EUGENE — Justin Herbert has lived up to the lofty preseason expectations so far.
Oregon’s quarterback ranks sixth nationally with a passer rating of 213.41 after completing 63.8 percent of his attempts for 531 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions through two games.
Those numbers would be even better if not for a series of dropped passes by Herbert’s wide receivers.
During the Ducks’ 62-14 victory over Portland State, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound junior was 20-for-26 passing for 250 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
“He’s an elite quarterback,” wide receiver Tabari Hines, a Wake Forest graduate transfer, said after catching his first touchdown pass for Oregon. “He has a strong arm, he throws it on point, and it’s great playing with a player of his caliber.”
Mario Cristobal knew he inherited a special talent at the sport’s most important position.
That was evident last season when Oregon went 6-1 during the regular season with Herbert in the starting lineup and 1-4 when he was recovering from a fractured collarbone.
The satisfying early-season development for the Ducks’ first-year head coach has been the offensive line’s domination in the run game.
Cristobal acknowledges the obvious “personnel advantages” Oregon has against its overmatched nonconference foes.
Offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo spread 41 carries between five different running backs as the Ducks piled up 296 yards on the ground and five rushing touchdowns against Portland State.
Tony Brooks-James (107 yards, two touchdowns) and C.J. Verdell (106 yards, one touchdown) averaged 6.7 yards on a combined 32 carries.
There was thunder and lightning throughout the backfield depth chart, with Cyrus Habibi-Likio powering his way over the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown run and Travis Dye exploding through a gap for a 49-yard touchdown run.
“I think we have the makings of a great offensive line,” Cristobal said. “I don’t think we’re there yet by any stretch of the imagination, but I think we’re closing ground quickly.
“And that position, since I’m most directly involved with it, we’re going to press those guys about as hard as humanly possible.”
Oregon has started the same five offensive linemen in both games, with true freshman Penei Sewell replacing current Detroit Lion Tyrell Crosby at left tackle and Alabama graduate transfer Dallas Warmack joining the group at right guard.
Jake Hanson (center), Shane Lemieux (left guard) and Calvin Throckmorton (right tackle) are solid third-year starters.
“I think the best thing about the offensive line is we’ve got eight guys we all trust, eight guys that can rotate in there and we don’t miss a beat,” said Herbert, who was sacked once against Portland State. “They’re young, they all came back from last year. Losing a guy like Tyrell is tough, but we found another left tackle that has done a pretty good job.”
Cristobal said he considers Brady Aiello, who filled in for an injured Crosby in 2016, a co-starter. Jacob Capra and George Moore are also reliable members of the rotation.
Steven Jones, a 6-foot-7, 375-pound true freshman, impressed his coach on Saturday.
“I think we’re at eight guys. We’ll try to go for nine,” Cristobal said. “Steven went in there, and from what I saw on the sideline looked like a big ol’ grizzly bear. He just swallowed up the three technique and knocked them off the ball, and we were able to get a big run out of it.”
Oregon has seven rushing touchdowns this season and has not allowed a rushing touchdown.
The Ducks had four sacks and nine tackles for loss, and they held the Vikings to 224 total yards.
“I’m really proud of the players,” defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt tweeted. “We weren’t perfect but played hard. On to San Jose State. Need to just keep growing and getting better.”
The Spartans (0-2), who visit Autzen on Saturday, are not expected to present much of a challenge after losing their home opener to UC Davis and getting blanked 31-0 at Washington State.
No. 20 Oregon will open Pac-12 play on Sept. 22 at home against No. 9 Stanford.
“Let’s go find out,” Cristobal said when asked how good the 2018 Ducks can be.