3 and Out: Good and Bad of the 6-0 Ducks
“3 and Out” is a completely informal, marginally educated, and completely biased look at the most current highs and lows of the Oregon Ducks and their next opponent in a short and simple format that should be easy enough for even an OS(U) or UW grad to read!
This week’s take: Halftime!
“If Jimmy didn’t have a bum ankle, our team would have taken ‘State out behind the woodshed for sure! Damn you, injuries!!!”
There are lots of reasons for lamenting injuries; here are two:
1. The player injuries sustained so far by the Ducks, and
2. All of the weirdness and storylines around the conference and country so far on whether to disclose or not to disclose injuries for a variety of reasons. The subsequent actions and policies of some to this end have ranged from valid to very silly.
As unfortunate as it is to have a John Boyett, Carson York, or Jared Ebert injured, the bottom line is that injuries happen to every team, every year. Would a team be better with a full compliment of healthy players? Of course they would, but does any team really have that? Some fans tend to stew on whether or not a specific player is going to play, or how an injured player may or may not affect the games. However, as recent examples like Avery Patterson, Derrick Malone, and Mana Grieg have shown, a successful football team has to be about more than any single player or position group.
If there is one trend the Ducks might want to throw in the broom closet before the dinner guests arrive, it would be the 14 turnovers lost, ranking 102ndnationally in this particular statistic. The good news? The Ducks currently are ranked #2 in the nation with 17 turnovers gained, so they do, remarkably, still have a positive ratio. It could and should be much higher, but a number of turnovers were to be expected with the youth on the field for Oregon; a scary notion for other Pac-12 coaches is that as the season progresses, that ratio will likely only favor the Ducks more. If they can continue their takeaways at this pace, collecting all of those extra possessions would be a huge asset for this team moving forward, provided they can avoid returning the favor. The Ducks have done so much winning without realistic suspense this year, but winning games while losing the turnover battle is a dangerous game to play, especially as the competition increases.
3. Special teams
Considered a major strength for this team for the past several seasons, special teams in 2012 have been a little shaky. Opposing teams have all but given up on kicking to De’Anthony Thomas, but even when they have, those brave opponents have done a nice job of limiting the returns. The kickoff coverage unit allowed a 92 yard return to WSU, and the Ducks’ 64th ranked kick return defense has plenty of room for improvement.
Oddly, Jackson Rice has had several uncharacteristic shanks and short punts through the first stretch of games. His 65th ranked net punting average (last in the pac-12) is a far cry from the top overall ranking and Ray Guy Award consideration he claimed last season. Oregon is, however, one of only two FBS teams holding opponents to negative return yards with a total of -4 punt return yards through 6 games. So far the field goal unit hasn’t seen much work, but has only converted on four of seven attempts, one of which was blocked. For those keeping score, that’s 57%, or in essence, slightly better odds than a coin toss. Perhaps this has factored into the decision to go for it on 4th down 13 times so far, converting 9 of them (67.9%)
1. The Oregon coaching staff
Has any group collectively done a better overall job than these guys? The answer is a resounding “no,” because no staff in the country can boast the same level of continuity. The staff has been intact since 2009 – the only school in the country to boast that stat. Forget about nine in a row over Washngton (for a moment), because the win over the hated huskies was also Chip Kelly’s 40th as the Ducks head coach. His current 40-6 overall record – a staggering 86.9% – is easily the best in school history. Under Kelly, the Ducks have also gone 28-2 (93.3%) in conference, and have amassed an amazing 28-1 record in the past 29 games in Autzen. Credit the nearly unrivaled high level of play to the consistently sustained approach of team preparation. Outside of Alabama, it is hard to point to another school in any conference that even can begin to rival the accomplishments of this team over the past half decade. The toughest stretch on the schedule for this season is still ahead, but how coaching continuity translates into success is something to ponder while watching everyone else play this weekend.
2. The Defensive Line
Fans and the media came in the season hoping for big things from this group, and so far they have proved to be as tenacious, athletic, and as stout (if not more so) than any unit in the Pac-12. The D-line has played 8+ deep in each game this season but still are producing a top-20 pass rush, and have only allowed a paltry 3.52 yards per rush attempt this season. Even times when the linemen themselves do not get credit for the play, the disruption they cause still shows up elsewhere on the stat sheet.
Oregon is #10 nationally at defending 3rd downs, and ranked #4 in red zone defense. They lead the Pac-12 in interceptions and pass efficiency defense. They currently sit in the top three in scoring defense (#2), total defense (#3), and rushing defense (#3). This while defending 474 plays (Arizona is #1 with 494). Contrast that to the 290 plays defended by Alabama, for example.
The defensive line play, particularly the ability they have shown to get pressure and clog up opposing lines, has freed up the UO linebackers and secondary to be able to swarm to the ball and disrupt opposing offenses even more. The resulting off-target passes and blown-up run plays by opponents have in part contributed to 17 turnovers, giving the Ducks a #2 national ranking in total takeaways. As a result, the defense has made some very big plays, and have already tied a school record for the most pick-sixes by an Oregon defense, which has stood since 1991.
3. Marcus Mariota
Marcus Mariota has been GREAT. What else can you say about the redshirt freshman? He’s got a live arm, and he is accurate. When he takes off, he is fast enough to take it to the house, but his quickness also helps out in avoiding pressure and extends plays – the touchdown pass to Josh Huff against Washington being a prime example. Coming into the year, most fans had a belief (even those envisioning Bryan Bennett at the helm) that the Ducks offense would roll on, provided they could somehow achieve a level of efficiency within ear shot of the departed Darron Thomas.
Comparing things so far, it is safe to say that the poise, pace, and execution Darron routinely pulled off under center was pretty darn good, and he deserves a lot of recognition for his play as a Duck. But viewers have also seen, albeit in just six games into his career – and not without his own struggles and growing pains – that Mariota has big potential of his own. Consider for a moment these numbers for a first-year division one quarterback: A QB rating of 156.4 (currently 2nd in a conference with some pretty good quarterbacks); heck, his numbers rank even ahead of preseason-Heisman-lock-golden-boy Matt Barkley!
Mariota has compled 67.9% of his passes for 1,301 yards, 15 touchdowns to just five interceptions, and don’t forget that he has also gained 208 yards and scored one touchdown on the ground. Projected over 12 games, those numbers would compare to the production of 2010 Darron Thomas. During that 12-1 campaign that was Thomas’ best statistical season, he posted a 151.0 quarterback rating, completed 61.5% of his throws for 2,881 yards, had a superb 30-9 touchdown to interception ratio, and amassed 486 more yards rushing and another 5 TDs.
When Mariota has decided to run, he seems to also bring more acceleration and agility to the position than the Ducks have had recently. In the open field, he has shown good vision, and generally smart decisions in avoiding too many hits. As Oregon fans can attest, avoiding those hits will be key to reaching his potential. Seeing your quarterback run over a defender might be fun to watch (Masoli), but preventing them from getting hurt (Clemens, Dixon, Leaf, Roper, Masoli, Costa, Thomas, etc) is a far more crucial to success.
-That’s all for now, Check back next week as we will look at the Thursday night Oregon – Arizona State matchup. Until then, Go Ducks!
Quote of the Week:
“I don’t think that the score is indicative of their football team compared to ours, and that part is really frustrating for me.” – UW coach Steve Sarkisian on the blow out