If any college football fans were wondering how the Ducks would look under Mark Helfrich after the departure of Chip Kelly, they got their answer on Saturday afternoon: not much different. Running an offense that looked faster than ever, Oregon torched the lowly Nicholls State Colonels by a score of 66-3 and did just what they needed to in their 2013 opener.
Marcus Mariota was efficient with the football, De’Anthony Thomas electrified in the backfield, and Byron Marshall and Josh Huff played significant roles in the blowout victory.
Looking ahead to Saturday the Ducks will travel to Virginia to take on the 1-0 Cavaliers, who managed a comeback win against the BYU Cougars in their opening game of the season. Ranked second in the nation, the Ducks will be facing a Virginia team who finished last year at 4-8 and who look to be mediocre in 2013.
Their offense didn’t stand out in their first game (David Watford completed 18-of-32 for just 114 yards with a touchdown and an interception and Kevin Parks rushed for 65 yards on 20 carries) and their defense wasn’t too strained against a BYU offense that was also a bit lackluster.
They gave up a bunch of rushing yards to BYU running back Jamaal Williams (144), and that statistic bodes well for an Oregon offense that thrives on a read-option attack.
With all that said, Virginia is not an opponent the Ducks should write off as a win. They’re Oregon’s first actual test of the season and could prove to be decent in 2013.
Here are three things to watch for when Oregon takes on Virginia.
Tripping out East isn’t exactly something Oregon does all that often, and most of the time when they do they are lucky enough to get a game slated later in the afternoon. That isn’t the case this year, however, as the Ducks will take on the Cavaliers at 3:30 PM ET, a time that could see Oregon a bit groggy after having to adjust to the East Coast time zone.
While this could easily happen due to the time, the Ducks should be more concerned about humidity levels and cramping up. We already saw plenty of players (especially in the east) cramp up last week, and the Oregon training staff will need to be fully equipped and ready to treat any cramps that may slow down the Ducks’ high-flying offense.
Right now it doesn’t look as though it will be too bad, especially considering the high for Saturday in Charlottesville is supposed to be 83 degrees. Humidity still stands at 77% so there may be some issue with Oregon adjusting to the heavier air.
Facing Four up Front
Last week Oregon’s offensive line handled Nicholls State pretty well even though there were times they did look susceptible to allowing some penetration in the backfield, forcing Mariota to scramble outside the pocket.
But while the Colonels’ defensive line is not to be made fun of, they’ll be facing a different kind of front than they may have grown used to in recent years.
Virginia plays a four-man front on the defensive line and will undoubtedly look to use Oregon’s relative inexperience against that type of front to their advantage. How this will play out against the read-option and spread attack is a bit perplexing right now, but look for the Ducks to dip their toes in the water before really unleashing their offense on Saturday.
I expect them to get the ball out to the receivers a bit quicker and open up the middle of the field a bit more.
More Accurate Mariota
Mariota was good last week, but he wasn’t exactly the crisp passer we saw in 2012. Likely a result of first-game jitters and a few nerves, Mariota let some passes sail a bit high/far and completed just 12 of his 21 attempts.
While that is still a respectable number, every Oregon fan knows Mariota is well capable of completing just about every pass he attempts.
We’ll see the Ducks run the ball a bit more against the Cavaliers, but expect to see a more composed and accurate Mariota commanding the offense on Saturday.
As I mentioned previously, the Ducks SHOULD NOT shrug off the Cavaliers. Though they are three touchdown favorites in this contest, a trip to Virginia could pose problems for a team that doesn’t really face that kind of environment/team every week.