Not discounting South Dakota or the importance of the daily grind, but the Ducks will find out what they have offensively in week two against Michigan State. Last year defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi’s defense finished in the top three nationally for rushing yards per game (86.3), yards per rush (2.84) and rushing touchdowns (8) while allowing just 13.2 points per game.
In his second start at left tackle Andre Yruretagoyena draws 6-7, 256-pound Spartan defensive end Shilique Calhoun, a preseason All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year last season. Calhoun’s racked up 16.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in two seasons. In the middle, 6-4, 309 tackle Lawrence Thomas is so athletic he played fullback as a freshman. Linebacker Taiwan Jones (6-3, 252) is a playmaker who has started 23 games, with 123 career tackles.
If the Ducks can move the ball on MSU, particularly on the ground, this team is worthy of the hype, and truly has a chance to play in the national championship. The Spartans are the epitome of the big, physical defense Oregon is supposed to have trouble with.
Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood thinks they can handle the challenge. He told KEZI and the pool of reporters yesterday, “We’ve gotten a lot of great work out of the tackles from the spring and this fall camp,” Greatwood said. “Andre Yruretagoyena has done a great job. Matt Pierson has really come on strong. I’m really impressed with the young freshman, Tyrell Crosby. I think he’s going to end up helping us this fall.”
Injured defensive tackle Tyler Johnstone remains a team spokesman, and he thinks the Quack Attack will benefit tremendously from the fast, powerful tandem at running back. He told Chantel Jennings of ESPN yesterday, “I like that we have two running backs because all the pressure isn’t on either one of them,” left tackle Tyler Johnstone said. “I think they’re just as talented, either one of them. They can platoon. If we have two running backs of their caliber, they’re always going to well rested and they’re always going to be explosive.”
Freshman Royce Freeman continues to dominate the mentions in Rob Moseley’s practice reports. He’ll have an immediate impact, adding a tackle-busting dimension that gives the offense even more punch. He drives through people in addition to being able to make them miss.
A team can reach an entirely new level of excellence when its best player is bent on improving, and Oregon coaches are demanding even more from Marcus Mariota. It’s working. They asked him to improve his durability, the Oregonian’s Andrew Greif reported, and Mariota responded by boosting his weight to 220 pounds and getting stronger. They asked him to be more assertive as a leader; yesterday he gathered the offense around him at practice and lit into them for a subpar effort in warmups.
Greif added that the coaches want Super Mario to be more accurate earlier in games. He wrote, “Mariota’s 60.2 completion percentage in the first quarter last season was his lowest of any quarter, and Mariota has explained in the past that his slower starts come as he establishes a rhythm.”
The Oregon spread is a rhythm offense that operates best when it gets the defense heaving and in a hurry. When the Ducks get their tempo going with a succession of positive plays, it’s the most beautiful operation in football. Having Mariota start games with greater consistency will make a vital difference.