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

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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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Caleb Couturie

Caleb Couturie

Caleb is a sophomore at the University of Oregon intending to double major in Journalism and Sports Management. He is the Managing Editor for FishDuck.com, along with being a lifetime Saints and San Francisco Giants fan, as Caleb fell in love with sports at a young age and developed that love into a passion for sports analysis. He is looking forward to cheering on the Ducks throughout his career at Oregon, and is always willing to talk sports with any fellow fan.

  • MAITAIDUCK

    Marcus was off Big time on quite a few WIDE OPEN RECIEVER’S and left anywhere from 14 to 21 points off the board. This offense if this O Line continues to protect Marcus is that there’s no Defense that will stop them not Alabama, FSU don’t care isn’t going to happen. As far as the Defense I would tend to agree with you on the way too many open reciever’s on the Tree’s side and this needs to be fixed ASAP I mean Coach Neal is the best in the business and this looks ridiculous. I still don’t believe for a second MS is worthy of a NO.1 Ranking and if it ended tomorrow and they were NO.1 and the Duck’s 4 I’d take that Match up 100 times because they would not beat this Team. Notre Dame is way Over rated and it looks as if Oregon finish’s W/O a loss the rest of the season they will most likely be playing ASU at Levi’s stadium. Marcus even though he’s been missing some wide open players more this year than last He’s playing and seeing the Field 100 % better than last year and If I’m Oregon as in Frost and Helfrich their probably having trouble sleeping every night with how GIDDY they are about the possibilities going forward for this Offensive EXPLOSION that’s starting to take place. I don’t really care about the Heisman and how Over Rated it is but Oregon for the 1st time in the history of this program might just have both the Heisman and the NEW Championship Trophy in their new Display.

  • Keith Dennis

    Wogan wasn’t doing the kicking. It was the freshman. Also, Stanford’s average starting position after a kick was inside the 25, so that is actually very good. The fact that only two returns came out past the 25, and those by only 4 and 10 yards, is actually a really strong performance.

    But I do agree that Mariota needs to make no mistakes ever. When we face those SEC teams with the QBs who have 100% completion rates and zero INTs we won’t stand a chance.

    • Keith Dennis

      My bad. Wogan did do the kickoffs. But he’s been dealing with injuries all season, so cut him some slack.

    • DonealDuck

      I love your response, Kieth! haha! Yes, Marcus missed on 3 or 4 out of 30 throws…. Imagine that?!… even MM8 is not perfect?!…. geez…. These are the type of people who look at a masterpiece and criticize the brush strokes instead of enjoying the beauty of the master’s hand far surpassing anything they could possibly do.

    • Caleb

      Once again, not saying he has to be perfect, just saying that he has and can do better than how he performed against Stanford. Tough crowd here!

  • Orducktape

    Let’s not forget the PAC-12 championship must be won before Oregon can consider themselves Playoff bound. AZ State is no joke, and if they can dominate Notre Dame this weekend, they could make a case if they won the PAC-12 championship game.

  • DonealDuck

    Dear Caleb and MaitaiDuck,

    Since I have no lovelife at night, :( , I re-watched the game and charted every pass thrown by Marcus Mariota for you.

    On the first drive, Marcus had 2 incompletions, one of which he threw high and the other was a mis-read between receiver and qb. This has always been a little common for quarterbacks including Marcus to be a little amped at the start of the game, and Marcus has been much improved on his first quarter completion percentage this year. Ducks still scored a touchdown on the affected drive.

    Marcus’ next 7 incompletions came after the rain started and the game got very wet and nasty for a while. 3 of these were thrown too low. One was an overthrow on a flare route. The obvious to everyone miss was too high to a wide open Devon Allen in the endzone. I couldn’t tell if this was a wet ball mis-throw, or Marcus throwing it the same as if Allen was covered and putting it ‘only where his receiver could possibly catch it’ out of muscle memory / training on the route. The last incompletion on this series was actually almost a perfect throw to the perfect spot just a couple inches too far for Lowe, but could have been caught, and probably would have been by any other starting (taller) Oregon receiver. The last incompletion was an out and out drop by Lowe, in his first game back after missing two games.

    My opinion….? If the coaches are never going to practice the team in the rain, they should have Marcus go out in the rain on his own and toss some balls around to keep the ‘feel’ for throwing a wet ball in nasty weather. I think he could probably fit a few wet-ball throws in between his rigorous class schedule of yoga and golf this term ;). So I split the ‘blame’ for the whole 4 points (Oregon kicked a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown on the one drive adversely affected by any MM8 incompletion = 4 points difference) these 7 incompletions cost the Ducks between the coaches and Marcus… if you really think any qb should be perfect, especially in nasty weather conditions… ;)

    In the second half, MM8 had all of two incompletions (OMG! how horrendous!) One was a throwaway evading the rush / avoiding a sack. I think we can all agree this was the correct decision. The other was only the second interception Marcus has thrown all year. This was an under-throw, and depending on who you listen to was either just a bad throw or a mis-read between Marcus and the receiver. Stanford kicked a field goal, so this ‘cost’ the Ducks a whole 3 points.

    I know everybody has Marcus as 18 of 30 for this game, but actually the Ducks in total were 18 of 30, and Lockie threw an incompletion ( the play flagged at first for receiver out of bounds and then first to touch, but the flag eventually picked up ), so MM8 was actually 18 of 29 in this game.

    MM8 threw 11 incompletions in the entire game. 7 of these were during adverse weather conditions, and even two of those were actually almost perfect throws. These incompletions / interception DID NOT amount to 14 to 21 points ‘left off the board’, but only 7 points. If you were told before the game started that Oregon would win 38 to 16, I think you would have been ecstatically happy, yes? Would it have mattered if the score was 49 to 13 instead? You think Hogan wasn’t affected by the bad weather at all either??

    In addition, I charted his runs. 2 TDs. One 3rd down conversion for a first down. One 4th down conversion for a first down. Another first down run. 2 other important yardage runs. Not a single ‘mistake’ made with his feet all night

    You really want to bag on MM8??? What would the score have been without him? One could make a case for 17 – 16. (In my opinion, the only possible thing you could really talk negatively about Marcus were the two fumbles under constant pressure, duress and sacks against Arizona, which actually did cost the Ducks that game)

    Actually watch the game. The whole game. Not just ‘react’ to it.

    Enjoy Marcus Mariota. He is having an historically great career. Go Ducks!

    ps: Duck fan since way before ‘Toilet Bowl’. I appreciate the heck out of what Oregon football has become.

    • Caleb

      Sorry it took so long for me to respond to this, but I would just like to say that I feel we aren’t on the same page here. I am by no means bagging on Marcus Mariota’s performance. The performance itself was amazing for any other quarterback. What I was simply trying to say is that I, as well as all other Duck fans, know he can do better. And his best is what will win us a championship. How he played in the Stanford game was great, especially in rainy conditions, but if he was even better then there is no doubt in my mind the Ducks are the favorite to win it all.