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Duck notes: Oregon players brought their own 'juice'

EUGENE — The sights and sounds — or lack thereof — coming from Autzen Stadium on Saturday night made for an eerie transition into the 2020 Pac-12 football schedule.

Playing in front of empty stands and a dramatically reduced media presence, Oregon and Stanford kicked off a most unusual college football season in an austere atmosphere with no fans and no more than 75 decibels of crowd noise pumped in through the Autzen speaker system.

Oregon players routinely talked about the need to "bring their own juice" to an otherwise sleepy environment, and the Ducks did just that with a 35-14 beatdown of the visiting Cardinal that extended the program's run of 16 straight victories in home openers.

"Well, it was different," Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. "It was strange at first. We tried to train our team all camp long, 'Hey, you've got to deal with it and bring your own juice.' But it's different. It is. I think our guys had to adjust."

The Ducks started slowly, gifting Stanford a 7-0 lead and then turning the ball over twice in the second quarter before taking the lead for good just before halftime. Sophomore Tyler Shough earned the starting quarterback job over Boston College graduate transfer Anthony Brown, leading Oregon to a win in his first career start by completing 17 of 26 passes with a touchdown and also rushing for 85 yards and another score.

"It was really weird running out of the tunnel without the Duck on the motorcycle and no fans there," Shough said. "We had to create our own juice. That's what we talked about all week. I think we handled it well. After the first couple drives, just managing the flow of the game and just really creating our own juice because that's what it's going to be like for the rest of the season.

"We're really blessed and glad to be able to play and do what we love."

Cristobal had a generally favorable opinion of his team's performance despite the strange atmosphere and said he longs for the days when Autzen is once again filled to capacity.

"To the Autzen faithful, the Oregon Duck faithful — man, we miss you guys like crazy, but we felt you from far away and I hope we made you proud today," Cristobal said. "One day we'll all be back in there."

CLOSE TO HOME

Much has been made about Cristobal's coaching staff and their ability to land high-profile recruits from across the country, but several local players made an impact in Saturday's victory.

The revamped offensive line, which lost all five starters from a year ago, got helpful contributions from a trio of local players.

Alex Forsyth, a 6-foot-4, 305-pound junior from West Linn, started at center, and Ryan Walk, a 6-3, 290-pound junior from Sheldon High School in Eugene, started and played both guard positions.

"From day one they have committed themselves to working and playing with toughness," Cristobal said of the offensive line. "A lot of guys playing their first significant football. I thought the moment was not too big for them. They handled what we felt was a good defense and overall just really proud of that group.

"You probably saw the offensive line and the way we rotated those guys. You saw a lot of guys, even if it was just a couple snaps, just about everybody got some playing time. We've been practicing like that. It's a different year, and being a different year we're going to have to be ready for whatever comes our way, whatever is thrown at us."

On the other side of the ball, senior safety Jordan Happle got on the field in the second half for the Ducks. Happle, a 5-11, 200-pounder out of Portland's Jesuit High, finished with three tackles, including two solo stops.

One local player who didn't see the field was sixth-year senior Cam McCormick, who continues to work his way back from a series of injuries. The 6-5, 251-pound tight end from Summit High in Bend broke his fibula in the 2018 season opener against Bowling Green and then missed all of 2019 with a fracture in his ankle. McCormick was listed at No. 2 on the pre-game depth chart but didn't play.

SURPRISE STARTER

With McCormick still waiting to be medically cleared, plus injuries to Spencer Webb and presumptive starter Hunter Kampmoyer, the Ducks turned to converted defensive lineman D.J. Johnson to start at tight end on Saturday and the Miami transfer had an impressive performance.

The 6-5, 258-pound junior caught five passes for 55 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass with 1:08 left in the second quarter that gave Oregon a 14-7 halftime lead.

"I just take every day like I'm getting ready to play," said Johnson, who landed at Miami as a highly touted defensive prospect and played in eight games as a true freshman before transferring to Oregon and sitting out the 2018 season. Johnson appeared in 13 games for the Ducks last year and finished with 14 tackles before switching to tight end in the offseason.

"I made the transition this year, but in high school I was an athlete so I pretty much played all over the field on offense, so it wasn't really a hard transition," he said. "A lot of the transition was the technique of the position. Even now I'm still working on perfecting the technique. Once you know what you're doing it's really easy to play fast and physical, so that's what I try to do."

"Some guys just weren't available. DJ was and DJ stepped up — he did it in the run game, did it in the pass game, did it in protection as well," Cristobal said. "We asked a lot of a guy that was playing defense a year ago, had a pretty significant injury in the summer time and just kept chopping wood, just kept finding ways to learn the system, get healthy and then it showed up tonight not only with the touchdown but with some other really significant plays."

COVID COMPLICATIONS

Stanford was dealt a tough blow before kickoff when it was announced that starting quarterback Davis Mills, starting wideout Connor Wedington and backup defensive end Trey LaBounty would all miss Saturday's game due to COVID-19 protocols.

The Cardinal turned to junior Jack West to start at quarterback and the Alabama native led a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that gave Stanford an early 7-0 lead, but he was replaced after two drives by true freshman Tanner McKee. Ultimately, West took the majority of snaps and finished 13 of 19 for 150 yards. McKee completed 3 of 7 passes for 62 yards.

"Right before the game they told us," Oregon linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia said of the Stanford quarterback situation. "The coaches knew who was the backup and ... they figured that they would run more and they kind of did that. I'm proud of our guys, the way they adjusted to the new schemes that they had and the way we played."

KICKING WOES

Saturday was a rough night for placekickers.

On a cold and damp evening in Eugene, the two teams combined to go 0-for-5 on field goal attempts.

Stanford kicker Jet Toner — who missed only four kicks all of last season — was 0-for-4 with misses from 48, 40, 35 and 27 yards. He appeared to kick the laces on two of those attempts and also nearly missed an extra point in the fourth quarter.

For the Ducks, kicker Camden Lewis connected on a would-be 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter but Oregon was whistled for a false start on the play and Lewis badly missed the ensuing 37-yard attempt. The sophomore from Charlotte, N.C., was a perfect 5-for-5 on extra points, however.

No fans were in the stands for the Oregon game against Stanford but there were cutouts of fans and Oregon alums now in the pros. (Pool photo by Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard)