Boom! Ducks' Offense Unloads In Spring Game
By John Baker
If you closed your eyes and listened to the roars of Saturday's crowd at Autzen Stadium, you'd swear Chip Kelly was still dialing up big plays for the Oregon offense. But this is 2013, and the roars the crowd delivered simply confirmed that new Oregon coach Mark Helfrich is perfectly capable of unleashing Oregon's offense, too. In a split-squad, offense versus defense spring game format Saturday, the Oregon offense ran up 802 yards and scored nine times.
Starting quarterback Marcus Mariota played just long enough to complete 13-of-15 passes for 169 yards and a pair of scores. The best part, however, was how easy he made it look. Unlike a year ago when he was trying to win the start job, Mariota is entrenched as the starter and looked the part Saturday, directing the offense in a calm, confident manner and picking apart what should be a pretty good defense. Mariota had talked about becoming more of a vocal leader and you could see the change on the field as he moved from play call to play call with a casual reassurance and got players lined up when there was any confusion.
Given that the Oregon defense essentially knew what they were facing after having practiced against it for a month, the offense's yardage total came as something of a surprise. While Mariota cemented himself as one of the nation's top returning quarterbacks, the rise of receiver Bralon Addison continued Saturday. The sophomore had eight catches for 136 yards and a score and highlighted a passing attack that may be its most potent in the last five years. In addition to Addison, Josh Huff caught a pair of touchdown passes while Eric Dungy snagged nine catches.
While the receivers were running wild and free in the secondary, the quarterback derby for the backup job had some interesting developments. Jeff Lockie appeared to slightly outduel Jake Rodrigues, but the margin was so small that this one probably goes into the fall. Lockie threw for two touchdowns on 22-of-28 passing (217 yards) while Rodrigues hit on 13-of-19 for 165 and two scores of his own. He also took a pair of sacks in the outing. Stay tuned.
When we previewed this spring game, we highlighted the need for Byron Marshall to show he had something to offer moving toward the fall. He rushed six times for 60 yards and scored a touchdown. He also showed some bounce and wiggle with a 26-yard run. He led a Ducks running game that churned out 225 yards and a couple of scores on its own. Marshall surely played his way into a prominent role this fall, but will still have to fend off the challenges of a pair of freshmen recruits this summer.
After the game, the coaching staff as a whole lamented a scoring system that was weighted far too heavily toward the offense and that things turned a bit ugly once the depth chart started being accessed at liberty. The Ducks also were without wide receiver Keanon Lowe, running back De'Anthony Thomas and offensive tackle Tyler Johnstone. And despite the yardage and scores given up, Oregon's coaching staff seemed to have little worry about the defense, noting the with nine starters returning and some viable replacements showing good form during the game, the defense should be fine.
Perhaps what they know is this: the Oregon offense will make a lot of defenses look a step slow and the scoreboards ring like a roulette wheel this fall. Mariota looked like a legit All-American candidate and the Ducks will bring even more speed and big-play ability to the field than they ever have. Yes, the Oregon crowd of 35,000 got an early look at Mark Helfrich's offensive feel and liked it. Chances are they'll like the defense, too.