Oregon’s 2013 football season is a quarter of the way finished, and it started out just the way fans hoped it would.
The Ducks have been dominant and relentless. They’re allowing 9 points a game and scoring 61.3. Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost look comfortable in new roles, Marcus Mariota found his aim, and the team discovered a couple of budding new stars in Johnny Mundt and Thomas Tyner.
The defense has been stout on the front and tough in the secondary. Jason Quick of the Oregonian pointed out today that they’re allowing just 3.4 yards per rush and 4.5 yards per pass completion. It’s true that the competition hasn’t been good, three inept offenses, but it’s also true that the Oregon starters may play more during the PAC-12 schedule.
Life’s a beach: it never rains in Autzen Stadium, but late September in Oregon, there are a lot of great places to be on a bye week.
Nick Aliotti remains unimpressed. The 20-year Oregon coaching veteran wants his unit to focus on a different opponent: how great they can be. “The enemy of great is good,’’ he told Quick. “We are trying to run away from good and be great.’’
Oregon plays the bye week perfectly. That’s not at all derisive; at some schools the bye week becomes a grind. With the legendary two weeks to prepare coaches overload players on new schemes and extra drills, hammering the group with the need to stay focused. Instead, the Ducks concentrate on developing younger players at practice, and after today’s workout Helfrich gave the team a long weekend off to recharge. Many players will use the extra time to go home, Mariota and Tyner included. The season is a grind for young minds, and it’s good to get away from football for a little while. They’ll come back on Monday with fresh legs and renewed enthusiasm.
While the Ducks are idle, PAC-12 play heats up this weekend with the first conference showdown involving ranked teams when #23 Arizona State travels to #5 Stanford 4 p.m. on Fox. Both teams are 2-0.
The game is a contrast of styles that should tell a lot about the conference race. Arizona State spreads the field and runs an attack a little like Oregon with a dual threat quarterback in Taylor Kelly and an offense built around Zone-Read. Kelly’s thrown for 652 yards and 5 tds this season. Stanford likes to pound the ball behind a big offensive line, relying on their defense to control games. Their quarterback Kevin Hogan is efficient, mobile and doesn’t make many mistakes. Tailback Tyler Gaffney has 40 carries for 236 yards and three tds so far, 5.9 yards per carry.
Stanford is enigmatic. Highly-ranked and picked by many to win the PAC-12 Championship and challenge Alabama for the national title, they haven’t looked dominating in two plain-vanilla wins over San Jose State and Army to start the year. Never seriously threatened in either game, they haven’t had to show much of the playbook. The Cardinal typically have great success with their play-action passing game: this season wide receiver Ty Montgomery already has 10 catches for 211 yards and 2 tds, an average of 21.1 yards a catch. Against Army Hogan hit Montgomery for a 46-yard td; in the San Jose State he connected for a 40-yarder to Devon Cajuste.
Most of the rest of the PAC-12 schedule are tomato can opponents in paycheck games. 2-1 Utah State travels to USC. The Trojans seem to have found an offense against Boston College, and in doing so they’re reclaiming a piece of their legacy: so far this season they’re running the football 62% of the time, a move that helps keep pressure off new quarterback Cody Kessler. 2-1 Oregon State is at 0-2 San Diego State. The Aztecs have allowed 41 points a game in their two losses. They rank 118th on defense, and 121st on offense, scoring just 13 points a game.
It’s a good weekend to go fishing, take a loved one on a walk, or clean the gutters. Tune in for a half of ASU-Stanford. Have one last barbecue, and when you crack open a cold beverage of your choice, drink deep, and enjoy the satisfying after taste of a 3-0 start. On Monday, everybody will have clear eyes and full hearts, with nine games to play for the conference title.