Test Passed: Ducks Continue Domination Of Huskies
The situation was perfect. Washington was hosting No. 2 Oregon in a renovated and raucous Husky Stadium a week after taking Stanford the mats before losing. Oregon, which cruised through its early schedule, could be ripe for the picking.
For two-plus quarters, the Huskies stayed closed enough to make it interesting, but the Ducks answered plenty of questions in their 45-21 win, extending their winning streak over the Huskies to 10 games and serving notice that they are more than happy to take any more "tests" coming their way.
The Ducks, in short, spent the early part of the game finding out that Washington is a quality team, then spent the last half letting the rest of the nation know that Oregon has more weapons than anyone else. They are a national championship-caliber team.
So what can we take away from Saturday's win?
Running Game Starting To Roll
The Ducks did most of their rushing on the edges early in the season and I called them out on an inside rushing game that seemed lacking, even against lesser opponents. Yes, they delivered gaudy numbers, but they simply outran lesser defenses to the boundary. That has changed the last two weeks as Byron Marshall has established himself as a top-shelf running back at this level and true freshman Thomas Tyner has jumped into the regular rotation at last — all without De'Anthony Thomas. Oregon's offensive line appears to be hitting its stride and opened up lanes between the tackles that helped Marshall crack 100 yards for the third straight game. Tyner added 57 on 12 carries and demonstrated he's not afraid to hammer between the tackles.
Oregon's offensive line is starting to jell, providing the Oregon offense with the piece of the offensive pie it needs most against good teams: The ability to gash defenses inside. Against Washington, we saw new faces taking care of Oregon's traditional business in the running game.
Too Much Yellow On The Field
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich couldn't have been smiling about one particular aspect of his team's play heading into the halftime locker room: the penalties. Oregon committed eight penalties in the opening half, which continually stopped momentum for the offense and kept things alive for the Huskies. Oregon finished with nine penalties overall for 86 yards, so they made huge improvement from the first to the second half.
However, the lack of composure against the Huskies in the first half was an interesting study in what can hurt and Ducks and possibly help a worthy opponent. Oregon will need to clean up the penalties, so look for that to be an emphasis moving forward. A key loss of focus at a bad time could cost Oregon much more than a game. It could cost the Ducks the Pac-12 title and a possible national championship bid.
Is This Offense The Best?
In this, the golden era of Oregon football (Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich), the numbers have always been impressive, but there seems to be something special about Oregon's offensive ability this season. This goes beyond the numbers, beyond the points and beyond the opponents. It jumps to the heart of Oregon's offense.
Is this incarnation the best ever? The answer is yes.
This is an eyeball test. That's understood, but the amount of weapons the Ducks bring to the party multiplied by a quarterback who seems to have taken leaps and bounds in his development, and you have an offense with more ways to get down the field and into the end zone than ever before. That's despite the loss of super tight end Colt Lyerla.
Oregon put more than 600 total yards (265 rushing, 366 passing) on a Washington defense that did good things against Stanford last week. Oregon brings three wide receivers, two tight ends, two running backs and the ever-elusive DAT to the plate for Mariota and all of them are capable of delivering big plays down the field. Oregon has more offensive weapons than ever before. It's almost unfair at times.
Defensive Line Looking Suspect
I've hinted at this several times before, but spent Saturday's game focused on this part of the game. The verdict? Oregon, for all the talent and quality rotation going on, struggled to stop the inside run against Washington. Tennessee showed a little of it, but Washington drove home the point — Oregon struggles to stop the run and can be mauled by a physical offensive line. Washington's Bishop Sankey rushed for 167 yards and two scores and helped keep Washington's hopes alive for a large part of the game.
When you play Oregon, you often have to respond with touchdowns to match theirs, so when the Huskies went three-and-out or settled for a field goal, Oregon started to run away, which limited Sankey late in the game. Still, the game was a game because Washington's offensive line and Sankey had a field day between the tackles. You want an area of concern for Oregon against good teams? The defensive line is a good place to start.
Mariota As Part Of The Running Game
This offense always has been at its best when the quarterbacks are willing to run the ball regularly. Jeremiah Masoli wrecked teams and Dennis Dixon was a huge threat until his knee injury. It seemed like that injury changed the dynamics of Oregon's offense. Quarterbacks ran less and less with the read option, which felt like a part of the offense's guts was missing.
Mariota has been running more and more and demonstrated just how devastating that can be Saturday with 13 carries for 88 yards and a score. It's hard to quantify how many times Mariota took the Ducks fortunes and ran to success, keeping drives alive with key first downs and gut-wrenching big plays against the Huskies. Having Mariota as a viable running option makes the Oregon offense better and restores something that has been missing the last few years.