Cal fades late in classic defensive struggle with No. 13 Oregon, lose 17-7

By Morris Phillips

Cal’s heralded defense knew it had to be good Saturday night. Oregon’s defense quietly thought it could be that much better.

In a meeting of Pac-12 contenders, the Bears shut out quarterback Justin Herbert and the Ducks for nearly three quarters. But Oregon was even stingier, limiting Cal to 12 first downs and a touchdown in the first quarter.

Lifted by their defense, the Ducks came from behind in a 17-7 win that was hard earned as they come.

“These guys hold themselves to a high standard,” said Oregon coach Mario Cristobal of his defensive unit. “They’ve really established that amongst themselves in the locker room, through the way we walk, and the way we practice. All of us feel that we continue to elevate the status of our defense, and it’s exciting to watch.”

Devon Modster started fast in place of the injured Chase Garbers and was significantly better than his relief appearance against  Arizona State. But after the early scoring pass to Christopher Brown Jr., the Ducks pass rush quickened, and they methodically erased Cal’s receivers. The Bears were hurt significantly by the in-game injury to experienced center Michael Saffell that caused the line to shuffle.

“I thought (Modster) handled himself really well,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said. “There were a couple of throws in there that he can make that we didn’t quite connect on, but I thought he was calm and his demeanor was good. I think he’s going to keep improving the more he plays.”

The Bears were hurt by two missed field goals by senior Greg Thomas, the second with fewer than four minutes remaining and Cal trailing by 10. But defensively, the Bears were as good as advertised, shutting out the Ducks in the first half, which hadn’t happened to the home team at Autzen Stadium since 2004.

Ashtyn Davis had a critical, red zone interception in the first half, Kuony Deng and Luc Bequette piled up the tackles as the Ducks attempted to move star linebacker Evan Weaver away from the path of the plays they ran. Camryn Bynum was outstanding in pass coverage for the Bears as well. But once, the Ducks got their big breakthrough with Cyrus Habibi-Likio’s short touchdown run to give Oregon their first lead, 10-7 with 1:38 remaining in the third quarter.

 

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