EUGENE — Oregon was back on schedule Saturday night.
Before the home finale game, which kicked off at 7:40 p.m., coach Mario Cristobal planned to walk back into the locker room with a win for the seniors no later than 11:30 p.m.
“It was 11:30 by the time we finished talking to the team,” Cristobal said after the Ducks’ 31-29 escape over Arizona State at Autzen Stadium. “We also knew we were gong to have to immediately get our rest tonight, see our families, go get a big stack of pancakes and an omelet and wake up bright and early and get ready to go to work for the most important game of the year, which is the Civil War.”
Oregon will finish the regular season against Oregon State on Friday at Reser Stadium in Corvallis.
Cristobal’s team was 6-1 at home this season, coughing up a big lead to Stanford in the only defeat, but has lost three consecutive road games under the first-year coach.
At least the Ducks do not have to fly to Corvallis, where the Mark Helfrich era came to a close with a loss two years ago.
“It’s at their place, and we all fully understand the importance of this football game, the intensity behind it,” Cristobal said. “I think our guys, as they leave the locker room, that’s all they were talking about. We have to play on the road more like we play at home. That’s got to be the next step for the program.”
Oregon’s 42-24 win Sept. 22 at California looks better by the week as the Bears continue to win under Justin Wilcox.
Slow starts proved costly for the Ducks in Pullman, Tucson and Salt Lake City, where they lost by an average of 16.7 points.
“We found it one time out there at Cal, we showed glimpses of it against Utah, we showed it in the second half a little bit against Washington State,” Cristobal said of the program’s recent struggles outside the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium. “But we haven’t put it together on the road, and that’s a challenge and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
The Beavers (2-9, 1-7 Pac-12) are 0-8 at home in conference games since beating Oregon 34-24 on Nov. 26, 2016.
Oregon State’s two wins this season under first-year coach Jonathan Smith were against Southern Utah (48-25) and at Colorado (41-34 in overtime), which fired coach Mike MacIntyre on Sunday.
Jermar Jefferson ranks eighth nationally with 1,316 rushing yards (119.6 per game). The freshman had 115 yards in the Beavers’ 42-23 loss at Washington on Saturday.
Oregon State’s defense ranks 129th out of 130 FBS teams in points allowed (44.8 per game) and yards allowed (539.2 ypg).
Quarterback Justin Herbert and the Ducks are looking to put together a more consistent game after rolling up 364 yards of offense in the first half and mustering only 85 yards in the second half against the Sun Devils.
Some timely stops by Jim Leavitt’s defense, a narrow miss on a two-point conversion by Arizona State and a costly offside call against the visitors allowed Oregon to escape with the win.
“Fortunately, it doesn’t just fall on my shoulders,” Herbert said after throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions. “The defense played really well. I know the feeling all too well of going against these guys every day. They played big-time football out there.
“Sometimes you have to rely on your defense, and they did a great job.”
Troy Dye led the way with 12 tackles and became the first Oregon player to record back-to-back 100-tackle seasons since Michael Clay (2011-12).
Outside linebacker La’Mar Winston came up with a key strip-sack of quarterback Manny Wilkins, which backup defensive end Gus Cumberlander recovered to prevent Arizona State from being able to drive for a potential game-winning field goal.
“It feels amazing,” Cumberlander said of his career night, which also included two sacks. “Seniors’ last game at Autzen. We put everything on the line for them, locked in all week, came out keeping that in mind.”