by Rob Moseley
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — When the Oregon offense is clicking the way it did for much of Friday night, it seems like the only thing that can stop the Ducks is themselves.
And that did happen against California in Levi's Stadium, as Oregon committed two turnovers and punted on three straight drives in the second half. But on the Ducks' first 11 possessions they scored eight times and punted just once, allowing the UO football team to win a shootout with the Golden Bears, 59-41.
"We got off to a real good start; kind of had a slump in the third quarter, kind of got complacent," junior all-purpose back Byron Marshall said. "But when we were on, we were on tonight. I though that was really nice. We've just got to find a better way of being consistent the whole game."
The Ducks were sharp from the get-go Friday, finding the end zone on each of their first two possession. Then, as was the case against UCLA and Washington the two previous weeks, Oregon gained some separation in the second quarter, outscoring Cal 24-14 to build a lead that remained double digits the rest of the way.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota led the way as usual, completing 18-of-30 passes for 326 yards and five touchdowns, giving him 11 scoring passes in two road games against Cal in his career. Dwayne Stanford and emerging star Pharaoh Brown caught two scoring passes apiece, and Marshall added another in a triumphant homecoming for the native of nearby San Jose.
The Ducks also got the third straight 100-yard effort from freshman running back Royce Freeman. Over the last three weeks he has 402 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
"We were just executing our game," senior center Hroniss Grasu said. "Our communication was good, Marcus did a hell of a job throwing the ball, the receivers did a hell of a job catching it and the running backs did a great job."
Oregon scored on its opening possession for the first time since the season-opening win over South Dakota, and needed to after Cal opened the game with a touchdown drive. The Golden Bears feature another of the nation's most explosive offenses, but on this night it was the Ducks who scored most often.
"From an offensive mindset, I like the shootout," said Brown, the tight end who has developed into one of Oregon's most dangerous weapons in the red zone. "We like to put up touchdowns, so when you put them up all night, I love it."
Brown's first touchdown and two by Stanford helped the Ducks to a 38-28 halftime lead. Oregon then scored twice to open the second half, beginning with a 54-yard touchdown reception by Marshall after a penalty had the Ducks facing third-and-21.
Marshall estimated he had about 40 friends and family in the stands watching at the new home stadium for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers.
"I was excited," Marshall said. "You've got family in the stands, and you're playing where the pros play, so you've got to play like pros. That's what I was saying to everybody — you've got to play like pros, be special."
Freeman continues to prove himself a special back, though after the game he was lamenting the Ducks' lapse in the middle of the second half.
"It's not about sticking with anybody else," Freeman said. "We're trying to play to our standard, and score every time we get possession."
On Friday night, the Ducks very nearly did that, winning a shootout between two of the nation's best units thanks to an offense that is playing with as much balance and versatility as any in the country.