Ducks Continue To Do More With Less (Time)
By John Baker
The old chestnut goes like this, "Do more with less."
It's a philosophy of life that has transferred quite nicely to the Oregon Ducks offense — first during the Chip Kelly era and now continuing under the helm of Mark Helfrich.
Simply put, the Ducks take one of the most controversial of statistics in football — time of possession — and show it utter disdain. TOP can mean many things to many people, but Oregon's offense considers it a nuisance and a bother, a stat that simply can't measure what they do with the ball when they have it. Scoring early and often, with drives regularly taking less than two minutes, just doesn't compute in this "we need to quantify everything" football world.
And while that may render a single stat category null and void, it does bring crowds to its feet far more often. The Ducks enter Saturday's showdown with Colorado dead last in the Pac-12 in time of possession, averaging 23 minutes, 43 seconds each game. The closest team to Oregon is Washington State, which averages nearly three minutes more time with the ball. The difference, of course, is what you do with that 23:43.
Oregon averages 2.6 points every minute it has the ball, or more than a touchdown every three minutes of possession. To put it in perspective, they have scored 33 touchdowns so far this season in less than 95 minutes of actually possessing the ball on offense. Again, less than three minutes per touchdown.
As with so much of what Oregon does, the Ducks decided in the Kelly era to defy conventional football wisdom and simply ask the question, "Why worry about how long we have the ball in a game?" The goal became to run multiple plays at a very fast pace and score as often and as soon as possible. Shock and awe football that would have opponents gasping for air on one end and emotionally deflated at the other.
A quick look at the explosiveness of the Oregon offense, its opportunistic defense and the total disdain for the time of possession stat box and you can see that Oregon simply does more on the offensive end in less time than anyone in the country.
Let's look ahead to game day:
Ducks, Buffs Will Do Battle On The Ground
Well, there are other challenges for the Buffs, who are coming off a big loss at Oregon State. Colorado can point to its Pac-12 leading rush defense as a sign that progress is being made, though they will get a stern test this week. Oregon leads the nation in rushing at 332.5 yards per contest. Even without De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon has plenty of rushing threats. Byron Marshall broke out with a 130-yard afternoon last week against California and freshman Thomas Tyner nearly cracked the century barrier himself in mop-up duty, for the first time demonstrating his elite speed. And that's not counting quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is capable of huge plays with his feet. No, the Buffs will come into this game allowing only 91.3 yards per game, but the handwriting is on the wall — they will not leave this game with that kind of number intact. Oregon State delivered a humbling blow to a seemingly improved Colorado team last week; Oregon is going to deliver a hard dose of reality to the Buffs this week about their true place in the Pac-12 pecking order.
DAT Unlikely To Play
Colorado may feel like it's catching a break with the developing storyline that Thomas won't play Saturday due to a sprained ankle. The reality is very different. DAT still is hobbling around in a protective boot and the smart money is saying that he'll likely sit out a game the Ducks should have little problem handling in favor of rest and recovery to be ready for the visit to Washington next Saturday. The Ducks still have the backs mentioned above as well as Josh Huff, Bralon Addison, Keanon Lowe and others who can and do make plays for this offense. While Buffs fans may feel cheated at not getting to see one of the nation's most exciting players, the Ducks have bigger fish to fry. They should probably feast on the Buffs fairly easily.
Blanket Buffs Receiver Paul Richardson
At this point, Colorado has but one playmaker to keep an eye on: receiver Paul Richardson. Despite Oregon State's secondary putting the clamps on Richardson effectively last week, he still leads the Pac-12 in receiving yards per game at 163.2 and has five scores in three games. Richardson has had to come through a series of injuries in the last two years, but appears to be his explosive self again at last. While Colorado quarterback Connor Wood has shown improvement this season, the only guy that really scares opposing defenses wears No. 6 and is capable of taking any type pass and going the distance. He will be a good matchup for Oregon's much-saluted secondary. Watch for Wood to look for his tight ends and running backs repeatedly in this one, but for the Buffs have to any chance of making this a game, Wood must get Richardson a copious amount of touches. There is no other way.
Connor Wood Key For Buffs
Colorado doesn't have anyone in the Top 10 of the Pac-12's rushing statistics and only gets about 115 yards a game on the ground as a team (10th in the Pac-12). In short, they can't run it worth a lick, so the continued development of Wood, the Texas transfer, is critical. Unfortunately, Wood is going to be facing a much faster, much more opportunistic defense than he faced last week at Oregon State — and the Beavers D throttled Colorado. We'll give him a little break because he'll be in the friendly confines of Folsom Field in Boulder, but if Colorado can't get a running game going and is forced to pass on nearly every down, turnovers become a bigger factor and that time of possession stat gets lower and lower. Wood is throwing for nearly 300 yards a game through three contests on 60 percent passing with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He's got some talent, but if Oregon shuts down the already-anemic Colorado running game, it's going to be open season on Wood. To make a game of it, he needs to be able to handle it.
Oregon DBs Should Get Their Chances
Oregon's defensive secondary returned intact from a year ago and welcomed back some bench and injury guys who had plenty of experience as well. They've been called potentially one of the nation's best, yet sit tied with Colorado at four interceptions this season — the Ducks in four games, Colorado in three. That doesn't seem correct, does it? Additionally, Colorado has returned two of its picks for scores while the Ducks don't have a return for a score yet. That all may change this weekend if Oregon's front seven do their job and stuff a bad Colorado running game early and often. That will leave the passing game and the desire to get balls to Paul Richardson as the Buffs' only salvation. It also could provide Oregon's secondary with the opportunity to demonstrate the ability that had it mentioned with the nation's best before the season. It's not that Oregon is horrible against the pass, allowing 186 yards per game (5th in the Pac-12), it's just that most people thought they'd be much closer to a shut-down group than they've played thus far. With a seemingly legitimate Washington on tap next for Oregon, the battle in Boulder might be a good time for all the elements to fire together. Oregon's secondary should have some interception opportunities come Saturday. Let's see if they deliver.
Is It Tyner Time?
Oregon's super frosh running back recruit Thomas Tyner had his best game of the season Saturday, rushing for 96 yards in the win over California and demonstrating the burst and speed he brings to the table. With DAT out and Tyner seemingly playing better and better in the system, the Colorado game could be the first opportunity to see the young speedster get meaningful carries in the heat of a battle still to be decided. Marshall will start, but Tyner's time to shine on a more prime time stage could be here Saturday.
Colorado's Got A Freshman Back, Too
One revelation in Colorado's loss to Oregon State was the increased playing time of freshman Michael Adkins III, who hadn't played in the team's previous games. Adkins, like Tyner, was a highly-rated recruit with good speed. He demonstrated that talent against the Beavers defense with 14 carries for 98 yards, leading the Buffs in both categories. He's worth keeping an eye on as he begins his development into Colorado's top back for the foreseeable future. If he can do any damage to the Oregon defense, it will help a passing game that figures to be targeted heavily Saturday.
Here's An Interesting Stat
Colorado is the only team in the Pac-12 that's perfect in the red zone. Of course, they've only had five possessions in the red zone, scoring one touchdown and four field goals. However, their 5-for-5 performance leads the conference. Oregon, by contrast, is 11th in the league, scoring on 20-of-25 trips (80 percent) into the red zone. Only Washington State at 68.4 percent is worse. Of course, Oregon's 25 trips into the red zone is second in the league only to Oregon State, which has converted 28 of 30 red zone opportunities.