Sunday Reaction: Ducks Making Progress, Still Have a Long Way to Go

First, let me just say, WOOOOO!! The Ducks finally, and by finally I mean it’s been three years, beat Stanford. In a game that was Oregon’s from the opening kickoff, the Ducks showed a lot of grit and intensity in a solid win against a Stanford team that, although may not be great, was definitely nothing to scoff at. Being the Devil’s advocate that I am though, I couldn’t help but notice some almost embarrassingly bad miscues on both sides of the ball that need to be addressed immediately if the Ducks are going to stand a chance against CFB’s kings.

Before I get too far in to my list of the things I didn’t like, how about I start off cheery and list the things I did like (I promise, there were lots of them). Here are the top three things that were huge pluses that I saw from Oregon last night:

1: The Ducks dominated on third down, and that won them the game. 

Sure there were some penalties, sure there were some Stanford miscues, but throughout the game Oregon proved that they could come through in the clutch. To say that it was Oregon’s doing though is incorrect. One man is responsible for Oregon’s remarkable success and his name is Marcus Mariota. He had many highlights in last night’s game (see below), but more importantly he led the Ducks to a 61% conversion rate on third down, and thanks to a fourth-down conversion and some Stanford penalties the Ducks weren’t forced to punt until late in the first half. The Ducks scored on all four of their opening half possessions, and by that time they had all but buried Stanford.

2: The return of key figures provided a much needed spark.

Welcome back, Keanon Lowe. On the very first play of Oregon’s opening drive, Lowe caught his first pass and that absolutely electrified the Duck sideline. Lowe is a critical leader in the Ducks locker room, and seeing him back really helped fire some of the guys up. That being said, Lowe did show some rustiness as his dropped pass on third down prevented a fourth-straight Ducks touchdown. Also making a return were Thomas Tyner and Arik Armstead, who made huge impacts on both side of the ball. Tyner looked especially great, taking some of the load of Royce Freeman while gashing the Stanford D for 6.3 yards per carry.

3: No team is better at getting a timely turnover than the Ducks.

Erick Dargan (4) leads the Ducks in interceptions this year with five.

Kevin Cline

Erick Dargan (4) leads the Ducks in interceptions this year with five.

In a recent study, results showed that the Ducks will in fact only turn their opponent over during critical moments of the game. All jokes aside, the Ducks really do have a special talent for getting timely turnovers.

For example, Stanford had the ball to open up the second half. The crowd was still getting back to their seats, and for the most part Autzen was quiet. The Cardinal was marching the ball down the field, and had positioned themselves on the Oregon 32. Then, on first down, Erick Dargan read a Kevin Hogan pass perfectly, and intercepted the Stanford QB on the goal line. Although Mariota went on to throw a pick on the very next drive, this interception by Dargan helped allow the crowd to get back into the game and keep the momentum moving in Oregon’s direction.

Here are a few other individual plays that I loved from the game:

    • Charles Nelson’s block on the edge for the game-sealing touchdown.
    • Derrick Malone’s tipped-pass on fourth down.
    •  Tyner’s spin move for the TD.

Now, with all that in mind, there were also a lot of things that I saw from Oregon that were disturbingly bad. These were mistakes a team three games in to the season shouldn’t make, let alone nine:

1: Special teams, special teams, special teams …

Following a game where the special teams play was such a bright spot, I was shocked to see the Ducks take such a huge step backwards. Kicker Matt Wogan rarely got the ball deeper than the Stanford 10-yard line, which in turn set up Stanford’s always dangerous return men, Ty Montgomery and Christian McCaffrey, to slash the Ducks kickoff team for 23 yards per return. These included returns of 35 and 29 yards, and although Stanford may not have taken advantage of their great field position, other teams certainly will come playoff time.

2: Mariota made some uncharacteristically bad decisions.

Keanon Lowe streches out for one of the many overthrown passes from Mariota.

Kevin Cline

Keanon Lowe streches out for one of the many overthrown passes from Mariota.

Don’t get me wrong, Mariota is the only reason the Ducks won that game. The plays he made with his feet and his arm astounded everyone, and his four total touchdowns are remarkable considering the Ducks were playing the second-best defense in the nation in terms of points allowed. With that out of the way though, Mariota simply didn’t look his best. He missed multiple wide open throws, he often led receivers by too much or put the ball too high, and most importantly he threw a pick into double coverage in a situation where he didn’t need to take that kind of a shot. He had Devon Allen running a deep route, and even though Allen had both of his defenders beat, Mariota short-armed it and the pass never came close to his intended target. This may be fine and dandy now, but the Ducks are going to need Mariota’s best come playoff time and that definitely was not it.

3: Blatant missed assignments on defense.

Devon Cajuste and Austin Hooper, the two big Stanford receiving targets, combined for 10 catches and 178 yards against the Ducks last night. I feel like I can say in confidence that not for a single one of those receptions was a Ducks’ player within five yards of them. Just because Stanford couldn’t capitalize on Ducks’ mistakes doesn’t make them any less important. Oregon simply can’t leave people that wide open.

When all is said and done though, this game goes down as a positive for me. Beating Stanford, especially by 30, is no easy feat and the Ducks deserve credit. Next week the Ducks head into a tough road matchup against an underrated Utah team. The Utes are the last true test on Oregon’s schedule, and if the Ducks can get past them they’re almost certainly playoff bound.

Top photo by Craig Strobeck

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