Worried about what we saw in Oregon’s game against Washington State last night? Concerned about Oregon’s long-term prospects for the season? Don’t worry; here is your weekly affirmation that everything will be ok — for now.
Washington State is Much Improved . . .
Yes, Oregon was a 40-point favorite over the Cougars last Saturday, but this is not the same team that the Ducks had defeated six times-in-a-row (now seven), by an average score of 51-17. It is a Washington State team that is only two wins from bowl eligibility, while, in its losses this year, it took 11th-ranked Auburn to the brink on the road, and was tied with Oregon State heading into the fourth quarter. They played the nation’s second-ranked team closer at halftime than any other team had all season. The final outcome may not have shown it, but Wazzu is a team with a lot of fight in them.
. . . As is Much of Oregon’s Schedule
This year’s Ducks’ team has a good chance to do big things, but it will be playing a tougher schedule than it did last year. Should the Ducks be fortunate enough to play for the Pac-12 Championship, it would likely be against UCLA or Arizona State, both of whom fit that criterion of worthy adversary. Cal is Oregon’s only opponent who isn’t either improved from last year or is to be played on the road. What this means is that 12 of Oregon’s 13 potential opponents this year will be more challenging than the 2012 version.
Oregon is Building Running Back Depth
There is no greater evidence of the Ducks’ dominance on offense than the public indifference to Byron Marshall’s 192-yard, three touchdown performance in last night’s game. Marshall, the backup running back, is 20th in the nation in total rushing yards (746) and yards per game (106.6). Marshall may be putting up the numbers, but it was the way he was cutting last night that showed how confident a runner he has become, while shouldering the role of primary ball carrier in De’Anthony Thomas’ absence.
Without Thomas, who hasn’t taken a handoff in 37 days, Marshall and backfield mate Thomas Tyner have made the most of their carries, only furthering the Ducks’ depth in the backfield upon Thomas’ return.
Washington State Didn’t Beat Oregon (Literally or Figuratively)
As the spoiled children of college football’s aristocracy, Oregon fans are used to 60-16 scores against all but the elite. But remember, Saturday night was still a win against a conference opponent, one that keeps Oregon undefeated. And that is a distinction that the Ducks alone hold in the Pac-12. All a team can control in a given year is whether it wins its conference; beating Washington State brought Oregon one week closer to that goal.
The defense likely won’t get any credit from those who saw only the final score, but the Ducks gave up only 17 points when the defensive starters were on the field. That number becomes even more impressive when you realize that Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday broke the NCAA record for attempts (89), tied it for completions (58) and set a Pac-12 record for passing yards (557).
Let’s also consider how far Oregon has progressed. The last time the 6-0 Ducks had a quarterback come to town and set the Pac-12 record for passing yards in a game (ASU’s Andrew Walter in 2002, ironically coached by Mark Helfrich), the Ducks would go on to lose six of its final seven games, punctuating the season with a 21-point loss to Wake Forest in the Seattle Bowl. (That sentence gets weirder to type by the year that it ever happened)
Point being – a win is a win.
Being a Highly-Ranked Team Won’t Save You. Being a Good One Will.
With that being the point, the prevailing expectation of a highly-ranked team is that it should always beat those ranked lower than them. Yet, last Saturday we saw six teams ranked in the Top-11 fall to lower ranked teams, and any one of them would gladly have had the game Oregon had, instead. Another two – Ohio State and Miami – were tied with or trailed unranked teams into the fourth quarter. Since then, the path to the title game got a lot less crowded. And, while some worry about Florida State potentially jumping Oregon in the BCS standings, the prevailing wisdom is that if Oregon wins out, it will play for the national title.
Still, there are a lot of games between now and then, and it shows why Oregon has its “Win The Day” mantra. Saturday’s contest against Washington State could have been a classic trap game, coming the week after a national attention-garnering win over their biggest rival, and the week before a possible Pac-12 Championship preview against UCLA. Instead, the Ducks scored 62 points and their defensive starters gave up only 17. If they continue to play well and let others suffer the slings and arrows, everything will be ok.