Pick a number. The Ducks could reach it. Oregon is a 52 1/2-point favorite for Saturday night’s opening game against South Dakota, and if Mark Helfrich went full throttle with the number one offense for four quarters, the Ducks might have to hand out coupons for free chalupas.
Helfrich is too class a guy for that. There’s a great likelihood that Oregon will empty the bench by the middle of the fourth quarter, a line-up dotted with walk-ons, third-teamers and young players seeing action for the first time in Autzen Stadium.
My advice: ignore the scoreboard throughout and stay in your seat, or, if at home, split-screen Wisconsin vs. LSU and Florida State vs. Oklahoma State but watch the Ducks closely.
Keep a pad of paper handy (it’ll drive your wife crazy) and keep notes on “the alternative scoreboard.” Rate each play in the following areas:
Discipline: Was there a Oregon penalty, turnover, or missed assignment? -25 points.
Defensive Execution: Did the defensive line achieve penetration or disruption, or at least stalemate? Did the front seven get off blocks? Were the receivers properly covered? Any pressure on the quarterback, or did he have time to pick out a target, comfortable in the pocket? On running plays, did the linebackers flow to the football, get off blocks, fill gaps and execute the tackle? How many missed tackles? Defensive penalties? Explosion plays?
Offensive execution: How efficiently does Oregon start the game? Can Mariota establish rhythm and tempo with the number one offense from the first series, or do they need most of the quarter to get in synch? Do the offensive linemen complete their blocks? How is Andre Yruretagoyena handling his first starting assignment? Are the young receivers finishing plays? What is their drop percentage? Who does Mariota look for when he needs a first down, and does that guy show consistency? Are all three primary running backs running through the hole with authority, or is there any dancing in place? Do they drive through contact?
Special teams: with a decided athletic advantage at 10-11 positions, the Oregon special teams should contribute a pair of touchdowns in this game. Do the lanes get filled? Do they achieve “a hat on a hat?” Do they avoid momentum-killing “block in the back” penalties? Do the new returners (Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, punts and Thomas Tyner, kickoffs) field the ball cleanly? If younger players like Charles Nelson and Darren Carrington take a rep in this spot, how do they handle it?
Punts: we don’t need no stinking punts. Is Matt Wogan solid and consistent kicking the football? Does new long snapper handle the job consistently in his debut as a true freshman?
Cohesion and focus: a first game against a lesser opponent with a marquee matchup next weekend, do the Ducks achieve the right emotional pitch in this one? Are they playing with class and composure?
Backup quarterback: Jeff Lockie has appeared in 9 games now, and he no longer has to look over his shoulder for Jake Rodriguez. Is he in command back there? Does he run the offense and get people lined up right? Has his execution improved?
In the new movie “When the Game Stands Tall,” about Oregon linebacker Terrance Kelly’s tragic death, a story that features several future Ducks as characters, Jim Caviezel plays famed De LaSalle coach Bob Ladouceur, who won 151 straight games and 12 state titles. Caviezel’s character talks about seeking “perfect effort.”
Results can’t be perfect, but effort should be. This is a game Oregon will win handily, perhaps with a barrage of touchdowns in the second quarter. The importance of it is that it sets the standard for their effort and preparation in succeeding weeks. The most significant opponent they have this week is not South Dakota, but living up to the standard of the team they could be.
At practice Oregon took an extra “mental day” where preparation focuses on assignments and readiness rather than live hitting. Rob Moseley is a veteran observer, and he says they were the sharpest he’s seen outside of the days preceeding the Alamo Bowl at the end of last season, an effort that convinced him the Ducks would beat the Longhorns handily. They did, with two defensive touchdowns, but the offense proved ragged in the red zone for that one, partly because they couldn’t keep Marcus Mariota’s helmet on.