EUGENE, Ore. — For about 10 minutes, Bowling Green had No. 24 Oregon’s number on opening night.
Carl Pelini’s new defense forced back-to-back three-and-outs from the Ducks. Two 10-play drives produced Nate Needham’s 36-yard field goal and Jarret Doege’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Scott Miller that put the Falcons up 10-0 with 115 total yards.
The Pac-12 Network feed showed Jim Leavitt, Oregon’s $1.7 million defensive coordinator, on the sideline straining not to sweat.
Oregon linebacker Justin Hollins hits Bowling Green quarterback Jarret Doege, causing a fumble, in the season-opener for both teams. Oregon won the game, 58-24.
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Five touchdowns and a safety later, the Ducks weren’t, either, as Justin Herbert threw for three scores in the first half of a 58-24 victory before a season-opening crowd of 50,112 at Autzen Stadium on Saturday. Herbert, the junior starring in his hometown and a Heisman hopeful, finished 10 of 21 for 281 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
The win was the first for Ducks coach Mario Cristobal, whose debut in the Las Vegas Bowl last December after Willie Taggart bolted for Florida State produced a sour 38-28 loss to Boise State.
“Hats off to Oregon,” Bowling Green coach Mike Jinks said. “They’re a great football team and Justin’s a great quarterback. We played at a very high level, but at the same time we shot ourselves in the foot at times.”
The Falcons finished with 389 total yards to Oregon’s 504, thought they were able to run 21 more plays than the Ducks and had nearly a 2-to-1 edge in time of possession.
“We’ve just got to be more consistent. I definitely saw some good things and some positives, but it wasn’t good enough. We didn’t come here to compete, we didn’t come here to play well for four quarters. I really felt like we had a good game plan and we came here to win, and we did not.”
Doege and Miller enjoyed big games of their own for the Falcons. Doege completed 22 of 38 for 253 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, and Miller had a career-high 13 catches for 166 yards and two scores.
“We just had to execute a little better,” Doege said. “We had some missed assignments and a couple turnovers that we need to clean up, but most of all (the Ducks) did what we thought they were going to do.
“They were just really big and fast, and we just have to execute. We’ll learn from some of the mistakes and go on to Maryland.”
The Falcons host the Terrapins, their second of three Power 5 opponents this month, at 6 p.m. Saturday. Bowling Green’s last win over a Power 5 foe was against Purdue in 2015, and the loss was the Falcons’ fifth straight in season openers.
Bowling Green wide receiver Scott Miller scores despite the efforts of Oregon safety Ugochukwu Amadi.
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Oregon led 37-17 at the half, and Ugo Amadi’s 38-yard interception return of Doege’s overthrow three plays into the third quarter made it 44-17. Oregon’s next possession resulted in Taj Griffin’s 83-yard sprint with a screen pass for a score that covered the 32-point spread.
“It was probably, possibly, the worst start to the second half that you could have, and they didn’t quit,” Jinks said. “They had every chance there to hang their heads and their body language didn’t change, so I was proud of that, and we’ll continue to fight.”
That showed when Doege found Miller for a 63-yard strike that cut it to 51-24 late in the third quarter and brought Herbert back off the bench. Marcus Milton then picked off Herbert at the Falcon 3-yard line on the first play of the fourth period to stop another Oregon threat.
Fred Garth also had an interception of a tipped pass in the fourth quarter. Troy Dye answered for the Ducks with a nifty sideline interception of Doege that set up Herbert’s 48-yard touchdown pass to Jaylon Redd for the game’s final score.
After Bowling Green’s 10-0 start, Herbert began to assert himself. His 37-yard run put the Ducks in Falcon territory for the first time, and when Oregon passed up a 50-yard field goal try into the wind, Herbert hit Redd for 33 yards on fourth down for a touchdown.
“The kid dropped some dimes and we were right there,” Jinks said of the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Herbert, “but we’ve got to be better. We have the potential to be a pretty prolific offense, especially moving forward in conference play. We’ve got to make plays to keep them off the field.”
The Ducks took the lead for good at 14-10 on Herbert’s 9-yard pass to Dillon Mitchell in the second quarter. Doege’s lost fumble on a sack then led to Herbert’s 2-yard run that made it 21-10.
Herbert struck again, hitting Johnny Johnson from 40 yards, before a snap over Falcon punter Grant Tinderman’s head into the end zone for a safety made it 30-10 for the Ducks. Oregon added another score before Bowling Green answered with Doege’s 9-yard pass to Andrew Clair with six seconds left in the half.
Clair carried 25 times for 113 yards, and Brandon Harris led the defense with seven tackles.
“I thought we did a good job of sticking with the run and Andrew did a good job,” Jinks said. “We’ve just got to be more consistent.”
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