Mark Helfrich believes Oregon is headed in the right direction. Oregon performed well against Washington, but what was so notable was the giant leap they made in their most needed area of improvement: run D. Over the last two games, our run defense had been giving up an average of 268 yards/game, and last night they came out and held UW to 133 total yards on the ground. If you exclude a tricky, 32-yard, end around from wide receiver John Ross, UW barely cracks 100 yards.
When asked about this major change, Helfrich said, “We tackled better in space, ran to the ball better, and it was a different set of plays to defend.” Without saying it, Helfrich later implied that the caliber of players from UW weren’t as dangerous as that of UCLA or Arizona, and that helped limit the run game as well. He did, however, mention that “With UCLA we were trying to limit big plays in the passing game,” and that the better option for Oregon would be to, “limit [QB runs]” against UCLA. He did say, however, that “Third down [defense] is still nowhere near where it needs to be.” That’s a little bit of an understatement, given that a weak UW offense converted 50% of its third downs against the Ducks.
Helfrich later moved on to Oregon’s own run game, saying that although freshman RB Royce Freeman played exceptionally well last night (29 carrries, 169 yards, four touchdowns), “[Royce] will not see that many touches by design. Byron [Marshall] needs to touch the ball, Thomas [Tyner] needs to touch the ball…we need that committee.” He did go on to say, however, that “Royce is starting to totally play naturally…and that’s when he can start playing his best.” Helfrich noted that Freeman was Oregon’s offensive player of the week. Senior linebacker Derrick Malone earned defensive player of the week honors.
Finally, to those fans who watched the game closely Saturday night, I’m sure you noted the unusually large work load given to RB Kenny Bassett. Bassett came in to the UW game with only five carries on the season, yet Helf gave him the nod six times against the Huskies. Bassett held his own, gaining 20 yards on his six carries, while also picking up some great blocks. Those six carries were only two less than Tyner and Marshall combined, so when asked if Kenny will continue to work his way more into the rotation, Helfrich said,”Kenny is one of those guys that’s been fantastic. He’s a great team guy…he’s definitely earned some consideration for future relevance.” After realizing how vague of a statement that was, Helfrich joked, “How about that? Consideration for future relevance. That’s like my dating career.”
Feature photo by Kevin Cline