Three-point win makes Ducks 3-0
EUGENE, Ore. – Oregon forced four turnovers and turned all four into touchdowns Saturday afternoon, helping the Ducks overcome an uneven performance and beat UCLA in Autzen Stadium, 38-35.
The Ducks won their first two games of the season despite a minus-5 turnover margin, and knew they were playing with fire. They moved to 3-0 on Saturday by intercepting two passes and recovering two fumbles, including a pick-six by safety Jordan Happle on the final play of the first half.
"Proud of our guys for finding a way to win," UO coach Mario Cristobal said. "Along the way, a lot of things we need to do better and would have liked to do better."
The pick-six put Oregon ahead for good, but there were tense moments as UCLA found success running the ball, and limited the Ducks to 2.6 yards per carry. Oregon came into the game 16-of-22 on third down through two games, but went 3-of-11 on Saturday, as UCLA got stops in the second half to set the stage for late-game drama.
The Ducks punted with 1:17 left in the game, and UCLA drove past midfield in its quest for a game-tying field goal. But the Ducks forced an incomplete pass on fourth down with 19 seconds left to hold on.
"To have the defense out there and have to come up with a play is huge," said Cristobal, who called the last stop a "silver lining" on the day. "The pressure's on, and you've got to find a way to stop them. … A field goal gets it to overtime. They found a way to get it done."
Tyler Shough was 19-of-30 passing for 334 yards with three touchdowns, and the UO sophomore quarterback also rushed for 31 yards. Devon Williams stepped into the starting lineup and caught six passes for 123 yards and a touchdown, Hunter Kampmoyer made his season debut and had a touchdown reception and Travis Dye also caught a TD pass.
Oregon was challenged by UCLA's defensive front. The Bruins had four sacks, and they held the Ducks to 88 rushing yards on 34 carries.
"We didn't do as good of a job running the ball, that's obvious," Cristobal said. "We take a lot of pride in that, so inside, that's painful. But it's something we look forward to looking in the mirror and improving on."
Happle, who started at boundary safety while Nick Pickett served a first-half suspension for targeting, led the Ducks with 11 tackles and had the critical pick-six to close the first half. Isaac Slade-Matautia had 10 tackles, and Masu Funa added nine tackles with two tackles for loss.
Verone McKinley III also had an interception and recovered a fumble for the UO defense.
Noah Sewell forced that fumble and had five tackles before being carted off the field in the second half due to injury. After the game, Cristobal expressed cautious optimism about Sewell's condition, without getting into any specifics.
Sewell forced the fumble while the game was still scoreless in the first quarter, and McKinley poked it away from a UCLA player before picking it up and returning it to the 19-yard line. On the next play, Williams caught Shough's first touchdown pass, and the Ducks were on the board.
Cristobal said he's been pushing Williams as hard as anybody on the team to maximize his potential, and Williams has responded with two outstanding weeks of practice since the season began.
"To be pushed like that by the head coach, it means a lot," Williams said. "Whatever I can do for the team to get wins, that's what I gotta do. He expects nothing but the best from me."
It was quickly 14-0, after a fumble on the ensuing kickoff return. Again the Ducks scored in one play, as Shough took the snap, made a move suggesting he was going to run the ball but then pulled up and flipped a pass over the middle to Dye, who turned it into a 27-yard touchdown reception.
The Bruins, playing without quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, answered with a touchdown to get within 14-7. The teams traded punts, before the Bruins tied it with a scoop-and-score fumble recovery. Oregon responded with a long drive to lead 17-14 on a field goal by Camden Lewis, but UCLA took the lead on a touchdown pass by redshirt freshman Chase Griffin to Greg Dulcich.
The Ducks weren't able to respond, and UCLA had a chance to pad its lead before halftime. But on the final play of the second quarter, Brandon Dorlus hit Griffin as a pass was released, it fluttered into the hands of Happle and defensive lineman Kayvon Thibodeaux provided a key block as Happle raced 58 yards for a touchdown.
"My first thought when I caught the ball was, get in the end zone," said Happle, who made his second career interception and his first since the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl, when he intercepted a pass for Boise State against Oregon.
"Obviously I was put in a good position to make the play. It started with the D line getting the rush and getting the pressure on the quarterback."
CJ Verdell bounced back from a first-half fumble by scoring just after halftime, a short run set up by a 30-yard completion from Shough to Williams. The Bruins got within 31-28 and then stopped the Ducks to retake possession, but McKinley intercepted a pass moments later and Shough went 3-of-3 for 80 yards on the ensuing drive, ending in a 12-yard TD pass to Kampmoyer.
UCLA closed within 38-35 with 3:43 to play. Oregon went into its 4-minute offense and gained one first down while milking the clock, but the Ducks punted it back to the Bruins with 1:17 left in the game.