The #1 Oregon Ducks came into Saturday’s game against the visiting Washington Huskies with expectations that the pups from Seattle would sit, lay down, and roll over against the top-ranked team in the nation. With the Huskies best player, quarterback Jake Locker, having turned into “the hurt locker” and unable to play with a broken rib the Ducks defense was expected to have little trouble with the Washington offense. As for the Oregon offense they are never anticipated to face challenges with stars like Heisman candidate running back LaMichael James and impressive sophomore quarterback Darron Thomas. It did take a little while for the Oregon offense to get up to their typical speed and efficiency, but when they finally got going the Huskies had no other choice but to turn back to the dog house with their heads low as the Ducks won the day 53-16.
Oregon’s offense came into the game averaging just shy of 55 points a game, by far the best in the nation. However, it is not uncommon for the offense to take the first few series or even the entire first quarter to really get up to full speed and attack the opposing defense. One reason for this may be that they are more concerned about looking for weaknesses in the defense than scoring right away. It could also be that they need to wear down the defense before they spread their wings and fly up and down the field. Maybe they just like to toy with the defense for a while and take joy in giving them hope before taking it away. But on Saturday the slow start seemed to be a result of being unfocused, with several missed blocks and dropped passes early in the game. Darron Thomas made a few costly mistakes in the run game that resulted in turnovers for the Huskies, which are precisely the types of mistakes that can give the underdog momentum. All of that being said Thomas played a quality game by throwing for 243 yards and a touchdown, and added 89 yards rushing and 2 scores. The rushing yards are the important statistic because it shows Thomas is getting more confident with the offense and if he can continue to emerge as a threat in the run game it will add another dimension to the Ducks that will make them even more difficult to contain. LaMichael James continued to state his case in his Heisman Trophy campaign by rushing for 126 yards and 3 touchdowns. Considering he was not able to find many holes in the first quarter and was taken out just a few moments into the fourth quarter, rushing for numbers like that should display just how explosive and exciting he can be. Jeff Maehl also continued to show why he is the best receiver in the Pac-10 with 77 yards receiving and a touchdown on a day that did not include any big plays in the passing game for Oregon. I suppose it is a good thing that the Ducks scored 53 points and gained 522 total yards and their averages in both departments went down. Head Coach Chip Kelly must be furious.
On defense the Ducks once again played better than the statistics will show. They only surrendered one touchdown, and that was on a drive that started deep in Oregon territory as a result of a Thomas fumble. The defensive line for the Ducks did well to put pressure on freshman quarterback Keith Price, who was clearly distressed the entire game and was sacked numerous times and hurried throughout. Price was able to complete half of his throws (14-28), but his receivers did drop several passes which prevented the Husky offense from ever gaining any substantial momentum. Oregon came into the game with a nations-best 28 takeaways on defense, but the Ducks failed to find any big plays on Saturday. Oregon only allowed 263 yards and allowed only field goals when the Huskies were forced to take the ball in their own territory.
One drastic improvement that was evident this week was in the punt and kick return games. Punt returner/cornerback Cliff Harris may have the biggest ego in the Pac-10, but he has done more than enough with his play on the field to back up the talk. Harris already has 3 punt returns for touchdowns and 4 interceptions, one of which was returned for another score. This week even though he didn’t score Harris was electric once again, racking up 127 yards returning punts and another 52 returning kickoffs. Josh Huff was also returning kickoffs Saturday and added another 132 yards. To this point most of the talk about the Ducks kick return game was concerning their tendency to fumble. Now with Harris and Huff showing the ability to take kicks deep into opponents territory it is just another thing other teams have to worry about when they try to prepare for the men from Eugene.
On an injury note Duck fans were happy to see running back Kenjon Barner return after suffering a concussion against Washington State as a result of a vicious hit on a kickoff return. Barner is a dynamic player that is a perfect complement to James in the Ducks backfield. However, senior backup quarterback Nate Costa appeared to injure his right knee after scrambling during a botched extra-point attempt in the third quarter. Costa has suffered knee injuries throughout his tenure at Oregon and Duck fans hope this injury does not keep him out for an extended period of time.
Next week the Ducks will go back on the road and fly south to Berkley to face the California Golden Bears. California has played very well at home this season but has looked terrible at times on the road. Cal is not a team that should give the Ducks too much trouble, but the Bears are talented and they will be ready when Chip Kelly leads the #1 Ducks into Memorial Stadium. Oregon will need to focus early and jump out to a lead, because if California is given an opportunity to keep the game close their talent and home crowd can provide a big bump in the road to Glendale for the Ducks.
About the Author
Written by Rob Parness
My name is Robbie Parness and I am a student at the University of Oregon. I'm a California native that loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. I would love to become a sports writer someday or work in sports in any capacity.