Justin Herbert stuck around his hometown school for one more season in order to deliver on a few promises and lead Oregon back to conference and, hopefully, national glory. The senior quarterback took a step in that direction on Saturday night in Eugene, helping the No. 6 Ducks thump Arizona 34-6 and lock up the Pac-12 North title in the process.
It was a wire-to-wire victory too, with the home side delighting the Autzen Stadium crowd with a 73 yard touchdown reception by Johnny Johnson III on just the second snap of the ball game thanks to a busted coverage. That was one of four scoring tosses for Herbert, who finished with 333 yards through the air and an interception off a tipped pass in what was his penultimate game at the stadium just a few miles from his childhood home.
While that strike to Johnson was a heck of a way to get the game going, it was another Johnson, Penn State transfer Juwan, who led the team in receiving (93 yards) and had the highlight-reel throw from the potential first-rounder off a lovely reverse flea-flicker he took into the end zone.
UO’s defense also continued their strong run of results in netting six sacks, nine tackles for loss and allowing just five third down conversions while keeping the Wildcats under 250 yards of total offense.
Grant Gunnell actually got the start at quarterback for Arizona but threw for just 82 yards and was mostly sitting on the sidelines during the second and third quarters. That was the time for UO’s normal tormentor in Khalil Tate, who failed to get much of anything going despite some past performances full of big numbers.
While it was going to be a tough task no matter what to knock off a top 10 team at home, the ‘Cats now face an even more difficult task of beating both No. 7 Utah and Arizona State in their remaining two games or risk missing a bowl game for the second straight year under Kevin Sumlin.
A postseason berth isn’t something for the Ducks to worry about as they clinch their first division since 2014 and will be ticketed to Santa Clara for the Pac-12 title game against what they hope is a College Football Playoff quarterfinal against a similarly red-hot Utes team. Oregon has won nine in a row since their season-opening loss to Auburn and outside of perhaps Ohio State, Clemson or LSU, there are few teams in the country playing better football than this one.
That’s just what Herbert and his fellow stars were hoping to do in returning for one last hurrah and they’re certainly living up to those expectations with their play so far in 2019.