Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

September 25, 2018 at 8:43 pm.

Ducks must show their mental toughness

Which Oregon team shows up with on Saturday will go a long way into determining who the Ducks are this season.

Oregon is coming off one of the more gut-wrenching losses of any college football season — a 38-31 overtime defeat to No. 7 Stanford. The Ducks were the more physical and all-around dominant team, but, thanks to a few key miscues, ended with the bad result.

How will Oregon recover from the game against Stanford? Will it destroy the Ducks’ confidence and be a reminder that they still have a way to go to be considered great? Or will that game serve as a launching point, a constant reminder that you need to play the full 60 minutes, and spearhead Oregon’s trip back to elite status?

“When you look at the way we played, and how we played — with passion, intensity and a tremendous amount of effort — you see a lot of positive things,” coach Mario Cristobal said.

“The biggest thing is that these conference games — which are like playoffs games — a full 60 minutes is a full 60 minutes. Every single play is as important as any other one … you have to stay focused and on task the entire time.”

Oregon will get the answer to these questions when they face off with Cal — an undefeated team ranked No. 24 in the nation with a win over No. 20 BYU.

A lackluster performance at Cal will show that the Ducks don’t have the mental fortitude to recover from the brutal loss. It’ll show that Cristobal isn’t the best coach at getting his team through the adversity that comes with college football.

But a good performance and a win has the potential to erase at least much of the doubt from the loss against Stanford. If the Ducks come out and play a full 60 minutes, it’ll show they have the strong mentality to match their physical strength.

“We did everything we could to help Stanford win the game,” quarterback Justin Herbert said. “But we’re going to stick together … we’re not going let it define us.”

Cal is no cakewalk, though.

“Cal is doing a great job, 3-0,” Cristobal said. “They cracked the Top 25 this week, deservedly so.”

The Golden Bears possess an aggressive defense that is one of the best at forcing interceptions. Their seven interceptions are tied for second in the nation, while safeties Jaylinn Hawkins and Ashtyn Davis lead the team with three and two interceptions, respectively.

“What they’ve shown is a tremendous amount of playmaking ability on defense,” Cristobal said. “They do a great job in the secondary.”

A lot is also riding on Cristobal as well, who’s been placed under a microscope after the entire nation questioned his play-calling ability on Oregon’s final drive in regulation last week. Instead of taking a knee and punting to the Cardinal with 7 to 10 seconds left, Cristobal opted to continue running the ball. A fumble led to a game-tying field goal by Stanford, which went on to win in overtime, completing the 17-point comeback.