Eugene, Ore. – Nebraska’s defense held Oregon scoreless on seven straight possessions in the second half to spur a furious rally, but the Ducks forced four turnovers, including a clinching interception in the final 2 minutes, and held on for a 42-35 victory Saturday afternoon at Autzen Stadium. Nebraska (1-1) trailed 42-14 at halftime but scored on its first two possessions of the second half to stay in the game. The Blackshirts, meanwhile, forced two turnovers and other turnover on downs to redeem themselves from a first half in which Oregon (2-0) amassed 409 yards and scored 21 straight points to close the second quarter.
Nebraska safety Antonio Reed forced a fumble by running back Royce Freeman that linebacker Chris Weber recovered at the Oregon 22-yard line, and it led to a Mikale Wilbon 2-yard touchdown run to pull Nebraska within seven with 2:47 remaining.
The Huskers used their three time outs in forcing a three-and-out and regained possession with 2:17 remaining on the Nebraska 43-yard line. But on the first play from scrimmage, Oregon cornerback Uguchukwu Amadi intercepted Nebraska junior quarterback Tanner Lee, whose arm was hit as he threw. The Ducks ran out the clock – their eighth straight scoreless series – and avenged last year’s loss in Lincoln.
Lee was 19-of-41 passing for 252 yards and three touchdowns, with four interceptions. Sophomore running back Tre Bryant, who left the game with an apparent leg injury on the first play of the fourth quarter and didn’t return, ran 20 times for 107 yards for his second straight 100-yard rushing game. The Huskers finished with 361 yards of total offense.
Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert completed 25 of 33 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns, and Freeman ran 29 times for 153 yards and two touchdowns, as the Ducks amassed 566 total yards, but only 157 coming in the second half.
Oregon took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards in five plays, with Herbert connecting with Brenden Schooler for a 32-yard touchdown pass and 7-0 lead. Freeman had a 28-yard run in the drive.
On Nebraska’s first play from scrimmage, receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. bobbled and lost control of a pass from Lee, and Tyree Robinson intercepted the ball and returned it 35 yards to the Nebraska 20-yard line.
The Ducks needed five plays to score, with Herbert hitting Charles Nelson for an 8-yard touchdown pass and 14-0 lead.
The Blackshirts forced a stop on Oregon’s third series, and Lee settled the Huskers offense by leading a long scoring drive.
Senior receiver DeMornay Pierson-El finished it by jumping over freshman cornerback Thomas Graham to catch a 23-yard touchdown pass from Lee. That capped a 10-play, 95-yard drive in which Lee also completed a 23-yard pass to JD Spielman for 23 yards. The 95-yard drive was Nebraska’s longest scoring since a 97-yard touchdown drive against Wyoming last season.
Oregon responded with 75-yard touchdown drive that Freeman finished with a 2-yard touchdown run to end the first quarter with the Ducks ahead 21-7.
Bryant rushed for gains of 25 yards and 10 yards on back-to-back plays to ignite Nebraska’s ensuing series. Lee competed a 35-yard pass to tight end Tyler Hoppes, the longest reception of Hoppes’ career, and Bryant carried defenders into the end zone on a 5-yard touchdown run to pull Nebraska within 21-14.
The Nebraska defense then held serve, forcing a punt after six plays. The Huskers offense, though, went three-and-out and punted to Oregon, which took possession with 10:10 remaining until halftime.
From there, the Ducks scored 21 straight points to take a 42-14 halftime lead. Freeman scored on a 1-yard run to finish an eight-play, 73-yard drive, and running back Kani Benoit scored on a 5-yard run to cap a seven-play, 70-yard drive.
In between those scores, the Huskers had a costly false start at their 34-yard line that negated what would have been a fourth-and-1 conversion.
Nebraska, trailing 35-14, took possession with 2:40 remaining, but Graham intercepted Lee on a third-and-15 pass, giving Oregon the ball at the Huskers’ 34-yard line. The Ducks needed only three plays to score, with Herbert hitting Dillon Mitchell on a 17-yard touchdown pass for a 42-14 lead.
Herbert was 21-of-25 in the first half for 313 yards and three touchdowns. Nelson had six receptions for 106 yards before halftime and finished with eight for 117.
Lee directed two scoring drives, sandwiched around a three-and-out by the defense, to start the second half.
On the second play of the half, Lee hit Pierson-El for a 34-yard pass to get the Huskers into Oregon territory. On fourth-and-10, Morgan gained 22 yards on a catch-and-run, and then hauled in an 18-yard touchdown pass on the next play.
Morgan finished with career highs of seven receptions and 103 yards to increase his career total to 962 receiving yards.
Nebraska’s next drive began at the Huskers’ 47-yard line. This time, Bryant paced the Huskers with rushes of 12, 8 and 5 yards before Lee read a corner blitz and hit a wide-open Morgan for a 28-yard touchdown, pulling Nebraska within 42-28.
Williams intercepted Herbert on Oregon’s ensuing series for Nebraska’s first forced turnover of the game. Williams returned the ball 27 yards to the Oregon 44-yard line, but the Husker got no closer than the Oregon 35-yard line and punted.
Oregon responded by driving to the Nebraska 32, but the Ducks stalled and couldn’t convert on fourth-and-3.
Nebraska held the Ducks to 103 yards in the third quarter after allowing 192 in the first quarter and 217 in the second.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Graham intercepted Lee again, this time on a third-down attempt, and returned the ball to the Nebraska 31-yard line. But the Ducks missed a field goal attempt on their fourth series of the second half.
Nebraska force a punt on the fifth scoreless series before the fumble on the sixth series that set up the only touchdown of the fourth quarter.
The loss ended a Nebraska five-game winning streak against Oregon. Nebraska now leads the all-time series against Oregon, 6-2.
Nebraska returns home Saturday to play Northern Illinois. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. at Memorial Stadium.