EUGENE — The Ducks have an extensive and stylish football wardrobe inside the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex.
But on Saturday, safety Ugochukwu Amadi wore a “turnover chain” — the latest trend from South Beach — around his neck after making an interception in a 48-28 Pac-12 win over Arizona at Autzen Stadium.
Oregon coach Willie Taggart doesn’t see the need to mimic the accessory donned by the Miami Hurricanes.
“We need a touchdown chain,” Taggart said. “We can’t do what Miami is doing. We’re Oregon, we’re Nike, we’ve got to come up with something innovative. We will.”
The fashion faux pas and a couple of late hits were the only glaring mistakes Jim Leavitt’s defense made while suffocating Khalil Tate.
Arizona’s quarterback was averaging 11.6 yards per carry and 161.6 rushing yards per game before being held to 2.3 yards per carry and 32 net yards rushing. Oregon’s edge rushers were able to keep Tate contained and corralled between the tackles.
“The stats showed it. We held him to whatever it was that he never had been held to,” linebacker Troy Dye said of the performance after leading the Ducks with 11 tackles. “Guys went out and did their jobs and executed coach Leavitt’s game plan, to just kind of get as many hits on him as we can throughout the game and tire him out.”
If Tate had faced the 2016 version of Oregon’s defense, he would still be in the Heisman Trophy hunt.
Leavitt’s unit ranks 87th in points allowed (30.5 ppg) and 50th in yards allowed (373.4 ypg). The 2016 Ducks were 126th in those categories — giving up 41.4 points and 518.4 yards per game — and finished 4-8.
Oregon gave a lot of credit to Burch, who served as the scout team quarterback, for the defense’s signature performance of the season.
Much further up the depth chart, the return of Justin Herbert made the Gulf Coast Offense dangerous again.
The Ducks regained their sense of balance with 235 passing yards and 353 rushing yards.
“It felt like it took a lot of pressure off me and the offensive line running the ball and enabled us to move a little faster in tempo,” Royce Freeman said of Herbert’s return after rushing for 135 yards and four touchdowns. “Kept the defense guessing and on their heels.”
Herbert had no idea his touchdown run on Sept. 30 against California would put his skyrocketing career on pause for seven weeks.
“I didn’t originally think anything was serious,” he said. “I kind of came off and talked to the trainers about it. We went back and got an X-ray.”
The diagnosis of a fractured collarbone changed the Ducks’ fortunes dramatically.
Oregon is 5-1 and averaging 49.3 points with Herbert in the starting lineup and was 1-4 and averaged 15.0 points per game during his absence.
Taggart said the extreme highs and lows on the scoreboard never fractured the locker room.
“When things got tough we could have listened to all the negative stuff and just folded,” Taggart said. “Our guys didn’t do that. They believed in the plan, they stuck with the plan, and they did so much work early in the season that they had something to play for. I think that meant something to our guys.”
The Ducks (6-5, 3-5) will play in a bowl game and can clinch a winning season by beating Oregon State (1-10, 0-8) on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
An Oregon touchdown chain might be a big hit considering the Beavers are ranked 126th in scoring defense (40.6 ppg) and 119th in total defense (463.6 ypg).
“It was just a lot of fun to be back out there,” Herbert said after throwing a touchdown pass and rushing for a 40-yard touchdown. “We’ve got great guys on this team, and it’s so much fun to be part of this and it’s awesome to play in that game.”