For the first time in 644 days, the No. 11 Oregon Ducks got to play in front of their home fans at Autzen Stadium in a 31-24 season-opening win over Fresno State, just barely. But hey, a win is a win.
Facing a 4th-and-2 in a tie-game, Mario Cristobal elected to go for it and Joe Moorhead trusted his senior quarterback Anthony Brown to deliver. The Boston College transfer kept the ball around the left side on an option, reversed field and ended up scoring on a go-ahead, 30-yard run to take a 31-24 lead with 2:57 remaining.
Then on defense, the Ducks forced a turnover on downs . The previous play saw Brandon Dorlus with a 7-yard sack.
Oregon would run the clock out to ensure victory. The defense forced three fumbles with all three turnovers turning into points from the offense.
The Ducks struck first in this one with a two-yard touchdown run from CJ Verdell on 3rd-and-goal with 8:06 remaining in the first quarter. The excellent field position came thanks to Kayvon Thibodeaux forcing a fumble and Mase Funa returning the loose ball to the three-yard line. The Ducks gave Verdell three carries before crossing the goal line.
It didn't take long to strike again as Travis Dye scored his first touchdown of the season with just 6:40 left in the first quarter. Reigning Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Noah Sewell got the ball back for Oregon, stripping the Fresno State running back. Three plays later, Oregon led 14-0.
Fresno State got on the scoreboard thanks to a pair of 30+ yard field goals.
After a few sputtering offensive drives, Anthony Brown engineered a six-play, 74-yard scoring drive finished off with a 32-yard dime to Johnny Johnson III to take a 21-6 lead.
The Bulldogs responded with an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 17-yard pass to Jalen Cropper to enter halftime trailing 21-13. That drive was aided by a late hit penalty committed by Justin Flowe, who was fortunate to not get flagged for targeting.
To open the second half, the Ducks turned the ball over on downs inside the redzone after an uncreative run-up-the-middle play call on 4th-and-two failed. Fresno State came back with a touchdown drive, spearheaded by a 45-yard run by Jordan Mims on 3rd-and-2, and finished with a two-yard quarterback keeper by Jake Haener.
The teams traded punts before Anthony Brown got strip sacked to open the fourth quarter. Bulldogs DL Kevin Atkins recovered the ball on the Oregon 28-yard line gifting Fresno State excellent field position, and consequently the momentum.
The Ducks' defense would hold Fresno State to a field goal, giving the Bulldogs a 24-21 lead with 13:03 left in the game.
Oregon elected to punt on its next possession rather than roll the dice on 4th-and-3 from its own 40-yard line. Tom Snee however had his punt of the day, booming it 57 yards before the ball rolled out at the Bulldogs 4-yard line.
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Then, Justin Flowe punched the ball loose gifting Oregon the ball at the Fresno State 32-yard line. Oregon would kick a game-tying field goal with 7:41 remaining.
Oregon would force a 3-and-out setting up the Ducks on its own 37-yard line. Anthony Brown later connected on a 32-yard pass to Johnson III after the senior ran up the far sideline, setting up Brown's game-winning scamper.
Dru Mathis and Trikweze Bridges got the starting nod at inside linebacker and boundary cornerback over Justin Flowe and Dontae Manning. Both 5-star freshmen still got ample playing time however, especially following an injury to Mathis.
Heisman hopeful Kayvon Thibodeaux left the game during the first quarter with an apparent left ankle/foot injury. He walked off under his own power before being examined in the medical tent. He returned to the game in the second quarter with a taped left cleat before exiting the halftime locker room in a boot and street clothes.
Camden Lewis started at placekicker over Henry Katleman, making four extra points and a field goal.
Next up, the No. 11 Ducks travel to Columbus to take on the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, September 11th at 9:00 a.m. PST.
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