It’s time once again for our weekly “Five Questions, Five Answers” blog entry, focusing on Washington’s opponent, which this week is the Oregon Ducks.
As always, our questions and his answers:
Question 1: It seems there’s a perception that Oregon, despite a 2-0 record and some fairly glittering stats, hasn’t really played yet at peak efficiency. Would you agree and if so, in what areas is Oregon not quite been there yet?
A: I would agree with that perception. The Ducks defined ‘efficient’ in the first quarter and a half of their season opener against Arkansas State: They scored a touchdown on their first seven possessions and built a 50-3 lead. Easy, right? The offense has been hit and miss since, which isn’t altogether a surprise considering they have had three freshmen and six sophomores make starts on offense. The offensive line, which lost its most experienced player (senior Carson York) to a season-ending knee injury, has been a work in a progress, and turnovers have been an issue: The Ducks lead the Pac-12 in 12 giveaways.
Q2: Quarterback Marcus Mariota (pictured above scoring against WSU Saturday) appears off to a great start. Has his play been a surprise and what has he done well?
A: After his performance against Arkansas State, there was some chatter about him being “the greatest” quarterback Chip Kelly’s had. That talk has quieted down, but he’s been solid for a redshirt freshman. He acknowledges that ball security has been a problem for him (he’s lost several fumbles), and he’s also thrown four interceptions. The one thing that teammates and coaches raved about coming into the season about Mariota was his poise, and through five games that does indeed seem to be one of his best assets.
Q3: It seems running back De’Anthony Thomas has been a little quiet of late. Any reason for that?
A: Sports Illustrated cover jinx, obviously. … Going up against the likes of Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech helped inflate DAT’s stats, no doubt. Last year, as a true freshman, Thomas was typically the third or even fourth option in the Ducks’ game plan, and he was often used a decoy. With LaMichael James gone, Thomas has obviously become a main weapon — and a main focal point of defensive game plans. Arizona did a great job of tackling DAT in space, which few have been able to do. It’s sort of a pick-your-poison proposition with Thomas and Kenjon Barner, though. With Thomas (one touchdown) relatively quiet against Washington State last Saturday, Barner rushed for 195 yards and four total TDs.
Q4: Oregon’s defense has given up some points and yards, though I know that’s largely due to having some big leads and playing reserves. How would you assess its play overall?
A: The talk coming into this season, even from longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, was that this defense had a chance to be one of Oregon’s best ever. So far, they’ve bordered on greatness, but they haven’t been consistently dominant. (Arizona might argue otherwise after its 49-0 loss at Autzen Stadium.) Part of that has to do with the fact that their first three games were essentially over at halftime, leaving many backups and walk-ons to finish games. Oregon’s defensive line has given teams trouble; the Ducks are tied for 10th in the country with 3.20 sacks per game, and Aliotti is known to bring pressure often — and from all parts of the field. Oregon also leads the Pac-12 with 12 takeaways, including three pick sixes in the past two games.
Q5: Finally, this was a series dominated for years by Washington, during which time there was a perception that Oregon could make its season by beating the Huskies. The fortunes of the two teams have obviously changed greatly in recent years. So with Oregon having so many bigger goals these days, is simply beating the Huskies a big deal aside from what any win obviously means for the season goals?
A: If UO coaches and players are to be taken at face value, a win over UW means as much as a win over Tennessee Tech. We (super brilliant) media types tend to roll our eyes when Chip Kelly talks about every week being a Super Bowl for the Ducks, but, hey, it works for them. Can’t argue with the results. Chip simply doesn’t buy into traditional talk of “getting up for” a rival; he doesn’t buy intro rivalries, period, whether it’s the Huskies or the Beavers or the Trojans.