Disinterested Ducks Hammer Helpless Colorado
By John Baker
Oregon can be forgiven for looking down the schedule at next week's game against a resurgent Washington. After all, the oddsmakers and most pundits had the Ducks rolling over Colorado pretty handily Saturday, even with the game in Boulder, Colo. Coaches will pay lip service to one game at a time and focusing only on the game in front of them, but most athletes and former athletes will tell you rivalry games always get a longer look.
The Ducks did not play well in the first half Saturday and still led 43-16. Don't believe it? Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said as much coming off the field in a quickie interview with the Pac-12 Network correspondent, admitting his Ducks had not had a good first half of action. In the end, Oregon's 57-16 win over Colorado demonstrated the difference between the Pac-12's elite and its also-rans — the elite can take a game off emotionally and still whip the also-ran's butt. Oregon can put its season-high 755 total yards and quarterback Marcus Mariota's seven total touchdowns in it pocket and focus on its bitter regional rivalry game against Washington.
Looking ahead, what can we take away from the win over Colorado?
Is Focus An Issue?
We learned an important point about 20, 21 and 22-year-olds who play major college sports. They can and do have down games. Coaches will speak for hours on the virtues of their teams being focused each and every week, but we saw an Oregon team Saturday that was out of sync early\and even fell behind 10-8 in the first quarter. Quarterback Marcus Mariota was missing receivers. A couple penalties and a big trick play from Colorado had the Ducks on their collective heels early on. Fortunately for Oregon, they have such a wealth of talent that, once refocused on the task at hand, overwhelmed Colorado with little effort. However, an early effort of similar quality this coming week in Seattle could put the Ducks in a situation that becomes dangerous. There's little doubt that Helfrich and his staff will use the first half of today's game as a teachable moment. Better today than next weekend against the Huskies.
Marshall Coming Alive At A Good Time
We've talked about Marshall and his development as an important component for an Oregon offense that likes as much diversity as possible. Marshall, who struggled early in the season, seized on an opportunity last week when De'Anthony Thomas went down early, then cemented his place with another big outing this week with 122 yards on 23 carries. Perhaps what's more important is the way Marshall ran this week — powerfully, often pulling two or three defenders along with him as he turned two-yard gains into five- and six-yard gains. He hit holes quickly and with force, was able to get into open space and make some moves and generally looked like the back everyone hoped he'd be when the season started. That's 250 yards rushing by Marshall in little more than four quarters the last two games. A nice development with Washington looming.
What About The Oregon Secondary?
Heading into the season, Oregon's secondary was considered its best asset on defense. All the starters returned and there were a couple of others with starting experience. Still, the Colorado game offered a little hint that all may not be quite right in the back of the defense. The most yards Oregon has given up thus far is the 256 Nicholls State dropped on them in the opener, but Colorado quarterback Connor Wood and star receiver Paul Richardson may have offered a glimpse into something to be worried about moving forward. Take in the lessons that Tennessee showed us using tight ends and, well, things could be interesting. For all its hype, Oregon came into the game with only four interceptions in four games — three of those coming in one game.
Richardson ran through the Oregon defense for 134 yards on five catches and left at least three other catches on the field, two of which were for big gainers. Fortunately for the Ducks. Wood often is an inaccurate passer and that allowed the Ducks to snag a couple more picks this weekend. Perhaps this is nitpicking in a game the Ducks won handily, but it seemed odd that Richardson, who is the only real receiving weapon the team possesses, could run so free through the Oregon secondary so often. The Huskies will be the first team that really offers a dangerous passing attack with a veteran quarterback of quality and tight ends and receivers who can all make you pay. Richardson's play was, perhaps, a signal that the Oregon secondary needs to up its play as it gets into the meat of its season. Far better passing teams are on their way.
Hey, Check Out The Tight Ends
Oregon's list of playmakers is considerable at this point and the names are starting to become fairly well known. Against Colorado, the Ducks used some different player groups, including a three-tight end set. The season started with accolades flowing toward Colt Lyerla, then took a detour three weeks ago when Johnny Mundt had a monster game at the position as Lyerla recovered from sickness. Against Colorado, Pharoah Brown, who had been a star in the fall, demonstrated he's fully recovered from an injury that had him on the sideline early in the season. It's just another wrinkle in an offense that seems to thrive on creating wrinkles — three tight ends all capable of making big plays in the passing game.
Marcus Mariota: Sublime
Oregon's quarterback at first struggled with his accuracy, but once he got tuned into the game's frequency, he imposed his will on the Oregon offense and the Colorado defense. When he was finished, he'd thrown for 355 yards and five scores, then rushed for another 43 yards and two scores. That's nearly 400 yards total offense and seven touchdowns. If Mariota continues to incorporate more runs into this read option offense, he's going to be setting defenses up for a lot of pain. The hope here is that, given the day's big passing numbers by other quarterbacks, Mariota's incredible play will not be pushed aside and ignored. Those Heisman voters need to know what this kid is all about. Coming up is a marquee game against Washington that could shine some light on Mariota's talents.
At this point, there's little takeaway given the quality of opposition. What Oregon needs now is a game against an opponent capable of testing them into the second half. Once we have that game, we'll know a lot more about just how powerful this Oregon team really is. Can Washington offer that first test this coming Saturday? We will see.