “He fits our DNA in a lot of ways and I’m excited for him to take the field. He’ll immediately elevate the competition we have going at wide receiver and the experience he brings to the group and the offensive side of the ball will be extremely beneficial.”
Johnson is a graduate transfer, meaning he has one season to play immediately in Eugene.
A Glassboro, N.J., native and a former 4-star recruit, Johnson caught 81 passes in his three seasons as a Nittany Lion. His sophomore campaign of 2017 was his best, a year in which he hauled in 54 passes for 701 yards and one touchdown. He was also a two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection.
The 6-foot-4 Johnson figures to be a big third-down target for Justin Herbert. Oregon returns its top six pass-catchers from 2018, which equates to every player who snared more than eight receptions in 2018.
Former Penn State wide receiver Juwan Johnson is transferring to Oregon. The new Duck announced his decision to join the Oregon program with a quick message on his Twitter account.
As a graduate transfer, Johnson will be eligible to begin catching passes from Justin Herbert this fall. Johnson still brings some good size to the receiver position, and Oregon will hope to insert him into the offense will lead to a bit of a rebound after the 2018 season. After catching 54 passes for 701 yards and a touchdown in 2017, Johnson caught 25 passes for 352 yards in eight games last season for the Nittany Lions.
The biggest highlight of Johnson’s time at Penn State may have been his game-winning touchdown catch as time expired in a primetime road win at Iowa in 2017. The win helped keep Penn State’s early-season national title hopes alive a season after winning the Big Ten.