Following a career-high in passing yards for Marcus Mariota just three games into the Mark Helfrich era, one is prompted to wonder if that is merely a coincidence. Against SEC foes and heavier-set defensive lines, Chip Kelly often stuck to his guns, running the ball relentlessly. Against Tennessee, the Ducks did not take long before they began airing it out. It definitely worked.
After losses to Stanford, LSU, Ohio State and Auburn, fans were quick to point out how persistent Coach Kelly was in the run game, often wishing the Green and Yellow had spread their wings and let the ball fly. In his first game against a stout defensive line, Mark Helfrich and his Ducks put the ball in the air early and often, as Mariota accounted for 456 yards passing and four passing touchdowns.
While it is far too early to make any definitive statements about the Helfrich coaching style, it appeared that the new Oregon coach does not mind letting his Heisman-conversation quarterback sling the pigskin.
The biggest criticisms of Kelly during his tenure in Eugene came after losses in which the running backs seemed to continue carrying the ball when it wasn’t moving the chains. Maybe Helfrich heard the cries of the fans and once the Ducks stalled on the first few drives, decided to let the “Flyin’ Hawaiian” play a little game of pitch-and-catch with his receivers. Or maybe the plays through the air just worked out more successfully against Tennessee on that day. But one thing is clear: the fans noticed Helfrich’s willingness to take to the air.
After a few more games, it will be easier to pinpoint just what type of coach the Ducks have. Until Pac-12 play begins and Oregon must play competitively during the fourth quarter, there is no way to be sure if Helfrich is truly less stubborn about keeping the ball on the ground than Kelly was, but Saturday’s game got the conversation going.