Whether it due to the entire Duck offensive line getting stuck in a hotel elevator or the hour long weather delay, the Ducks were itching to get back onto the field and erase the memories of their loss last weekend against Utah.
With Vernon Adams hurt and Jeff Lockie still adjusting to life as QB No. 1, the Ducks once again relied on their mix of power and running speed in the form of Royce Freeman and Taj Griffin, respectively. Duck fans have grown familiar with the aggression Freeman shows on every touch. Freeman set freshman rushing records in yards and touchdowns last season on his way to the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year.
At 5-foot-11 with 230 pounds of muscle and tree trunks for legs, Freeman will be the main focus for Pac-12 defenses the rest of the season.
With 27 carries for 163 yards and two touchdowns, Freeman continued his success and will have to continue his stellar performances if the Ducks want to contend for a Pac-12 championship.
Behind the beastly running back is the newcomer, Griffin, who has been dynamic in his minimal touches.
Griffin rushed for a season-high 110 yards and added his second career touchdown. His change of pace from Freeman has given life to an offense that has been subpar compared to previous seasons.
Griffin was the No. 1-ranked all-purpose back in last season’s recruiting class, and chose the Ducks over schools such as Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State.
Even after missing the majority of his senior year of high school due to a knee injury, the Ducks knew they had an impact football player that fit their high octane play style. His explosiveness and elusiveness have fans drawing comparisons to RUNDAT, De’Anthony Thomas himself.
Coach Mark Helfrich was pleased with the team’s performance and effort as the Ducks gained their first Pac-12 victory. In a postgame interview with A.J. Jacobson of Ducks Sports Authority, Helfrich acknowledged the abundance of potential that Griffin possesses.
“Taj is a guy that has been fractions away from huge plays and he just needs some experience and some seasoning.” Griffin exploded for a 62-yard run in the second quarter on his way to a stellar performance.
Whether it’s a run play or a swing pass, getting Taj into space should be a key part to the Ducks’ offense.
It was the first time in two years that two Duck running backs eclipsed the 100-yard mark in a game.
The offensive line played their best game and will look to continue improving throughout the season. Tack on 30 more yards from Kani Benoit who was recovering from an injury, and the Ducks prolific offense has become more of a run heavy strategy.
The most exciting pass play for the Ducks had a unique wrinkle as ex-high school quarterback Bralon Addison took the reverse toss and threw a dime to Charles Nelson for a 39-yard touchdown to tie the game at 14.
Addison had taken a few snaps in Wildcat formation against Georgia State but his ability to throw the deep ball should have defenses confused and worried whenever he has the ball.
Coach Helfrich commented on the trick play that had Duck fans rejoicing all over the country. “They ran that exact same play against us a few years ago, so it’s kind of friendly fire. (Colorado WR Paul Richardson threw a 75-yard touchdown pass two years ago against the Ducks.)
These unique wrinkles in the offense are what Duck fans have grown to love and are eager to see more of in the future. With so much versatile talent and playmaking ability, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more trick plays being called in order to keep defenses on their toes.
The secondary showed significant improvements from last week, allowing only 231 passing yards. More importantly, Nelson Spruce, a Biletnikoff semi-finalist from last season, was held to 87 yards.
Joe Walker snatched an interception as well as picked up a fumble early in the first half to help a defense that has struggled to force takeaways.
Helfrich praised the defensive line and linebackers from limiting the run as well as putting pressure on the quarterback.
This weekend the Ducks return to Autzen Stadium to face the Washington State Cougars, who almost pulled an upset against the undefeated California Golden Bears.
Cougars quarterback sophomore Luke Falk has averaged 50 pass attempts per game so far this season, so the secondary must be ready to step up to the challenge.
The Ducks are down but most definitely not out as the running tandem of Freeman and Griffin look to weave their way through defenses and into the end zone.
If you can’t be in Autzen, be sure to watch this Saturday at 3 p.m. as the Ducks take on the Washington State Cougars.
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Top photo by Ron Chenoy