The Ducks lost Colt Lyerla and De’Anthony Thomas by Game 3, and they are still #2 in the country, undefeated, with an offense that produces 630 yards and 56.8 points a game. It’s a remarkable testimony to their coaching, depth and resilience.
Concern before the season centered around perceived thinness at running back, new starters at linebacker and lack of play-calling experience on the part of Scott Frost, the new offensive coordinator. Could Mark Helfrich really replace Chip Kelly? (Don Ryan, AP photo)
The concerns have been addressed pretty well. There’s been no loss of offensive productivity with Byron Marshall emerging as a capable number one back. Marcus Mariota has emerged as the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy, accounting for 25 touchdowns with zero turnovers. The offensive line has gelled beautifully, giving him plenty of time to throw, and leading receivers Bralon Addison and Josh Huff have emerged as one of the best tandems in the country, fueling a potent downfield passing attack that averages over 10 yards an attempt. Thomas Tyner has shown promise as a true freshman, running for 5.6 yards a carry as he adjusts to Division One football, and the twosome of Johnny Mundt and Pharaoh Brown have made Lyerla’s implosion a non-issue.
On defense, Derrick Malone has anchored a linebacker corps that has been adequate but needs to continue to get better. He has 52 tackles on the year. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell have been stellar in the secondary, turning in a dominating performance against Washington. They and safeties Avery Patterson, Brian Jackson and Erick Dargan will be featured against Washington State this weekend. Solid defensive line play has paced a defense that has recorded 16 sacks and limited opponents to 4.2 yards per play and 13.8 points per game so far this season, sixth in the country in scoring defense, a remarkable stat in light of how fast the Oregon offense scores.
Oregon’s special teams have been equally productive. Addison and the punt return team are averaging 18.2 yards a return with a pair of touchdowns. The kick return unit has provided consistent field position and an occasional burst of momentum. Alejandro Maldonado is 3-4 on field goal attempts; he’s also averaging 41.0 yards a punt with 6 inside the 20 and no touchbacks. The punt coverage team has limited opponents to four yards a return with a long of 12 yards. Well-coached in every phase of the game, the Ducks are winning every aspect of the field position battle. Depth and athleticism also contributes to their special teams excellence. True freshman Matt Wogan has struggled a bit with his kickoffs. He has 13 touchbacks and can get the ball high and deep, but he’s also put six out of bounds, a costly error in terms of starting position for the defense. He’ll look to iron that out in the second half of the season.
Helfrich has been a revelation. The transition has been seamless. Issues have been handled with even-handedness and grace. His even-keel manner is perfect for a team with great maturity and purpose, tremendous internal leadership. The Ducks have stayed on track in spite of hype, hysteria, expectations, and defections. They can even wear pink and look tough doing it.
The offense, the Oregon message and the passion for excellence have remained constant. The team will face some challenges in the second half, maybe even a setback or a great trial, but they remain the Ducks fans love with a commitment to big dreams.
No great story starts without a great dream.