To channel Charles Dickens: it was the best of Ducks, it was the worst of Ducks. But . . . in reverse order.
Saturday’s game against UCLA felt like two separate games, with the first half being as mistake-prone as any of the previous games. Oregon’s first drive produced a fumble by Keanon Lowe and was recovered at the Duck’s 38-yard line, which set up UCLA with a great opportunity for an easy TD.
Later in the 2nd quarter, Maldonado missed a makeable field goal, and had a punt blocked, which UCLA soon converted into a touchdown. It seemed the only things to go well were the fake punt creating a 66-yard gain by Rodney Hardrick, and the 40-yard touchdown run by Byron Marshall.
The second half was a different story, thanks in large part to the play calling. A major concern about this team before the season was how Mark Helfrich would handle being the coach of a team that considers a 10-2 season a failure.
The coaching staff responded in the second half by making excellent adjustments and avoided the play-calling “writer’s block.” The short passes by Marcus Mariota resulted in not having a single incomplete pass in the second half. That set up the inside zone read, especially with Thomas Tyner who was able to keep his momentum forward more easily than on the outside zone read. This resulted in plays that were consistently positive, as Tyner mowed over defenders who were fatigued from chasing around Byron Marshall. Of course, under Defensive Coordinator Nick “The Mastermind” Aliotti, the defense asserted itself in the second half and simply shut the door on the UCLA offense. UCLA gained fewer than 100 yards of total offense, and no points, in the second half.
So far the coaching staff has made one thing clear: No Chip Kelly, no problem.