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.
It is true, Byron has emerged as a "capable" back. In many minds, he remains one breakout performance, one faked-him-out-of-his-shoes cut leading to a touchdown, from filling the shoes of those who came before him.
Tyner, averaging 5.9 ypc, is improving steadily, but this year's line and his known-but-unproven talent has a ways to go to get to the 4.9 yards before contact Barner was averaging at some point last season.
You may agree with those two statements or they might make you mad, but the truth is, without the high-flying passing attack Oregon seems to have developed this season, it probably wouldn't be a point of contention. It is a team sport, these kids are the most cohesive team I've ever seen, and they are getting the job done in grand fashion.
DAT seems to think they're both capable enough. In his comments after practice the other day, he hinted at going back to the TAZR role, "wherever I fit in." We shall see.
I so much more enjoy listening to Mark Helfrich's interviews than to Chip's. I often laughed at Chip's responses, but he was also unnecessarily hostile and contemptuous. Mark also gets annoying questions from reporters, but he deflects them much more gracefully. He reveals a little more than Chip, he is comfortable showing his own imperfections (he doesn't feel he has to project 100% confidence), and when he is funny he is joyfully so, not disdainfully so. I also like the way he talks about his players. True, Chip also spoke highly of his players, but in his tone it sometimes sounded like a program, a mantra. When Mark shakes his head while mentioning one of Marcus's or DeAnthony's or somebody else's amazing feats, you know Mark's admiration is real, it's honest, it's human. Chip was an unbelievably good and creative coach, and I am sure he taught Mark very well. But I really enjoy seeing such a humble and authentic human being in the leading position of Oregon's football team. I so hope Mark is the one who brings home the NCAA championship.
Here in Northern California I tell people "Treat me nice and I can make you an honorary Duck" and one friend has taken me up on this even though he is a Longhorn. Any word if we see DeAnthony for this game with Wazzu?
@profem I agree Pro, I like his style a lot, and I think it will wear better in Oregon for the long term.
@SonomaDuck Described by Chris Fowler today as "minute-to-minute." Scanning for new info but it looks like a gametime decision.
I can't believe this.. But I find me and Duckbill agreeing!! Haha I think while our LBs have been decent there is a ton of room for improvement. I do think teams scheme away from Lokombo because in the first two games he was laying his hat on RBs and WRs alike. Malone has been such a pleasant surprise this season with his big production. I think this week will showcase not only the ducks elite secondary but also their LB corps whom I believe is at their best in coverage because of their athletic prowess and instinctual gifts.
@Duckbill @Mahunashizzle I think for the most part we all know our duck football and yes disagreements are certainly going to happen even when the topic is something we all know and love like the Ducks.
I think Rahim has played his spot effectively. But I also agree he might be on the small side. But so far they havent exploited him as a weakness or anything so I'm all in all pleased with his performance.
Also I think the tradition of having an excellent secondary is going to continue with Daniels as the leader of that group for years to come. This season I have noticed Oshay Dunmore a lot on special teams. I think he's going to continue to improve and who knows he might move back to safety. He's played well in garbage time too. I'm excited for Robinson to get more time as well. And I think our defense is going to be as strong as ever in the years to come. Who knows, Arrion Springs, the highly touted verbal commit. could be the next Ifo or Mitchell. I'm not as confident that our Corners will be as good as they are this year but to be honest, this type of group, where the entire group is extremely strong and plays as a cohesive unit so well, only comes around once in great while.