Ducks Drop Opener To Defending Champs
ATLANTA — The defending national champions looked the part in Oregon's 2022 season opener Saturday, as Georgia returned to the field for the first time since January's College Football Playoff championship and beat the Ducks, 49-3, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The UO football team's first game under new head coach Dan Lanning went inauspiciously, with Georgia scoring on each of its first seven possessions while the Ducks turned it over twice in the first half. The Ducks were held to their lowest point total in a season opener since 1982, and their lowest total in a game since 2017.
"You talk about games ones, it comes down to turnovers, it comes down to penalties, it comes down to missed tackles," Lanning said. "We really lost a lot of those battles tonight."
Oregon returns to Eugene to play its home opener next, against Eastern Washington on Saturday, Sept. 10 (5:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network).
"We gotta take our team, look for our opportunities to improve," Lanning said. "And guess what? Regardless of the result today, we would have to do the same thing: It's about, what can you go fix and how can you improve?"
Bo Nix got the start at quarterback against the Bulldogs and was 21-of-37 passing for 173 yards, with the two turnovers. Oregon nearly found the end zone in the waning minutes of the game, but a pass from Nix went off a receiver's hands in the end zone.
Nix also finished as Oregon's leading rusher, with 37 yards on eight rushes. Returning backs Sean Dollars and Byron Cardwell combined for 61 yards on eight carries. Georgia native Jamal Hill led the UO defense with 11 tackles, and linebacker Justin Flowe finished with 10.
"That game was tough," Nix said. "I'm not going to lie to you, it wasn't pretty. I'm not going to sit up here and say it was. I can't really say much about it. It is what it is. They beat us pretty bad."
The one-sided loss had echoes of the 19-8 defeat at Boise State in the 2009 opener, which also was played under a new head coach. That season ended with Oregon in the Rose Bowl, as did the two subsequent seasons for the Ducks that opened with a loss, both 2011 and 2019.
"I told our coaching staff this morning before we ever played the game, in a meeting, that every single one of our goals is going to be ahead of us, regardless of how this game comes out," Lanning said. "Win, lose, draw, every one of our goals is still right there in front of us. Our players feel the exact same way."
The Ducks didn't have a three-and-out on offense Saturday until the fourth quarter. But they couldn't string together enough plays to reach the end zone, and had the two costly first-half turnovers. After Oregon punted from near midfield to open the game, Georgia took the lead for good with a 12-play, 85-yard drive that featured the first two of the Bulldogs' nine third-down conversions in the game.
An interception on a deep shot ended Oregon's next possession, and Georgia quickly drove to another touchdown with a drive that included gains of 25, 29 and 25 yards. The Bulldogs took advantage of some missed tackles early in the game, and they consistently got the ball to players in space on the perimeter.
"Lotta stuff today that just kept repeating itself," UO defensive back Bennett Williams said. "They obviously had a game plan to attack the perimeter, and we did not do well enough at all. We started to know what's coming, and they executed and we didn't — bottom line."
It was 21-0 when Camden Lewis got Oregon on the scoreboard with a 35-yard field goal late in the second quarter. The Bulldogs added another touchdown before halftime for a 28-3 lead at the break, and they scored the only three touchdowns of the second half.
The Ducks were outgained offensively, 571 yards to 313, despite having an advantage in rushing yardage, 140 to 132. The Bulldogs had the edge in turnover margin and also in explosive plays.
"We just didn't do a good enough job today," UO center Alex Forsyth said. "Obviously the score says that too. We've just got to be better."