Takeaways: Ducks Struggle To Run Between The Tackles
By John Baker
The dust has settled and Oregon Nation has gotten a chance to digest the Ducks' 59-10 pounding of Virginia on the road.
Fans finally got rewarded with the appearance of homegrown five-star running back Thomas Tyner, he of the 10.43 100-meter speed and pinball rushing totals. Tyner finally got to see what an FBS football game is like. He seemed to like it as he scored the first time he touched the ball and then added a second score against the Cavaliers' backups. Tyner's display combined with mixed reviews on the running game offer a good place to start as we examine some 'takeaways' from the Ducks' win Saturday.
Blowout Hides Conceals Run-Blocking Struggles
If you watched the majority of Saturday's game, you noticed almost from the outset the Cavaliers defensive line got the better of Oregon's offensive line between the tackles. Before the game there was talk about Virginia's front four being a good test for Oregon's offensive line and that proved correct. Take away quarterback Marcus Mariota's quarterback draw for a huge run and score and ignore the action after the starters exited midway through the third period: The Ducks did little between the tackles. Running back Byron Marshall never got going and even De'Anthony Thomas did most of his damage outside. While it's hard to argue with 59 points and huge statistical numbers, the eyes offer a different perspective. Oregon needs to get better play from its offensive line so it can hurt teams between the tackles. That was the secret to the success of LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner the last four years — they hurt teams inside, which created even more space outside. If Oregon's offensive line can't do the same this year, teams will start to hawk the edges even more in an attempt to shut the running game down.
Marshall Needs To Relax
With Tyner due to make his debut and all the hype associated with him, Marshall still got the call plenty Saturday and had what can only be described as a miserable day. Unfortunately, an early fumble coupled with a blown assignment on a screen only added to the troubles Marshall experienced behind his troubled offensive line. Marshall finished with 15 carries for 31 yards, and if you look at the play-by-play, you see a lot of zero and one-yard gains, particularly in the first half.
Early in the third quarter, Marshall had his best sequence, rushes of 4, 5, 5 and 4 yards. Tyner entered late against backups and scored immediately, then busted a run up the gut for another score. Tyner and Marshall were not playing against the same defensive front. Marshall said he needs to relax and just play, admitting that the start of the game rattled him. It was clear that was the case as he struggled to hit holes quickly, instead dancing into the line looking for an opening. To be fair, the Virginia front four did a good job of closing off lanes or simply standing up the Oregon offensive linemen. But now the die is cast. Tyner has made his debut.
Running backs coach Gary Campbell classified the young freshman as second-and-a-half string. Marshall will continue to get his chances, but Tyner is in the mix. The feeling here: Marshall is the kind of hammer the Ducks need and he's got plenty of speed to be a top-of-the-line running back. But now he's in the crosshairs on several fronts, so the Tennessee game is a big one.
Smooth Mariota Makes Speed Look Easy
During Mariota's touchdown run to open Saturday's game, one of the announcers said the Hawaii native looked like he was "jogging" down the field. We're used to seeing speed in the game, but, Mariota falls into that wonderful category of the "long strider." Mariota has a long stride when he runs, so to deliver the speed he needs, he must turn his legs over quickly, something he does well. Mariota almost always outruns linebackers and some of the defensive backs. You saw it again Saturday when, on a run up the middle, defenders took poor angles at him because he outruns their initial course. Mariota rushed four times for 122 yards, but take away his 71-yard touchdown scamper to start the game and he still had 51 yards on three carries — 17.0 yards per tote. On the score, which went down the middle of the field, he outran all pursuit except the safety, who was 30 yards downfield when the run started. Mariota is fast, folks. Really fast. Don't let his style fool you.
Lack Of Focus Hurts Star TE Lyerla
While Marshall struggled, star tight end Colt Lyerla had a miserable night. He caught a pass for 13 yards out of the gate, then watched the gate close in front of his hands. Lyerla, considered by many to be one of the top tight ends in the game, dropped three passes after his initial catch — none of them toughies. One of the issues coaches have with Lyerla: His occasional lapses of focus. Saturday night we saw a little of that struggle manifest itself with the trio of dropped passes.
The takeaway here is the coaches will use this as a learning situation and hopefully it will snap Lyerla back and he can go on to the season Oregon envisioned. What's dangerous here is that the Ducks have a ton of receiving weapons and you don't want Mariota or the coaches to lose confidence in Lyerla and decide to "limit" his role in the offense. One drop from a player of his caliber you can live with; two drops are ridiculous, but three drops are inexcusable. We'll see if Oregon comes out against Tennessee determined to get the big guy engaged from the outset.
Ducks Leverage Field Position
It's easy to forget something as mundane as field position when the Ducks offense scores every two minutes and the defense forces turnovers, three-and-outs or scores itself. It's still an important component of a winning philosophy.
Oregon proved that Saturday by owning the field-position battle. The Ducks average starting position by quarters: own 45, own 32, own 42 and the Virginia 39. Conversely, Virginia's average starting position: own 21, own 27, own 24 and own 32.
Oregon didn't have to go as far as Virginia to score, a little-noticed part of the game that gave the Ducks a big advantage. Having a short field, as anyone will tell you, offers better opportunities for an offense. Oregon is expert at taking advantage of those opportunities.