Splish, Splash, Ducks Give Cal A Bath
By John Baker
As the rain poured relentlessly onto the Auzten Stadium turf Saturday night, the conditions offered a microcosm of just how big the gulf is between the big boys of the Pac-12 and the young aspiring Bears — about a lake wide, it would seem.
The Bears committed five first quarter turnovers, watched the nation's leading passer Jared Goff get sent to the pine for ineffective play, and generally splashed around the soggy confines like the team they are — young, inexperienced and ripe for a lesson. The Ducks obliged Saturday night, winning 55-16.
The only blemish for the Ducks, aside from a loose football or two, was the opening kickoff injury to dynamic playmaker De'Anthony Thomas, who left the field immediately and returned at halftime on crutches and a protective boot on his foot. Naturally, the Ducks are giving nothing away about Thomas' injury, but that doesn't mean we can't take something away from Saturday night's butt-whipping.
Told You About Byron Marshall
Marshall was a star early in this game, rushing for more than 100 yards in the first half. Unfortunately, the big guy doesn't do things the easy way, fumbling the first two times he got his hands on the football Saturday. However, with DAT in the locker room and Thomas Tyner apparently not ready for prime time, Marshall stayed in the game and demonstrated the kind of potential he has when he's in a groove.
Marshall finished with 19 carries for a career-high 130 yards and two scores, adding three catches. He needs to continue to prove to coaches he can be a factor in the passing game. I called Marshall a guy to watch leading up to the game; with DAT's injury, he really had an opportunity to put his foot in the ground and make plays for this offense. It took five games, but we may have witnessed another offensive weapon develop on the soggy field at Autzen.
Special Teams More Than DAT
Wide receiver Bralon Addison went from top-line wide receiver to dynamic playmaker in this one, taking a pair of punts back for scores of 75 and 67 yards. We've been talking about Addition since the flashes he showed late last season.
In a game that didn't offer a lot of opportunity down the field in the passing game, Addison simply found his opportunities elsewhere. His second return is worth a review on video because is has one of those video game qualities to it. I'll whisper here and now — Josh Huff, Bralon Addison and when he's in the roll, DAT, form as good a receiving corps as any in the nation right now.
Oregon's receiving group is certainly the deepest. Thank you very much Darryle Hawkins, Johnny Mundt, Keenan Lowe and friends.
Joe Walker Emerges
Sophomore linebacker Joe Walker seems to be in the middle of tackles all over the field these days and spent a lot of Saturday with a facemask full of water. Unfortunately for California's offense, a Golden Bears ball carrier usually joined him.
Walker, a second-stringer — if the Ducks even have those in the truest sense of the word — recorded a game-high nine tackles and one tackle for loss. Walker was a guy who turned heads in fall camp and continues to be productive whenever called upon, which seems to be more and more. On Saturday, he was a guy you noticed a lot for the Oregon defense and the linebacker corps continues to solidify itself with three new starters and new faces looking for playing time.
In fact, despite the rain, Oregon's defense seemed to make plays all over the field. In a game where they probably could have phoned it in, the Ducks kept pressure on Cal's quarterbacks throughout this one.
What Happens If DAT Is Out?
Here's a riddle. What happens to the Oregon offense if Thomas isn't ready for this week's road trip to Colorado?
Answer: Same thing that happened to California, most likely. Oregon fans have a special relationship with DAT in that he not only comes across as a humble, nice young man, but he delivers thrills and chills as a football player in the Oregon uniform. So it was with united holding of breath that DAT stayed down when he returned Saturday's opening kick.
If you watch the replay, it looks like a pretty nasty twist of the ankle and lower leg. Again, Oregon's media policy is to not comment on injuries. However, with Colorado coming up, we can make some educated guesses and the guess here is that if DAT isn't nearly 100 percent by Saturday, the Ducks will sit him in hopes of getting him a week later for a much more important battle against Washington in Seattle.
Truth is, the Ducks will rely on the same cast of characters that hammered Cal in DAT's absence Saturday if need be. Colorado is improved, but as with California, the gulf still is so wide and Oregon has plenty of weapons at its disposal.
The Huskies are another matter — maybe. There are still questions about how legit the Dawgs are at this point, having taken care of an unbeaten (but question-filled) Arizona on Saturday. Right now, it looks like the Huskies have returned. They will host hated rival Oregon in their renovated stadium, and it would make sense to save your biggest playmaker for that stage.
Time will tell if DAT's injury is serious and what it means for his playing status. Just remember, in two weeks, things could get serious in Seattle.