When an offense is as talented, methodical and potent as the Oregon Ducks, where do you look first? They lead the world in scoring, they’re faster than every team they play and are averaging 330 yards on the ground per game. Quite frankly, they’re college football’s version of Usian Bolt, attire and bravado included.
Oregon’s yet to be challenged this season, despite having brief moments of pseudo-peril against Arizona and Washington State. Nonetheless, the Ducks are justly second in the human polls due to their ability to kill off teams quickly.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota entered fall camp in a dog fight with Bryan Bennett for the starting spot, and since winning the job back in August, the redshirt freshman has been stellar for the Ducks. He leads the Pac-12 in completion percentage and only Arizona State’s Tyler Kelly has a better touchdowns to interception ratio.
Going into the season, Washington’s Keith Price was supposed to be the stellar quarterback of the Pac-12 North and the second best in the Pac-12 behind Matt Barkley. While Price has faltered, Mariota’s put up numbers that are nearly identical to Price’s standout season in 2011, while being younger, faster and a better decision maker.
Despite arguably being the best passer in Eugene since Kellen Clemens, it’s Mariota’s feet that really separate him from his peers like Oregon State’s Sean Mannion and the aforementioned Kelly. Against Arizona State, Mariota had an 86-yard run in the second quarter in which he pulled away from defensive backs, something you rarely see from a quarterback, even at Oregon.
But what makes Oregon’s offense a nightmare for defensive coordinators, is the depth of their speed. The Ducks not only have one of the nation’s fastest quarterbacks, they have two speedy backs in Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas that can split defenses in a heartbeat.
Through eight games, Barner has been the featured back with 141 carries and has averaged a hair under seven yards per carry, good for second in the conference behind Thomas’s 8.6.
De’Anthony Thomas may be the biggest home run hitter in college football, but despite his comparisons to Reggie Bush, Heisman campaign has been slowed due to the Ducks not utilizing him to the fullest potential, as evident with the fact that he has only 100 touches in eight games.
A big part of that is due to the explosive first halves the Ducks have put up this season, but it’s still worth noting that Oregon isn’t mixing up carries in the backfield as they have in the past.
Thomas’s versatility and his ability to be a receiver has enabled Barner to pick up more carries at running back, becoming more of a featured back than LaMichael James was a year ago, even if it’s only for a half at a time, which skews numbers.
Against Washington State, Oregon’s toughest game of the season to date, Thomas had 17 touches in the first three quarters, while Barner had 22. But while their touches were relatively balanced, Barner led the Ducks with 19 carries and Thomas had just six.
Through eight games, Thomas has yet to have a game with more than 12 carries, and has had seven or less in five games. So despite being billed as a two-back system, Thomas is more of a compliment to Barner than a partner.
In the passing game, Oregon is the complete opposite to the Trojans in terms of distribution. Seven receivers are in double-digits, while USC only has three.
While there isn’t exactly a Jeff Maehl on the roster, tight end/hybrid Colt Lyerla might be the biggest x-factor in the passing game. Lyerla has a team-high four touchdown catches, and he has perfect blend of speed and strength for the Ducks. The problem however, is his health.
Lyerla injured his leg against Arizona State two weeks ago and subsequently missed the game against Colorado last week. He will probably get playing time against the Trojans since he’s been listed as day-to-day for over a week, but whether or not he can play at 100 percent and be effective is yet to be seen.
Either way, the Ducks will roll into the Coliseum with momentum, speed and even more speed. The Trojans’ defense may be built with Oregon in mind, but they’ll be hard pressed to beat them for the second year in a row.
WR Daryle Hawkins #16
LT Tyler Johnstone #64
LG Ryan Clanton #60
C Hroniss Grasu #55
RG Nick Cody #61
RT Jake Fisher #75
TE Colt Lyerla #15
WR Josh Huff #1
WR Will Murphy #89
QB Marcus Mariota #8
RB Kenjon Barner #24 and De’Anthony Thomas #6