All posts by Matt Milakovich

Oregon Finally Solves the Stanford Riddle

Behind an offensive line that gets healthier each week, Thomas Tyner returned to score twice, Mariota ran for two of his own, threw for two more; and now…

For the first time in three years, Eugene woke up to start another work week enjoying the high of a victory over the Stanford Cardinal.

With the win, Oregon snapped Stanford’s streak of 31 straight games without allowing an opponent to score 30 points.

The last time Stanford allowed 30 points?

October 6, 2012.

Since that date Oregon has scored 30 or more points 25 times, tied for most in the FBS.

How fitting it is that Mariota was the one to snap the Cardinal’s impressive streak while strengthening his case for the Heisman trophy. His entire career the Ducks’ quarterback has seemingly feared “the Tree”, but no more. After this season is over, and unfinished business is hopefully fulfilled, Mariota can now say he beat Stanford.

In what has been a somewhat up and down, confusing season for the Ducks, who would have thought as of this moment the Oregon offense is currently the nation’s most efficient unit with the most explosive passing attack in the land?

This season was billed to be all about Mariota, and thus far he has not disappointed.

Even in their lone loss to Arizona, Mariota was one of the lone bright spots. That loss was not his fault.

Is it fair to say that Mariota is back atop the Heisman big board?

Some may disagree, but I say the college football world should view the award as his to lose.

Mariota led an attack on Saturday that put 45 points and 525 yards up against the nation’s fourth most efficient defense that allows the fewest yards per play and second fewest yards per pass attempt in the FBS.

Oregon put up points, and put them up quick against Stanford’s juggernaut defense. The Ducks 24 first half points were the most Stanford has allowed since 2010 when they allowed the same amount to, you guessed it, the Oregon Ducks.

Oregon’s wunderkind, who just celebrated his 21st birthday this past week, can once again rest easy knowing that he did everything he possibly could. But this time,  instead of losing, Mariota proved without a shadow of doubt that he was not only the most promising player, but the best.

Even more impressive, is Mariota has done more with perhaps less than anyone in the nation. Oregon has been working with a patchwork offensive line that has been in shambles most of the year. Everyone knew the quarterback was really good, but no one knew anything about who he would be throwing to in 2014.

Mariota has proven it doesn’t matter who he’s throwing to. It’s the Tom Brady/Peyton Manning effect— when you’re the best quarterback in the land it’s like a koolaid formula. Just add water and it will be guaranteed sweet every time.

When Oregon lost to Arizona, the cynic in all of us started screaming for the head of Mark Helfrich and had all but doomed Mariota’s final campaign as a lost cause.

How silly of us, how silly of me.

Oregon as a team, may still not be who we thought they were, but that doesn’t matter as much as the fact Marcus Mariota IS exactly who we thought he was.

A winner.

Now Oregon finds themselves in as good a position as they’ve ever been. All they have to do is what they’ve always done—

Play fast and put up points.

All that’s left after that is to let the SEC teams eat each other alive, and slide into a final four spot, hot and healthy.

Against Stanford, Oregon proved to themselves it doesn’t matter who the defense is, they will score.

What a beautiful thing it is to win on your own terms. Don’t worry about the opponent, worry about your execution. The method is proven, don’t reinvent the wheel.

Just hand the ball to Mariota and let it fly.

 

A Perplexing Thursday Leaves Oregon Silent

Arizona v Oregon
First and ten, run it up the middle.
Second and four, run it up the middle.
Sack for a six yard loss.
Third and ten, run it up the middle.
Punt.
This is the simplest way to explain Oregon’s game plan on Thursday night. There were times last season where the peanut gallery were pointing their fingers at head coach Mark Helfrich and accusing him of being in over his head. Ironically enough that was right around the time Oregon played Arizona, and lost. Now in 2014 the same tune should be sung from the mountain tops, or nearby Skinner’s Butte will do.
I was lucky enough, or rather unlucky however you want to look at it, to be at Arizona’s showdown with second ranked Oregon and I feel perfectly fine saying given how they played even if Oregon won it would have been a disappointment. Oregon’s latest game was a microcosm of Mariota’s time spent in Eugene. Plenty of hype, more than enough noise, and no follow up. What I mean by that is every time Oregon and the college football world think they have it figured out the Ducks let you down like a poor man’s Christmas. Sitting in the stands I heard statements like, “most over hyped team ever” and “(offensive coordinator) Scott Frost is getting paid $700,000 a year for this?!” and “worst Oregon game I’ve ever seen.”
It’s unfortunate, but the harsh reality is those fans are right.
Best backfield in the nation? What does that statement look like five weeks in? The most frustrating thing about that question is the fact that the three headed monster of Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman have the ability with the right offensive system to be unstoppable. Why in the hell was offensive coordinator Scott Frost hell bent on running it up the middle every other play? It was like he wanted to be stopped. The Ducks looked sluggish from the opening kickoff. They had no fire, none of that famous “Chip Kelly OOMPH.” They looked bored and uninspired. No better way to get the team fired up then to have them repeatedly run the same play that’s not working! Where the hell was Helfrich? He’s the head coach, can’t he override the play calls if something’s not working? Or did he think the play calling was prudent too?
Best corner in the country? Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has had moments of brilliance, but the guy can’t play 11 positions, and he got trucked something nasty by some Wildcat I forget the name of. All I know is that the result was a missed tackle and a touchdown. That’s all that matters.
Marcus Mariota for the Heisman? Good luck with that. Not that Mariota isn’t talented enough, it has been said before and I’ll say it again he is probably the best quarterback in the nation. Some days it just doesn’t matter how good you are. Most days in order for a quarterback to play his best the quarterback needs an offensive line that isn’t necessarily even great, but good. At the very least he needs a group of guys that can stand in someone’s way and slow them down for a second. It seemed Oregon couldn’t even do that.
Now with a porous defense, a terribly depleted offensive line, and an offensive system that is vanilla to put it kindly; the Ducks in a matter of one week have gone from head of the table to peeping Tom across the street looking in when it comes to four team playoff talk.
Grantland published an article last week titled “The Quiet Genius.” I saw plenty of quiet on Thursday, but can’t say I ever did catch the genius. All I kept saying was, “that was so stupid,” more times than I can count.
Okay, we know the offensive line is beat up and torn down. So why insist on running it behind the guys that have been struggling for three weeks? Why on Earth with a whole extra week of practice was nothing done to compensate for the struggling line? Maybe some two tight-end sets and a focus on running it to the outside with all that speed on offense? No, no, let’s spend two weeks working on running it through the A gap.
Oh wait, I stand corrected, they did work on something else; that beautiful trick halfback pass to Mariota for a second quarter touchdown. That was insane, and very well done. What did the coaching staff decide to do with all that excitement and momentum? It’s probably somewhere buried down on Autzen’s 35 yard line where the running backs were being slammed for one and two yard gains.
The bad news is the Ducks dropped 10 spots to #12 in the AP rankings and this loss to Arizona broke a 28 game home win streak versus unranked opponents for Oregon. The good news is now every team (except Arizona) in the Pac-12 now has at least one loss. That means Oregon still despite the pessimism has as good a shot as anybody to finish the season Pac-12 champs. The conference is truly wide open, especially with Stanford now having two losses.
Oregon heads down to California on Saturday to face off against the similarly heartbroken UCLA Bruins. After their loss to Utah, UCLA is also in a must win situation. It’s going to be interesting to say the least, watching the rest of this season unfold. Oregon future is at this point very uncertain, however a few things are certain–
The offensive line will continue to struggle.
Adjustments need to be made for this team to have any shot at saving their season.
And, the playcalling just simply needs to be better.
Godspeed Oregon Ducks.

The Ducks Might Not Be Who We Thought They Were

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The Oregon Ducks’ visit to Martin Stadium on Saturday just goes to show you that when it comes to football, a good (or bad) offensive line can make all the difference.
Sure, Marcus Mariota continued his streak of brilliance, posting a line of 21-25, 329 yards and five touchdowns, but the run game was horrendous with Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner combining for only 21 yards. If we must credit one bright spot in the backfield it has to be true freshman Royce Freeman, but even his 75 yards on 20 carries can’t be considered much of a silver lining, as he averaged only 3.8 yards per carry.
That doesn’t sound like the explosive three-headed monster advertised on the playbill.
The young wide receiver and NCAA Track & Field National Champion Devon Allen continued to impress. He finished the game with seven receptions good for 142 yards and two scores, including an 80 yard sprint that made me think I was watching him at Hayward Field in the Olympic Trials.
If anything, this game did nothing but further cement Mariota as the Heisman favorite moving forward. If we were to base a conclusion of this game solely on the eye-test, by all means Oregon was dominated in almost all facets. Yet, somehow on the back of Mariota’s resiliency and greatness managed to salvage perhaps a season saving victory.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, the highly touted projected first-round NFL draft pick was getting owned all night by Washington State receiver River Cracraft, who compiled almost half of his 278 receiving yards on the season against Oregon and their all world corner alone.
Granted, Oregon is down three offensive linemen and their defense was never billed to be great or even good. However, I couldn’t help but feel throughout the entirety of Saturday’s matchup that I and anyone else who watches Oregon on a regular basis had been deceived. This team is not who we thought they were.
Perhaps it was the Sports Illustrated curse? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a team fell flat on their face after its star was featured on the front page of the national publication. Generally they lose, or someone gets hurt, but I guess Mariota showed the world he isn’t to be trifled with. Silly curse or not, the guy is here to put up numbers.
Their visit to Martin Stadium was their first game away from home in this young 2014 season. Don’t tell me they are destined to be this year’s college version of the New Orleans Saints? For the foreseeable future Oregon will be working with a patchwork offensive line, a porous defense, inexperienced wideouts, and (thank God) Marcus Mariota.
If the Ducks somehow take this as a wake-up call and continue a run at the playoff, Mariota should not only win the Heisman, he should get a statue in Eugene. For Oregon and head coach Mark Helfrich’s sake these boys better wake up. All night I saw Oregon’s defense getting awfully snippy and aggressive with the Cougar offense. And I must say, it was pretty embarrassing to witness. What in the hell got into their heads that made them feel they were playing well enough to talk even the slightest bit of trash? They played TERRIBLY! They gave up 499 yards to a team that entered the game 1-2 and hasn’t been relevant in the Pac-12 since Rich Brooks was on the Oregon sidelines.
Helfrich better get a hold of these guys and do it fast because the cake walk is over. Now they have Arizona, UCLA, Washington, Cal, Stanford, Utah all in a row. They should be thanking their lucky stars (and Mariota) they were able to weasel out a win in Pullman, because had Oregon lost to Washington State and then lost even one of those upcoming conference matchups they might as well have kissed their conference title game and playoff dreams goodbye.
It will be interesting to see how Oregon handles the rest of a 2014 season that has become a war of attrition for these Ducks. Hopefully Marcus Mariota is enough to keep the dream alive, but if Saturday was any indication that might be wishful thinking. Starting this Saturday is the murderer’s row of the conference schedule. If they thought Washington State was hard, these young Ducks haven’t seen anything yet.

Marcus Mariota Takes a Back Seat to No One

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photo credit: USA Today

If there was ever any doubt as to whether or not Marcus Mariota’s numbers would suffer at the expense of Oregon’s backfield three-headed monster, those doubts have been proven ridiculous.
Not only is Mariota the clear Heisman frontrunner, albeit just three games in, he has performed as close to perfect as humanly possible in this great game we call football. Technically speaking, Mariota has the fourth best passer rating in the nation according to ESPN. However, even though he trails three other quarterbacks, he has thrown more passes with a better completion percentage, more yards, and more touchdown than those he is trailing.
If anything, it has been the running backs thus far in a still young 2014 season that have taken a backseat to Mariota. Not that the record setting quarterback was ever expected to take a “backseat” himself, but there were doubters, myself included, that didn’t think Mariota could keep pace with some of the other preseason candidates for college football’s most prestigious prize because of the strength of his backfield.
With nine games left to play Mariota has already surpassed Joey Harrington and Darren Thomas as the greatest passer Oregon has ever seen. Should he keep this pace, and continue to pad his record, Nike U may never see another to match him.
The first year of a post BCS world has the makings of a dream season for Oregon. Is it possible Mariota will attain “the trifecta” of sorts? At this juncture, come spring of next year it’s not farfetched to think by then he will have won the Heisman trophy, National Championship, and be selected first overall in the 2015 draft– thus cementing him as the best football player ever to don wings in Eugene.
He is the best thing ever to happen for Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich; the ideal torch bearer to gracefully lead the silently frightening Kelly transition. His remarkable physical gifts aren’t what makes the Hawaiian great. It’s his maturity, poise, and knowledge of Oregon’s complex and beautifully structured offensive system that allows for him to effortlessly guide this team ever forward to the top of the mountain. Last year was a massive disappointment for everyone involved with Oregon football. Not often is this the case for a team that finishes 11-2, but at this point the University of Oregon is one of those select few elite programs that fall in the championship or bust category.
In what is sure to be his final season in Eugene, Mariota is all in. He and the Ducks will continue to roll, and they will break every offensive record in school history in the process. Apparently some sports writers don’t know what they’re talking about. Not enough balls to pass around? Did I suffer a day of amnesia and forget that this was Oregon we’re talking about? When you run 70 plays a game there are always enough opportunities. One ball in a system that thrives on speed and precision is more than enough.
Nine games to play and the best quarterback already has his signature win. The Spartans came to town and fell victim to destiny. Mariota is the greatest thing to happen to Oregon athletics. He doesn’t take a backseat to anyone. He has always been the man, and until the day Oregon holds the crystal ball, will remain to be the pilot of Oregon’s success

Everett Golson is Golden

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Here we are on Monday morning, and the luck of the Irish is very much alive. After their convincing win over Purdue in the latest installment of the “Shamrock Series”, Everett Golson and the Fighting Irish will live to dream another week in their quest for the playoff.
However, after three straight victories, do we truly chalk it up to luck? Or as is all too familiar in sports, do we owe it all to the magic of the “comeback”?
In 2012 the Irish enjoyed a fine season.
In the moment, it was a dream. In an age where entertainment is not only expected but demanded, we ask for intrigue, beg for suspense, and wish for wins. Twitter feeds, blogs, and statuses don’t wait for news… Today they in some cases overwhelmingly drive it. In 2012, Notre Dame pulled a Russell Crowe and for four straight months screamed to the world, “Are you not entertained?!” Unfortunately, Manti Te’o ended up overshadowing his teams play and fed the social media monster a seven course meal. Most can’t even remember how well the Irish played as early as two seasons ago.
Truth is, abduct a group of the finest writers Hollywood has to offer, lock them in a room and threaten their lives, still a better script couldn’t have been written for Brian Kelly.
No one, not even the most loyal and optimistic of fans could have predicted the Irish to come up big again, and again, and again. For twelve straight weeks, there wasn’t a better story in college football than Indiana’s engine that could.
Ask Rudy if he thought Notre Dame would finish undefeated two years ago. If he says yes, he’s lying.
Don’t ever criticize a “Domer” for their loyalty. Even a Wolverine would call that blasphemous.
Ask Lou Holtz if the Irish will be among the last four standing in the year 2014 and he’ll say yes, but don’t call that football smarts. Call that being the only guy (barely) able to speak with a shred of credibility who’s willing to spit on screen and get paid to be predictable and biased to a fault.
Call Notre Dame what you will.
Call them dated. Call them greedy. Call them irrelevant and unworthy. All of that’s fine and in many ways warranted. But, if in four weeks the Irish are still undefeated, just don’t say Everett Golson shouldn’t win the Heisman. Because if that’s the case, and Brian Kelly has once again directed a winning screenplay, this time sans the invisible girlfriend– the Heisman will be, and should be, Golson’s trophy to lose.
Of course, so long as Oregon continues to put up 100 points a game, Marcus Mariota will remain the front runner. Although, being the front runner doesn’t always make you the most worthy.
Through three games, Oregon has played South Dakota, Michigan State, and Wyoming.
Notre Dame has played Rice, Michigan, and Purdue.
Playing the starring role in what should be a film titled “The Day the Big Ten Died” being especially impressive; Oregon has won all of their games in convincing fashion.
As expected, Marcus Mariota has performed as advertised. It would be unjust to simply say his play has been status quo. Yes he has picked up where he left off in 2013, but in an imperfect game, Mariota has pretty much fulfilled the definition of perfection.
Aside from Michigan State, his competition shouldn’t matter. It is after all, the almighty game of variables. But, unfortunately it does.
If one was to simply look at the numbers they would see that Mariota is playing slightly better than the aforementioned Golson. However, an argument would be empty without a good old fashioned sports cliché so here it goes; once again the numbers do not tell the whole story.
Through three games Mariota has passed for 806 yards, eight touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
Golson has passed for 780 yards, seven touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
On the ground, Mariota has ran for 156 yards and three touchdowns.
As for Golson, he has 80 yards on the ground and four touchdowns.
The numbers are extraordinarily similar, but again, Mariota is slightly ahead.
How about the competition though? Is it fair to say Rice is stronger than South Dakota? Sure Rice is no powerhouse or even a middling football school, so if you say no, how about Purdue? While they certainly aren’t world beaters is it fair to say they are better respected than say, Wyoming?
This is just a guess, but I’d wager most would say yes.
In no way does this detract from Mariota’s season. His play has been marvelous and worthy of any and all praise he has received. Just saying, that in regards to Golson, when it comes to early Heisman hype he deserves some attention too.
According to many, Notre Dame has the toughest 2014 schedule in the land. Should they continue to win, even if Notre Dame finishes with one or two losses, Golson should be holding Notre Dame’s eighth Heisman trophy.
Let’s not forget that Everett Golson didn’t play a single snap of football last year. Even after helping to guide Notre Dame to a national championship berth, he was and remains still, incredibly underrated. Now he is back, and playing like a kid with unfinished business. Like a kid with an agenda. No, Scratch that. Everett Golson is playing like a man. A man that spent a year working his ass off to prove 2012 was no fluke.
After three games Everett Golson has proven that he is the real deal. As for the Irish, they will go as far as number 5 takes them. Scary thing is, as he continues to progress through the season, Golson should only continue to hit his stride. Brian Kelly should be thrilled to have his guy back. Ranked in the top ten for the first time since Manti Te’o was introduced to reality, the reality in South Bend is that like it or not, Golson’s not lucky.
Golson is good and Notre Dame is for real.

Touchdown Jesus Delivers In South Bend

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Notre Dame football-1887

 
It was November of 1887 when a group of Michigan students were invited to Notre Dame for the first time. Their mission? To board a bus toward South Bend Indiana and teach some Catholic kids how to play football.
When they arrived, they would play, and they would educate. So in a gesture of good will and thanks, then Notre Dame President Reverend Thomas Walsh informed the Wolverines that henceforth a “cordial reception would always await them at Notre Dame.” And with that the longest running rivalry in college football began.
So after Saturday’s lopsided affair, now 127 years, 42 games, and four hiatus’s later; Notre Dame and Michigan are once again putting their rivalry on hold for the foreseeable future.
As of Saturday Michigan held the FBS record of 365 straight games without suffering a shutout, the last coming on October 20th 1984 at the hands of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Who knew this weekend that streak would end, as Notre Dame in startling fashion sent Michigan packing; utterly dismantling the Wolverines by a score of 31-0. In conjunction with Touchdown Jesus, the college football Gods made it so.
This game was supposed to be a glorious send off to one of the most storied rivalries in not only collegiate sports, but in all of American sports. However, the outcome was quite different. Instead of an epic struggle that personified the word rivalry, it was a walkover. In fact, it was the most lopsided victory for Notre Dame in the history of the series. To the eye, it was far from a matchup between two programs who own the first (Michigan) and third (Notre Dame) most wins in college football history. It was a slaughter and an embarrassment. Though when you think about it, how fitting it is that at road’s end, in the place it all began, Notre Dame would be the one effectively acting as teacher to the clueless pupil.
The loss was salt in the wound for Michigan, as last week it was announced Notre Dame not only wanted to break up, but decided to spurn the Wolverines by replacing them on the schedule with their most hated rival, Ohio State. Now after that, three Everett Golson touchdowns and four Michigan turnovers later— it’s fair to say vengeance for Brady Hoke’s “Chicken Dance” stunt that defined last year’s loss, is now fulfilled. “Nah nah nah nah. Hey, hey, hey. Goodbye.”
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Photo credit: saturdayblitz.com

Perhaps even harder to bear is that Saturday was not only a terrible day for Michigan, but all of the Big Ten, with three of their top powers going down in miserable defeat. Going forward after only two weeks of college football, without a miracle the conference is all but certain to be excluded from the four team playoff conversation.
These two college blue bloods from the Midwest are by percentage, the two winningest programs in college football history, with Notre Dame currently holding down the top spot. Just for kicks– to add one last bit of intrigue to thicken the plot in its final chapter, with a win and a final goodbye, Michigan could have retaken that spot. Now they may never have another change to do it again. Down the road, even if they do surpass the Irish once again, victory will be empty—history left unsatisfied. But, if you’re Michigan, forget history. The future is what matters and the future does not look bright.
Devin Gardner seems to have regressed. The defense looks awful. And after three years at the helm Coach Hoke has yet to find consistency in Ann Arbor, where he may be running out of time.
As for the immediate future of Notre Dame– After a year away, on the back of good fortune Golson’s play has slid him into the early Heisman conversation. Brian Kelly is once again exceeding expectations and Lou Holtz is spitting in a pool of bliss.
Many will miss this rivalry, me included. The series has been good for the schools involved and even more so, for college football. None however will miss it more than the University of Michigan, as they bid farewell to their former understudy and try to find a way back into the college spot light without them.

It Never Rains At Autzen Stadium

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Oh how the mighty have fallen.
In a weekend where three key Big Ten teams suffered crucial losses, the Oregon Ducks were the featured game, taking down defending Rose Bowl champion Michigan State in a 46-27 drubbing. The win snapped an 11 game win streak for Sparty and may have rendered the Big Ten all but hopeless in the race for the college football playoff.
The freshman Royce Freeman was once again magnificent. Devon Allen hauled in 3 catches for 110 yards (which seems so apropos considering he is a national champion in the 110 meter hurdles) and two scores. Marcus Mariota unsurprisingly received the game ball and further cemented his bid for the Heisman trophy. Playing as well as he did and leading his team to a convincing victory in what was billed as the premier non conference matchup of the entire 2014 season, voters will look back at this game and remember the name Marcus Mariota.
Despite the score the game was not as lopsided as the it suggests. In fact, Michigan State led 24-18 and seemed to have all the momentum leading into the second half. The score was also not the only reason the Spartans seemed to have a right away in stealing the day at a scolding hot Autzen Stadium. After Junior offensive tackle Andre Yruretagoyena (who was already replacing the hurt Tyler Johnstone) was carted off the field, most believed Michigan State would exploit that weakness and wreak havoc in the back field en route to a win. At least they made it seem that way for a while.
The Ducks secondary was also getting picked apart in the second quarter as Michigan State ramped up to score the final 17 points of the half. Corner back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu seemed to be affected by the hurt ankle that rendered him unable to finish last week. After a slow start, Michigan State senior receiver Tony Lippett began running all over and around a young secondary which looked exactly that, young.
What happened next was unforeseen.
Coach Mark Helfrich must have given his guys some of that magic “Space-Jam” water in the locker room because the Ducks came out with a vengeance and completely stifled the Spartans for the rest of the game.
In recent years when presented with a challenge in the form of a big physical team, not only have the Ducks been out executed and controlled; but they have played terribly in the second half.
This game was a polar opposite of what history suggested.
Oregon not only played well against last years second ranked defense, they dominated them. Scoring the final 28 points of the contest.
Every time the Spartans showed signs of a possible comeback the Ducks squashed it immediately. The game clincher came after a promising drive that led to Oregon’s 31 yard line was halted by the aforementioned Ekpre-Olomu. Connor Cook dropped back and on a pass intended for Spartan receiver Aj Troup, Ekpre-Olomu showed why he may be the best corner in the country, leaping back and snaring a tipped ball for the interception. It was the play of the weekend on the brightest (and hottest) of stages. To the eye it was reminiscent of a diving baseball catch and not only was it pretty, it sealed the deal for Oregon.
Oregon was the top ranked non conference opponent Michigan State has faced since Nebraska in 1996. All eyes were on them to make the Midwest proud and prove that the oldest power conference in the country belonged in the race for the newest dynamic in college football, the playoff. It looked that way for a while. But, in the end the Ducks offensive weapons proved to be too much for Michigan State, and perhaps the conference as a whole.
 
 

Pac-12 Week In Review and More

Sparty will be looking to clip the Ducks wings at Autzen in Week 2.
Sparty will be looking to clip the Ducks wings at Autzen Stadium in Week 2.

 
Everyone have a good Christmas? College football is here and there’s no turning back. And, as far as college football goes the Pac-12 is as good as it gets. If you were watching, week 1 did not disappoint. And while there were really no surprises (aside from UCLA getting a huge scare from Virginia) look for week 2 to be a whole lot different.
Sure, there’s the match up everyone and their mother has been waiting for in (7) Michigan State v. (3) Oregon; but, there is also (14) USC v. (13) Stanford. We’ll break down those match ups here in a minute after recapping some highlights from the week that was.
 
Last Week
UNLV v. Arizona
Say what you want, but Rich Rodriguez has built himself a program to reckon with in the desert. In week 1 the Wildcats amassed a gaudy 787 yards of total offense against the Runnin’ Rebels– Anu Solomon was the reason. The freshman (now coined Anu Football) set almost every freshman Arizona record on his way to throwing for 425 yards on 25-44 passing. That was enough for four touchdowns, no interceptions, and oh yeah—50 yards on the ground for good measure. As for the running backs, one of the major questions headed into the season was who was going to carry the load, literally, after Arizona’s best running back in history (Ka’Deem Carey) left for the NFL. It seems those worries have been assuaged after not one, but two, Arizona backs ran for over 100 yards. Terris Jones-Grigsby ran for 124 yards on 13 carries with one touchdown. Freshman Nick Wilson didn’t come into the game until the 3rd quarter and gained the majority of his 104 yards on a single 85 yard touchdown run toward the end of that quarter— But no less, 100 yards is 100 yards. Not much else to say here as the Wildcats rolled to a 58-13 victory. Happy times in Tucson.
UCLA v. Virgina
Was that game confusing or what? I couldn’t figure out if that game was a fluke, if Virginia is actually decent, or if UCLA is much worse than we all thought. No matter, UCLA got the win (barely) thanks to three defensive touchdowns. Heisman hopeful Brett Hundley was underwhelming to say the least. He finished with 242 yards, but had only 98 in the first half. Most of that has to do with starting center Jake Brendel as the offensive line looked lost in another dimension all game. Hundley was under fire and performed relatively admirably considering. However, if not for a miracle game from the defense he would not have done enough to get the win. Kudos to the defense for saving the day. Week 2 should be a little more kind to the Bruins as they face Memphis at home. But, if Jim Mora doesn’t fix those offensive line problems in Pasadena, no game will be easy in 2014.
Portland State v. Oregon State
Despite an obvious talent advantage, it took four field goals to dispatch the lowly Portland State Vikings in Corvallis, Oregon. Sean Mannion, who is up there in terms of PAC-12 passing records in almost every statistical category did throw for 328 but only passed for one touchdown. He added another on the ground, but still—the Beavers forced five turnovers on Portland State’s first six possessions yet still only managed to win by 15? That’s somewhat shameful. Especially considering the Beavers ran up a total of 504 total yards on offense compared to just 214 for the Vikings. The absence of Brandin Cooks was visually apparent.
Fresno State v. USC
Distractions? What distractions? USC seemed to play as though they weren’t missing anyone, Steve Sarkisian wasn’t called a racist, and Josh Shaw didn’t jump to save his “nephew”. Cody Kessler threw for 394 and four touchdowns as Sarkisian started his latest head coaching tenure on a fantastic note. Despite the adversity that has been thrown at Sarkisian in the past couple of weeks he still managed to orchestrate a win in which his offense amassed 701 total yards and embarrassed the Bulldogs– beating them by a score of 52-13. In the words of Sarkisian, “Nowhere in the coaching manual do you turn to section 1302 and see how to deal with it, you just handle it.” Well done Steve.
 
This Week
 
(14) USC v. (13) Stanford
So who ya’ got on the farm? Because, this is sure to be a barn burner. In one corner you have USC coming off a 52-13 dismantling of Fresno State. In the other you have Stanford coming off a similar destruction of UC Davis. And, aside from that nothing separates these two in the rankings—they are back to back, respectively. Yikes. If you want to bet on this one more power to you, and even if not one things certain, it’s going to be worth the watch. Last year, USC squeaked out a 20-17 win beating Stanford at its own game. As far as game plans go it should be more of the same as they will look to slow down the likes of Cody Kessler and John “JuJu” Smith. The Trojans didn’t seem to run a spread offense against Fresno State but it sure looked like it at times with their continual aerial assault. Stanford will just do what they have done so well in recent years. Control tempo, run the ball, and keep the opposing offense off the field. Much the same as they have done to Oregon in recent years. The best way for USC to counter that approach is to keep Stanford guessing. USC year in and year out has arguably the most talent in the conference, use it here. They have more than enough weapons to keep the bruising Stanford defense uneasy throughout the contest. Steve Sarkisian should have an interesting game plan drawn up for this one.
(7) Michigan State v. (3) Oregon
Now for the one you’ve all been waiting for. Has College Gameday announced where they will be yet? If not this should be the one. Huge playoff implications for two power teams playing in two power conferences. Michigan State presents a test at Autzen Stadium that the Ducks have not fared well against in recent years. Michigan State’s formula is much the same as Stanford’s whom they beat in last year’s Rose Bowl. Use a big physical defensive front and offensive line to control tempo and speed, the bane of a team constructed like Oregon that relies on speed and quickness. As far as individual battles the one that interests me the most is Michigan State senior wide out Tony Lippett against Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Ekpre-Olomu tweaked his ankle last week against South Dakota, and luckily, the Ducks didn’t require his services to get the 62-13 win. The Ducks coaching staff has remained steadfast in saying the highly touted cornerback will play on Saturday. However, should he not be up for the task half of the Ducks starting defensive backfield are only freshmen. Uh Oh… Mismatch alert. For Oregon’s sake, and ours as viewers for that matter, let’s hope Ifo is fine as the game will be much more fun to watch with him in it. Aside from Ekpre-Olomu’s health the key for the Ducks here will be to use Michigan State’s formula against them and control the line of scrimmage with their defensive line. Look for a lot of blitzes from not only defensive ends Tony Washington and Arik Armstead, but also from Ekpre-Olomu. The Ducks have been known to rush quite a bit from the corner position, and if he is healthy, Ifo is more than athletic enough to pull it off. The operative word here is, “IF”. IF, the Ducks can confuse Michigan State with their three back set, IF they can keep consistent pressure on Connor Cook, and IF Ekpre-Olomu is at the very least 90% and ready to go, then Oregon should take the win at home on Saturday.
 


 
Photo credit: Autzenzoo.com

The Autzen Romping That Was…

As the old saying goes here in Eugene— It never rains at Autzen Stadium.
And after a day in which it rained through the most of the morning and afternoon, Mother Nature decided to once again make good on her unwritten pact with Puddles the Duck; pushing the sun out to show its face just in time. So that begins a list of predictable things at Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
As for South Dakota—they are who we thought they were.
And, Oregon—essentially the same is true.
That game on Saturday was as sure as sure bets come. One thing that was not expected was for Byron Marshall to go off for 228 yards—138 of which were receiving with two touchdowns.
So much for not having an experienced wide receiver…
Really, Aside from a 62 yard bomb from Marcua Mariota to redshirt sophomore Dwayne Stanford; Oregon’s receivers were relatively inactive as the running backs stole the show at Autzen. But, who are we kidding? We all knew that was the way things would go in front of the 96th straight sellout at Autzen Stadium. Mark another one down in the “predictable” column.
I really thought it would have been nice for the young receivers to get a little more action, and thus by that, more confidence to carry into next week’s showdown with Michigan State. The Spartans will be sure to do a better job of bottling up Oregon’s running attack much better than the Coyotes did. Next week might not be so predictable. In fact there’s probably going to be a fair share of surprises. But one thing is certain heading into game two. Oregon will have to work, and they will have to surprise the Spartans if they want to beat them. With all the different offensive formations and plethora of backfield weapons the Ducks are more than capable of pulling this off. They will just need to execute. To prove my point, look at the zone read option play in the second quarter where Mariota essentially slow danced into the end zone as if South Dakota’s defense was designed for the opponent to score. To detract from it, that won’t happen against the Spartans.
So you see? The Ducks will have to do what they do differently to win. Stick to the formula but switch up the game plan.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu hurt himself. That wasn’t good. He says he’s fine, and we should all hope he is. A less than stellar defense losing its more than stellar star is a recipe for disaster. He seemed to look okay doing agility drills on the sidelines but the Ducks coaching staff told the cornerback they didn’t need him. Saw that one coming. Surprising they let the likes of Mariota and Marshall play as long as they did. Perhaps it was punishment after Marshall decided to get cute and drop the ball on the half yard line. It amazes me still when that happens. Didn’t DeSean Jackson embarrass himself enough for all of us (especially fellow football players) to never do that again? Tisk Tisk Byron. None of that nonsense next week ya’ hear?
I won a bet with my girlfriend on this game, which is always fun of course. I set the over/under at 66 and she said under. You know it’s a sure thing when you don’t expect the opponent to score more than 14 and feel confident with the over in that bet. But, again, we were all oracles with this one now weren’t we? That is exactly why I chose not to go. I saw that game well before it actually happened. As for Michigan State, I’m still looking for tickets.


Photo credit: Daily Emerald

Oregon Ducks: Opening Day Preview Pt. 2

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So now that we have established in the simplest of ways that the South Dakota game is important; let us continue to dig a little deeper.
Sure, it will be an easy win but the question that lingers in my mind is this– Why did Oregon choose to make it a prelude to what may be the toughest test on the schedule?
Ideally every team wants a win to start the season. That is unless you are South Dakota and substitute a win for a hundred k; or more. There are exceptions to every rule. But in Oregon’s case they can beat most anyone anywhere. After all, they aren’t the 3rd ranked team in the land for nothing. Couldn’t they have scheduled a team with a bit more weight behind their name? Say for example, the Cal Bears of the world or perhaps an Arizona team that sent them home crying a little over a year ago? Imagine the tenacity of not only a really good Oregon Duck squad but also an avenged Oregon Duck squad? Walloping South Dakota State proves nothing. Michigan State represents something that Oregon has historically struggled heavily against. And that is, big bruising offensive and defensive lines that control tempo and don’t allow Oregon to open up and run all day. If the game slows down then inevitably, Oregon slows down. It is what has happened against Stanford for two straight years and also what happened against LSU to start the season three years ago.
South Dakota comes nowhere close to representing any of those traits. They are in truth, the worst possible litmus test.
Looking at the full spectrum, this game hurts the Ducks more than helps them. Previously I said these players will need to treat their first “test” like professionals. In the NFL most any team on any given Sunday can pull an upset out of their hat. In college, amongst the lower ranks there is far less parody. So if it’s something they’re not used to, how can a group of uber-talented college kids take what is not a test, but rather an open book quiz seriously? Good coaching is the answer. Also previously predicted on this site was that 2014 would be a make or break year for Mark Helfrich. South Dakota is more a test of his coaching acumen than anything else. Anyone that knows football can tell you that coaching is far more than just X’s and O’s, especially at the college level. There is so much to be said about the aspect of mental preparation on behalf of the coaches. It should be a prerequisite that all college football coaches minor in psychology. It could be argued that in college football, keeping your players focused and humble is in fact more important than the X’s and O’s. Top tier programs attract top tier talent. Harnessing that talent, reining them in and reminding them that their sh*t does stink is far more difficult than drawing game plans. These are kids that have been catered to and coddled their entire lives because they were the best on the field. So reminding them the first game of the season that they have been, and are again the best on the field, is no way to prepare for a game in which they may not be.
A little confidence boost doesn’t hurt. But a massive injection of hubris is hard to reverse.
After Oregon goes out this Saturday and beats South Dakota 94-0 will they see it for what it is, or will they be the proud owners of a confused psyche?