When people think of Oregon, they think of the fast offenses that have been able to take Oregon to the brink of National Championships. I think about how good this program has been for the better part of the last two decades, and how a lot of that success can be traced back to building a high-paced, volume-scoring offense.
My first memory that comes to mind regarding Oregon’s offense has to do with the 2002 Fiesta Bowl. Before becoming one of the biggest draft busts in recent memory, Joey Harrington was one of the best college football players in the nation. During the 2001 season at Oregon, he threw for 2,415 yards and 23 touchdowns, and he finished his college career with a 25-3 record. For his career, he ended with a completion percentage of 55.2%, 6911 passing yards, 59 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, and 210 rushing yards and 18 scores on 145 carries. He took that Oregon team to a 38-16 blowout of the then Big-12 Champion Colorado Buffaloes.
Since then, Oregon has gone through a renaissance in terms of football prominence. They always had teams that were good enough to be ranked in the top-10 (after the 2001 season, they were ranked second in the end-of-season polls), but for some reason they seldom got the kind of respect to actually be a contender for the national championship. But now, Oregon gets the pre-season love that has them in the best possible position to play for a national championship on a yearly basis. I think that has to do with the stylish, fast-paced, exciting offense that puts up a rash of points quickly. An offense that, this year at least, puts that very good 2001 Oregon offense to shame.
This team, which is in its first year under head coach Mark Helfrich, has yet to miss a beat. They have scored at least 59 points in their first three games (two of which have been mid-teir teams in other AQ-conferences). Oregon has averaged 316.7 passing yards per game, 355.3 rushing yards per game and 61.3 points per game. Those stats put Oregon in the top-20 in each of those statistical categories nationally, and in all honesty, they probably will stay in the top-20 all year long in those categories.
I guess the most impressive part about all of this team is that they have yet to turn the ball over once. Much of the credit there has to go to sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota, who this season has thrown for 889 yards on 49-of-82 passing and seven touchdowns. In just his second year starting, he already has thrown for 3566 yards, 39 touchdowns and six interceptions. He has been able to make accurate passes that are nearly in-defendable for opposing defenses. He also works as a dual-threat quarterback, rushing for 262 yards on 15 carries with four touchdowns. That’s good enough for second on the team in all three category. His ability to both run and pass well has made it harder for opposing defensive coordinators to write-up a game plan to stop Mariota.
Mariota, a redshirt sophomore, is slated to be a top-ten pick in the upcoming NFL Draft (should he opt to leave Eugene). He could, if he keeps on this pace and if stays past this season, surpass all of Harrington and firmly establish himself as one of the greatest players in Oregon history.
The offense doesn’t start and end with Mariota, as the Oregon rushing attack is among the best in the nation. Oregon has five players who have ten or more carries this season. The starting tailback, De’Anthony Thomas, has been an impressive mix of speed and power. This elusive back has left plenty of defenders confused in his wake. He has carried the ball 42 times, rushing for 338 yards and six touchdowns.
Like all good offenses, the rushing attack is made up with more than one piece. I’ve already mentioned Mariota’s running abilities, but also involved is local product Byron Marshall. Marshall, who’s only a sophomore, is a dynamic back who has shown big play potential and can run off chunks of yardage without breaking a sweat. He’s rushed for 196 yards on 29 carries with three touchdowns. Also in to spell relief in the running game is freshman Thomas Tyner, who has rushed 12 times for 80 yards and 3 scores.
The receiving corps for Oregon is deep this season. Although more then a few guys have been relied on this season, Mariota (and his backups Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues) have found eleven different receivers. The most prominent of which has to be senior Josh Huff. Huff has been a deep play threat, catching passes of 54, 46 and 31 yards. The odd thing is, while he’s caught 14 passes and has 298 yards receiving (both good enough to lead the team thus far), he only has one touchdown.
The scoring threat is probably sophomore Bralon Addison, who already has two touchdowns (tied with John Mundt for the team lead). Addison is the shorter and smaller than Huff, yet has been a short yardage option for this offense. Also, important note, this team has had six different receivers catch a touchdown pass, so ultimately any one of these receivers could catch fire and burn Cal’s secondary.
When it comes to this weekend, the issue will be Cal’s ability to put pressure on Oregon vs. Oregon’s ability to make plays fast. Oregon plays fast, but they score quickly also. The have one of the best offensive lines in the nation, only allowing two sacks this season. Therefore, Oregon, and Mariota, haven’t felt too much pressure from opponents, and have been able to find success. If Cal can put pressure on Mariota they can maybe cause a few hurry plays that lead to mistakes. The game plan against Oregon (much like the game plan against Ohio State) has to revolve around disrupting the quarterback.
Oregon, like Ohio State, is talented at running the ball. The Ducks offense won’t be as potent if you take away the running game and make Mariota pass. The problem is, like two weeks ago, it’s not clear who can and cannot play for Cal this weekend. If Cal has their best linebackers and defensive linemen out there, there is a chance they can cause more disruption than Nicholls State, Virginia or Tennessee did. If this team is still down a handful of starters, this game will not play well for Cal.
Lastly, Cal must win the third down battle. Oregon is 15-32 on third down (47%). Cal will have to keep that completion success down. Why? Because if you keep Oregon from continually picking up the first downs, they cannot get to the red zone, where they are 16/19 on red zone scores. No one can stop Oregon in the red zone; Cal doesn’t want to be tasked with being the team to have to do so in order to win.
Topics: 2001 Oregon Ducks, 2002 Fiesta Bowl, Bralon Addison, Cal Golden Bears, Cal/Oregon Preview, Colorado Buffaloes, De'Anthony Thomas, Jake Rodrigues, Jeff Lockie, Joey Harrington, John Mundt, Josh Huff, Marcus Mariota, Mark Helfrich, Oregon Ducks