With blustery conditions, the passing game becomes a crapshoot. It’s a lot easier to run than throw anyway, particularly on a night like this one. Don Essig will greet the cheering, rain-slickered crowd with “it never rains in Autzen Stadium,” but that’s metaphorical whimsy in a place where Duck love conquers all: in reality, it’s going to be a nasty and unpleasant night, a tailor-made evening for wool gloves and a flask.
Unleash the Dash: California has given up chunks of yards inside in all three of their games, and that makes it the best opportunity to unveil Thomas Tyner (Gary Breedlove, Eugene Daily News photo).
New offensive coordinator Scott Frost has shown aplomb in switching it up. Week one the Ducks ran for 500 yards, week three three they passed for 471. Time for another switch. Against an opponent with a banged-up front seven in terrible conditions for throwing the football (it isn’t the rain–it’s the gusting, blustery wind that’s the real problem) the challenge should be laid directly to the offensive line. Hand the ball off to the kid. Give him seams and watch him run. De’Anthony Thomas will be his usual effective, explosive self, and Byron Marshall will contribute, but it’s time to take the wraps off Oregon’s running back of the future, 2013. He’s had a month to get healthy after missing time in fall camp. He’s learned the plays and knows where he’s supposed to be on pass protections (he proved that with a devastating cut block against Tennessee).
Let him run the ball. Give him 15-20 touches. Tyner’s run in these conditions all through high school and junior high, and thrived in them. He’s 210 pounds, lightning fast, and has great balance and leg drive. It’s a night for an explosive, powerful running back. Use him, and learn what he can do.
Defensively, the Ducks will have to defend about 40 underneath throws, hooks, slants, outs, flat routes and bubble screens. Drag routes have been a particular weakness, the 5 to 10-yard routes across the defensive formation as other receivers take defenders long.
Inside linebacker Derrick Malone, the team’s leading tackler so far this season, is primed to have a big night swarming to the football and finishing plays. He’s athletic and a film study warrior, so at some point during the game he’s going to read Goff’s eyes and anticipate, step in front of a route where the quarterback loses him under pressure. He’ll make at least one pick with a chance for a return.
The Ducks plan to bring pressure and make the first-year quarterback uncomfortable, force some mistakes. They’ll succeed. Malone’s growing experience, study habits, work ethic and talent come to fruition Saturday night. He’s about to become a household name, at least in the Western United States where the PAC-12 Network is readily available. Expect 12 tackles, a sack and an interception. His name will be called early and often.