This beautiful fall afternoon, yellow-and-green clad Duck fans filed into Scott Stadium from all across the eastern seaboard — and points west — for the kickoff against the Virginia Cavaliers. This remarkable Oregon team left them plenty of reason to stand and cheer. The Duck offense erupted for four touchdown plays of 30 yards or more, and the offensive and defensive lines dominated a fairly stout Virginia group, that had yielded only 16 points to BYU the prior week during their home opener.
From the first possession in Charlottesville, the tone was set. Marcus Mariota once again proved his nickname — “The Flyin’ Hawaiian”– with a third-down, 71-yard quarterback keeper to paydirt. My Twitter feed immediately buzzed from a good friend from Baltimore: “Well this is getting ugly quickly #Oregon.”
He was partially correct, but the scoring feast was actually just beginning. Two touchdowns later, Oregon looked to be coasting comfortably to the close of a highlight-laden first quarter.
Momentum shifted briefly, seconds before the break, when Virginia’s Khalek Shepherd reeled off a 45-yard run past Rahim Cassell and Eric Dargan, for a score. This was the only time a Cav reached the end zone against a swarming Ducks’ defense, that cumulatively gave up less than 3.5 yards per play, for the game.
The usual suspects — De’Anthony Thomas and Bralon Addison – filled up the stat sheets and lit up the scoreboard during the first three periods of play. The Duck offense and defense continued to click over the course of the second half, and by the fourth quarter, the entire second unit offense was putting their fresh legs to work on a worn down UVA defense. Portland product Thomas Tyner made his Oregon debut in style, with two touchdown runs. Oregon rolled up 557 yards of offense and won 59-10.
There are several observations that Duck fans can take from the performance today:
1) The Ducks’ defensive line might be better than advertised. At times in the first half, Oregon countered a capable ACC offensive line — attempting to establish an inside running attack – with three defensive tackles. Combinations of DeForest Buckner (286 lbs.), Ricky Havili-Heimuli (314 lbs.), Taylor Hart (287 lbs.), and Alex Balducci (297 lbs.), clogged running lanes throughout the game from the tackle position.
They were truly space-eaters that would make any SEC coach jealous. Those painful losses Chip Kelly endured to SEC schools have paid dividends for his successor, in the form of recruiting wins at a key position of need (DT), and those recruits are already paying off this season.
2) The linebackers will need to improve over the course of the season for a title run. The Ducks’ schedule sets up perfectly this season with power-running opponents UCLA and Stanford not showing up until mid-season. The aggressive nature of Aliotti’s blitzing schemes tends towards some over-pursuit in the run game. Expect these underclassmen linebackers to adjust their game throughout the season and learn from their mistakes. Most assuredly be more growing pains, but more importantly, there will be the continuous improvement that Helfrich loves to discuss.
3) The nation has taken notice of the Best of the Left Coast. Whether it is racks of Ducks’ gear lining sports stores in small town Iowa (I’ve seen more ‘DAT’ jerseys here than I could count.) or fans showing up in good numbers to Charlottesville today, the Oregon brand is a national phenomenon unique to college football.
There is a decent chance that the ACC (Virginia) and SEC (Tennessee) opponents Oregon faces in these early weeks, become the measuring stick by which two teams are chosen for the National Championship Game — on the basis of common opponents (with an Alabama and Clemson). It’s very early, of course, but today the Ducks positioned themselves for a strong claim to play on January 6.
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