EUGENE — While Oregon’s offense was humming in last week’s 38-31 overtime loss to Stanford, receiver Dillon Mitchell broke out.
Mitchell caught 14 passes for 239 yards. It seemed every time UO quarterback Justin Herbert looked downfield, Mitchell was open.
He had more than twice as many receptions against the Cardinal than he had in Oregon’s three nonconference games combined.
“Coming into conference play, I knew they would be coming to me more,” Mitchell said. “I wanted to make sure I put my mark on the game.”
They did, he did, and suddenly that nonconference narrative about No. 19 Oregon’s underachieving receivers is yesterday’s news.
The 14 receptions are the second-best, single-game total in school history behind the 16 made by Samie Parker against Minnesota in 2003. Mitchell’s receiving yardage is No. 2 on the Oregon single-game list behind Tony Hartley, who had 242 against Washington in 1998.
It’s pretty good company. Parker went on to play in the NFL for Kansas City.
The Ducks beat themselves.
Mitchell wasn’t exactly a question mark coming into the season. The 6-foot-2, 189-pound junior caught 42 passes last year. Athlon, Phil Steele and Lindy’s all made him a preseason, all-Pac-12 second-team selection.
But nobody was mentioning him in the same breath with, say, Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry. And, yeah, Mitchell noticed.
He gave the Stanford secondary and the ABC television audience an eyeful. Play press coverage on him and Mitchell can make you look bad.
“I don’t think anybody can hold me in the country,” Mitchell said. “... I feel the first couple of plays you play DB on me, you realize I might not be known or as hyped as some other guys, but you understand I’m not the guy to press.”
UO offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo didn’t seem surprised by Mitchell’s performance.
“I think Dillon is a really special player,” Arroyo said. “We’ve got some guys on the team that are capable of games like that more often than not. You just have to be able to put them in the right places and execute.
“We have a lot of guys capable of doing some really special things. He’s a perfect example. He had a really good game. We expect more out of him.”
The UO receivers’ three nonconference games were punctuated by too many dropped balls and too few special moments.
Perhaps some of that had to do with the caliber of competition and scaled-down game plans.
“We weren’t showing everything in the first three games,” Mitchell said. “Definitely, being a player like myself, it was hard during those first three games that I didn’t see the ball as much.”
He more than made up for it against Stanford. Now, the Ducks’ attention turns to Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game with No. 24 Cal (3-0) in Berkeley, California.
Cal is second in the conference and fifth nationally in pass efficiency defense. The Bears have picked off seven passes. They haven’t allowed a first-half touchdown this season.
The nationally-ranked Bears have had two weeks to prepare for Oregon.
“They have good coaches,” Arroyo said. “They have good players. They have a good scheme. They will be improved.”
In fact, this looks like a far superior Cal team to the one the Ducks thumped 45-24 at Autzen Stadium last year. While Oregon has improved from 2017 to 2018, Arroyo said, so have the Bears.
“They will be improved and be ready for us,” he said. “We have to go out there and get it done.”
The Ducks led Stanford 24-7 last week and appeared en route to making it 31-7 when Cardinal linebacker Joey Alfieri turned the game around with an 80-yard, scoop-and-score touchdown.
That play reversed the momentum and spoiled what had been a big performance by the entire UO offense. Oregon outgained Stanford 524 yards to 398. The Ducks did everything but win the game.
The way it turned out hasn’t settled well.
“I feel like a caged animal,” Mitchell said. “I feel like all my brothers are like caged animals. We’re just ready to get loose.
“I definitely know the guys in the locker room are upset. We’ve put the loss behind us, but it’s not off our minds at all.”