Takeaways: Ducks Face Adversity, Deliver Knockout Punch
By John Baker
Even in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium, most football people figured the Ducks would have some struggles with lower-level SEC team Tennessee on Saturday. The Volunteers are rebuilding under new coach Butch Jones, but featured a big, athletic defense and four offensive linemen who garnered preseason SEC accolades. For half of the first quarter, Oregon was its own worst enemy, going three-and-out, taking a Tennessee fumble and doing nothing with it, then driving the field and missing a field goal. All the while, penalties and quarterback Marcus Mariota's 2-of-7 start bedeviled the Ducks as they struggled to get a rhythm going.
Then the speed kicked in, the passing game clicked and the Vols discovered what two other opponents had previously found: When the Ducks get rolling, all you can do is get out of the way and hope the scoreboard doesn't blow a fuse. When it was over, the Ducks had cruised to a 59-14 win over the visiting Volunteers.
Fortunately, as with all games, there are positives and negatives that can be taken away.
The Ducks Have Stud TE After All
Oregon's Colt Lyerla was supposed to be the all-world tight end for the Ducks this year, a quick, nimble pass-catcher that could take a five-yard pattern and turn it into a huge play. Coming off a three-drop performance last week, Lyerla didn't play Saturday as one of six Ducks who were struck with some sort of illness. In his stead, true freshman Johnny Mundt took over the game. Mundt had five catches for 121 yards and two scores, seemingly making every important catch Mariota needed early on as the Ducks were trying to find their groove. Expect Lyerla back in the lineup, but it's another case of the Ducks and their "next man up" mentality that seems to produce stars every week.
Kicking Game Clearer ... Maybe
After Alejandro Maldonado opened the game with a missed field goal, you wondered if freshman Matt Wogan was going to get a chance to ply his wares. As it turned out, he did. Wogan made his first field of the season from 38 yards out and may have helped stake himself to the No. 1 job. Coach Mark Helfrich had said that the kicking job was still an ongoing process and Maldonado's early miss, particularly as Oregon was in the midst of a little bit of struggle, may have opened the door for Wogan to walk through and establish himself for good.
Defensive Line Held
Tennessee's offensive line figured to be a tough load to handle for Oregon's front seven, but the Ducks got stellar play from a rotating roster of players. The Vols rushed for 178 yards in the game, but the vast majority of that came in the final quarter-plus when the subs were handling things. Defensive end Taylor Hart led the way with five tackles, a forced fumble and a pass breakup, but he had plenty of help from the likes of Ricky Havili-Heimuli, Tony Washington and friends. When Tennessee had the early lead, it had an opportunity to take control through its running game. Oregon's defensive front stood rock solid against a line that's considered the SEC's best coming into the season. There were questions about the defensive line in terms of fulfilling its tremendous potential. It appeared they answered some of those questions.
Marshall Plan Looks Better
Oregon still struggled to run the ball up the middle and waited a while to get Byron Marshall involved in the game. While De'Anthony Thomas saw several carries up the middle, Marshall showed better pop and punch when he finally got some reps. Marshall finished the game with 41 yards on six carries and got involved in the passing game with a 36-yard reception. Uber recruit Thomas Tyner played in mop-up time, so Marshall is in line to get more carries if he can continue to be productive. DAT ended the game with 15 touches in all, which is just about where Oregon wants him. To make that happen, Marshall needs to build on Saturday's performance and be capable of handling some between-the-tackles production. Saturday's output was a good way to move on from doing virtually nothing the previous two games.
Too Many Penalties
Oregon had eight penalties for 62 yards, which seems about five too little. The Ducks cost themselves a long kickoff return from DAT and another touchdown via the yellow flags. It's hard to get too upset when you deliver nearly 700 yards of offense, but the penalties helped create an early atmosphere that was out of balance. Against Tennessee, it didn't matter. However, against a better team that's a real threat to the Ducks, eliminating those pesky mistakes can be the difference between win and loss. Helfrich said that cleaning up the penalties would be a priority moving forward.