Oregon plays Wyoming and Washington State in their next two games, then has a 12-day layoff before hosting Arizona in a Thursday night game on ESPN October 2nd.
That’s nearly a month to tune up and get healthy before the PAC-12 season gets serious. The Ducks travel to UCLA on October 11, the season’s next big test against a Top Ten opponent. UCLA is #12 right now after struggling in wins over Virginia and Memphis, but Jim Mora will have his squad amped and prepared for Oregon. The Bruins have a lot of talent, especially on the defense, led by linebackers Eric Kendricks and Miles Jack. Quarterback Brett Hundley draws comparisons to Mariota, but he’s neither the passer, runner or decision maker Super Mario is.
The Ducks aren’t looking ahead like that. This year’s team has a beady-eyed focus on the next opponent. They’re mature and determined, loaded with leaders and players who’ve embraced the lessons of last season. All they’re talking about is Wyoming, a 2-0 team from the Mountain West that’s beaten Montana and Air Force.
The emergence of Arik Armstead and Joe Walker at tackle and linebacker makes this defense a lot saltier. Armstead had five tackles, including two tackles for loss and a sack. Walker had nine, with two stuffs of his own. Tyson Coleman is coming along also, with a quarterback hurry and a pass batted down last week, a sack in game one against South Dakota. The website Pro Football Focus gave a top grade to DeForest Buckner for his consistent penetration and physical play against the Spartans; he wrapped up Connor Cook for a sack also.
It was a great second half effort by the Oregon defense. They shut down the run, especially in the second half, and made big plays, with two interceptions and a big stop on 4th down in scoring territory. Michigan State got one lone field goal in the second half, on their first possession of the 3rd quarter. The defense rose up in one of the most dramatic turnarounds Autzen Stadium has ever seen. A lesser team would have folded.
Mariota was magnificent. He stood in there and completed plays under heavy pressure. He made great reads and found open receivers, delivering the football almost flawlessly. Aaron Fentress of Comcast Sports Northwest wrote:
UO quarterback Marcus Mariota put the Ducks on his back and carried them to victory with a dazzling array of improvisation mixed with his usual technical brilliance. With the running game sputtering, the defense getting shredded and the Ducks trailing 27-18 in the second half, Mariota amassed 360 yards of total offense with three touchdown passes against a Spartans’ defense that hadn’t allowed an opponent to break 40 points since Alabama defeated them 49-7 in a January, 2011 bowl game.
The two-week stretch against Wyoming and Washington State (0-2 after losses to Rutgers and Nevada) gives the Ducks time to solidify rotations, hone communication, bolster the offensive line (young players like Cameron Hunt, Tyrell Crosby and Jake Pisarcik will continue to improve with more reps and time in the lineup) and gel in the passing game. Oregon’s young receivers, particularly Devon Allen and Darren Carrington, are off to a great start. Three more weeks of practice and film study will help them learn where they’re supposed to be and who they should block, improving their recognition of coverages and blitzes, and their timing and rapport with Mariota.
Wyoming is averaging 3.6 yards per carry on the ground under new head coach Craig Bohl, who won three straight FCS national championships at North Dakota State before taking over the Cowboys. They have a first-year starter at quarterback in Colby Kirkegaard , replacing the departed Brett Smith of West Salem High, who left for the NFL but didn’t make it. Tailback Shaun Wick had 979 yards last year, and he’s averaging 4.75 yards a carry after two games. Expect to see a lot of him. Oregon is favored by 43.5. The Duck had better hydrate.