Mark Helfrich may have just coached his third game at the helm of the Oregon Ducks, but Saturday was his inauguration. A national audience watched the Ducks overwhelm and dismantle the Tennessee Volunteers 59-14, looking every bit the No. 2 team in the country.
Not many fans and pundits nationwide looked at big wins over Nicholls and Virginia as a sign of things to come, as both teams were notably overmatched. Even Lane Kiffin could’ve led the Ducks to wins in their first two contests (probably). Tennessee, however, was an entirely different kind of opponent. A talented, name-brand program from the SEC, Tennessee provided Helfrich an opportunity to claim his office and address the nation. His message? The Oregon football program was never about one man.
After Saturday’s eye-opening performance, there aren’t many left wondering whether Oregon will miss their old head coach.
The game didn’t start like Oregon hoped it would. A failed opening drive, a quick Tennessee touchdown against what looked like a vanilla defense, a missed FG, bad offensive penalties and generally sloppy play, marked an ugly start. Things started to turn around during Oregon’s fourth drive. After the defense stepped up with a big 3-and-out, the offense finally looked like the Oregon offense. Snapping the ball at least as quickly as they ever did under Chip Kelly, Mariota led the team down the field in 43 seconds, throwing a touchdown pass to true freshman tight end Johnny Mundt.
Mundt looked great all afternoon, having a huge game with 121 yards and two touchdowns in place of Colt Lyerla, who didn’t play because of stomach flu. Another big 3-and-out was a sign of things to come, as Oregon went on to absolutely dominate the rest of the half. Only up 10-7 at the time, the Ducks flipped the switch. Mariota began to take over – with his feet and through the air. After a nice TD run, he had long touchdown passes to Josh Huff and Daryle Hawkins. In his best statistical game as a Duck, Mariota ended up with 456 yards passing and 5 total touchdowns.
Scott Frost frequently showed off his play-calling chops throughout the half – most notably on a 4th down that took advantage of an over-aggressive Tennessee defense and resulted in a wide open touchdown catch for Hawkins. The half ended with a token DeAnthony Thomas outside zone-read touchdown run and just like that, Oregon went into the half with a 38-7 lead.
Not much changed when the teams came out of the locker room. Oregon moved the ball at will and tacked on three more quick touchdowns in the 3rd quarter, one with second-string QB Jeff Lockie and a number of backups on the field. In what has quickly become tradition, Oregon’s starters were pulled mid-way through the quarter. The 4th quarter was uneventful, as Tennessee scored a touchdown against the third-string defense, and the Oregon offense focused on winding down the clock. When it was all said and done, the Ducks prevailed 59-14 in a dominant effort.
This performance will undoubtedly put Helfrich on the map. No one is left asking if the Oregon football program will still be any good. It is. And the man who’s now at the head of it all, has taken his office.
RANDOM GAME NOTES
– There’s been plenty of talk about Mariota’s early season accuracy struggles, but once again, his incompletions were largely a result of defensive pressure. His completion % will be a product of the protection his offensive line can provide, especially on the inside.
– Mariota’s speed is such a big asset. He consistently makes big plays with his legs. That will be very difficult to replace. There was a handful of plays that No. 8 made which very few other quarterbacks would’ve had the speed to pull off.
– Bralon Addison is living up to the hype, quietly becoming Mariota’s security blanket. Josh Huff had a nice game with 6 receptions, 125 yards and a touchdown, but when Mariota’s under pressure, he consistently looks in Addison’s direction. Having a productive wide-out across from Huff is a big development for this offense.
– This game was over early; Mariota’s deep pass to Josh Huff with 10 minutes to go in the 2nd quarter was the nail in the coffin.
– The Volunteers didn’t play a horrible, mistake-laden game. They were simply outmatched.
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