Everybody has a plan until you punch them in the mouth.
Don’t expect Mark Helfrich to get a face tattoo anytime soon, but one thing he has done very well in his first few weeks on the job is instill an attitude of toughness in the 2013 team. It’s the best indicator yet of what kind of coach he will be after a 4-0 start against the bottom half of the schedule.
Conditions were historically horrible Saturday night. Miserable weather can break the will of some teams and some athletes, induce a lackluster, mail-it-in performance. You’ll see teams that do just enough to win in that situation, but the Ducks played with great pride, enthusiasm and effort throughout the night.
Think about this, too. They lost an incandescent star on the first kickoff of the game. De’Anthony Thomas limped off, collapsing to the turf on the way to the sideline, returning at halftime on crutches. On some teams that would produce shock, panic, or fear. The Ducks stuck to the plan.
Fans and pundits around the country tend to mischaracterize the Ducks as a flashy, finesse team but what stood out plainly in this game is how hard they work and how well they block and tackle. Going over the highlight video and rewatching the telecast you see five Ducks in the frame on every tackle, relentless, swarming pursuit. It isn’t an accident or luck that there were 10 fumbles in the game and Oregon recovered 8 of them. It reflects their desire, toughness and hustle as well as superior athletic ability. Colt Lyerla recovered the first one, and preventing an early turnover in a game is a big momentum swing, particularly in turnover-conducive conditions.
Bralon Addison had a record-tying game returning punts for the Ducks, and it says something when a guy who has a star turn like that immediately deflects credit to his unit and stands out all night throwing key blocks for his teammates. On the opening drive the Ducks faced a third and two play on the 50, and Addison screens off his man perfectly as Byron Marshall takes an option pitch for 16 yards.
The next play, Marcus Mariota runs for 20 more, sprung by a great block by Keanon Lowe. Lowe didn’t have a reception Saturday night, but he epitomized the toughness and focus throughout the game in blocking and special teams. It was his block at the point of the wedge that got De’Anthony Thomas free for a 27-yard gain on the opening kickoff.
The Ducks got on the board quickly with a 14-yard run by Byron Marshall, and the key to that play was a great turnout block by Mana Greig. A skilled technician, Greig takes the defender’s momentum and rides him upfield and out of the play, giving Byron a huge hole as he sprints left toward the goal line. Johnny Mundt seals off the defensive end.
Marcus Mariota tossed a screen pass to Daryle Hawkins lined up wide down the left sideline for the Ducks third touchdown, and on Hawkin’s 14-yard scamper he gets a convoy from Addison and Huff.
Hroniss Grasu said after the game, “A lot of other teams could have made excuses with this weather. But I think our team did a great job of keeping out the distractions of the weather, and just go out and play Oregon football. We set a standard for ourselves, and I think we met that standard.’’
The Ducks focus and determination points to great mental preparation. Mark Helfrich has done an outstanding job in that area through four games.