Pac-12: Oregon Ducks

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
8:00
AM ET
Hawaii at Colorado
Time: 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks

The Buffs will look to pick up their second win of the season against a Hawaii team that nearly beat Washington and Oregon State. Hawaii has limited opposing quarterbacks to a 57 percent completion rate and has allowed only seven pass plays of 20-plus yards, but Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce will attempt to find their way through that defense and put up some big plays for Colorado.

[+] EnlargeTravis Wilson
Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty ImagesTravis Wilson will look to keep the Utes unbeaten when they travel to the Big House to meet Michigan.
Utah at Michigan
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT
TV: ABC/ESPN2
Hashtag: #UTAHvsMICH

Travis Wilson will lead his 2-0 Utes into the Big House, where a struggling Michigan team is looking for its first real statement win of the season. Michigan's defense has struggled this season so Utah receiver Dres Anderson could be a name known in the Midwest by Sunday. The Utah defense will also need to contain dual-threat quarterback Devin Gardner, who could find his stride at any time.

Georgia State at Washington
Time: 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Washington put together a pretty convincing performance in a 44-19 win over Illinois, but can the Huskies keep moving forward and sustain that momentum? Georgia State isn't exactly a powerhouse, and with No. 16 Stanford on the horizon, Washington needs to make sure it keeps taking steps forward.

California at Arizona
Time: 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Arizona is 3-0 after picking up a win over Nevada (which could look even better by the end of the season) and welcomes 2-0 Cal to the desert on Saturday. One team is going to pick up its first loss -- and a conference loss at that -- this weekend, but will it be Jared Goff, whose Cal team has averaged 43 points per game, or Anu Solomon, who has finally given the Wildcats a sense of consistency at quarterback?

No. 2 Oregon at Washington State
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT
TV: ESPN/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #UOvsWSU

The second-ranked Ducks travel to Pullman, Washington, where Washington State seems to have finally hit some kind of a stride in its third game -- and first win -- of the season. It's never easy to play in the Palouse, but will the Cougars defense actually be able to slow Marcus Mariota and the Ducks machine? Or could this prove to be a stumbling block on the way to the College Football Playoff for Mark Helfrich & Co.?

San Diego State at Oregon State
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT
TV: FOX Sports 1

San Diego State played No. 21 North Carolina close in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but the Aztecs relinquished a two-touchdown lead in the second half. Oregon State is coming off a bye week following a "closer than the Beavers would've liked" 38-30 win in Hawaii. Sean Mannion, who has 628 passing yards through two games, will continue building chemistry with Victor Bolden, while Storm Woods and Terron Ward look to keep some of the pressure off the pass game by giving the Beavers a reliable run game.
When Oregon wide receivers coach and passing coordinator Matt Lubick said earlier this fall that he could see the Ducks using six to eight receivers, people might've thought he was crazy.

With Bralon Addison going down and just one true veteran wide receiver returning -- Keanon Lowe -- the Ducks' wide receivers were anything but experienced. And to expect six to eight guys to step up would be crazy, right?

No. It would've been an underestimation.

[+] EnlargeByron Marshall
Chris Bernacchi/AP ImagesByron Marshall has rushed 19 times for 179 yards and a touchdown this season. He's also caught 12 passes for 190 yards and two scores.
Through three games 13 different players have caught passes for Oregon. Wide receivers Lowe, Devon Allen, Darren Carrington and Dwayne Stanford have stepped up in big ways, but even past that group, there's clearly serious depth for Lubick to look to in the pass game.

Against South Dakota, the Ducks came out blazing with 11 different players catching passes. But the big surprise was that running back Byron Marshall acted as more of a slot guy as he hauled in a game-high eight catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Against Michigan State, seven players tallied receptions. Redshirt freshman Devon Allen recorded two touchdowns and 110 yards on three catches, though two other players caught three passes as well (Lowe and Marshall).

And against Wyoming, again, 11 players caught passes. This time it was tight end Pharaoh Brown who led the way with four catches for 46 yards.

It's not completely absurd to have that many guys catch passes in these early-season games, especially considering how many of them are blowouts. According to ESPN Stats & Info, already this season, there have been 38 games in which a Power 5 team had at least 10 players catch a pass.

But, it should give Mariota and the team faith that the Ducks are building to the conference season on a very strong foundation of capable receivers.

“We don't have a favorite [receiver],” Lubick said. “We have six or seven favorites.”

Carrington, Allen, Lowe and Stanford have all amassed at least 100 receiving yards already this season. But the wild card that is going to make the Duck offense very hard to plan for this season is Marshall.

The Ducks are using Marshall in a different way than they did last season and his numbers are sky rocketing. After three games, his two receiving touchdowns and 190 yards on 12 receptions is already more impressive than his full season of pass catching from last year (13 catches, 155 yards, 0 touchdowns). His rushing numbers are a bit lower, but with the emergence of Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman, that's to be expected. In 2014 he has carried the ball 19 times for 179 yards and one score. At this point last season he had carried the ball 29 times for 196 yards and two scores.

But Marshall's presence on the field forces defensive coordinators to be a bit more on their toes.

“As a defensive coordinator, he'll keep you guessing,” Lubick said. “He gives us flexibility. It messes with [opponents'] personnel groupings. He could play the whole game at wide out. He could also play the whole game at tailback.”

Moving forward the Ducks' pass game is likely to get more exciting. With how young Marshall, Allen, Carrington and Stanford are, their learning curves are going to pick up with each game.

Lubick saw how much progress these young players made this spring and summer with Marcus Mariota, but he also knows “there's nothing better than game reps and experience.”

The next chance to show off their passing game is Saturday against Washington State, a team that has an impressive passing game of their own. But the Cougars struggles come on defense. Already this season they've allowed 11 passes of 20 yards or more and they've given up 11.2 yards per completion.

It should be a good opportunity for Lubick's six or seven favorites to step up.
EUGENE, Ore. -- When Marcus Mariota went airborne last Saturday, diving into the end zone for a second-quarter score against Wyoming, it was as if everyone at Autzen Stadium held their breath.

That includes every Oregon player and coach, every Ducks fan, every bettor, every single person who has found himself/herself rooting for this quiet Heisman contender. For a few seconds, until Mariota got to his feet with his teammates, stomachs were churning.

As exciting as the play was and as happy as fans were to see another six points added to the scoreboard, all of it seemed minuscule when compared to one detail: Is Marcus OK?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota doesn't play it safe, and that's a good thing for Oregon.
“You can’t really think about those types of things,” Mariota said of playing it safe. “Because that’s when you get hurt. My dad always told me that if you play with your mind worrying or cautious, then you play at half-speed and end up getting yourself hurt.”

It’s no secret: Oregon’s playoff hopes rest on Mariota’s shoulders ... even when they’re closer to the ground than his feet. And though the Ducks preach the mantra of every school, everywhere -- “backups need to come in and play like a starter” -- Oregon’s postseason dreams will be nonexistent if Mariota is sidelined due to injury. And fans need to look no further than last season to know that is a fact.

Many would like to enclose Mariota in bubble wrap, keeping him safe until they “need” him to make those kinds of plays later on down the road. They want his helmet to wear a helmet and for his Nike jersey to somehow deploy airbags when it senses possible injury within five yards.

But that’s not going to happen, though Phil Knight might be phoning in an idea to Nike manufacturers now.

But Mariota knows one fact: You don’t tiptoe the line toward a national title. It’s not exactly a game that welcomes those who bring fruit baskets and tap politely on the door asking to enter. No, it’s a game for the risk takers and those willing to lay it all on the line, which Mariota, if it wasn't evident before that dive, is certainly willing to do.

Especially this season, with no prior knowledge as to how exactly the committee will choose the four teams or which factors they will give the most weight, teams and players can’t leave anything to chance.

So, would Mariota make that flip again?

Yes. He would. Because he’s not playing it safe and no one should want that. If Oregon wins the title, no one will say it’s because Mariota played it safe until it “really mattered.” Because with this new playoff, no one knows exactly which detail matters. Thus, everything matters.

And so, Mariota throws caution to the wind and his body toward the end zone. And as nervous as it might make fans, coaches and teammates -- wide receiver Keanon Lowe said, “I hope he never does that again. Ever.” -- it’s how the Ducks need to play this season if they want to be in that group of four at the end of the season.

Mariota knows how to get there. Now, everyone needs to just trust his lead.

He has an innate playmaking ability that you just can’t coach. So coach Mark Helfrich certainly isn’t going to un-coach it.

“You can’t sit there and say, ‘Hey, don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t do this,’” Helfrich said. “The way that he plays, the dynamic nature of his play, how he likes to improvise -- that’s one of our biggest strengths.”

 “I’ll just let my instincts take over,” Mariota added. “It’s tough as a football player to kind of stop yourself from doing something.”

And so, one of Oregon’s biggest strengths will also be one of its fans’ biggest fears moving forward. Every time Mariota leaves the pocket or throws his body in harm’s way, every time he dives or hurdles, fans everywhere are going to hold their breath until they see their Flyin’ Hawaiian get back on his feet.

It’s the way Mariota wants to win the national title this season. And as much as a national title might mean to Fan X or Fan Y, it means more to Mariota.

He’s a smart player. Any risk he takes is one that’s going to be calculated. And, if he does get injured, then it will happen because it was a risk that he believed was worth it.

Isn’t that the kind of player you’d want to lead your team? Those are usually the kinds of players who are standing on the top of the podium or in the winner’s circle.

“You can’t squelch somebody’s gifts and the stuff that he does,” Helfrich said. “We can’t, we won’t ever approach offense with any kind of handcuffed mentality.”

What does that mean? Well, it means a lot more stomach-churning moments as Oregon fans wait for Mariota to climb from the bottom of the pile or stand and walk without a limp. It means some hesitance as folks let Mariota fly free. It means letting the player make the plays that he believes in.

Because at the end of the day, he’s driving this machine. And no one buys a Maserati to go 30 mph.

Certainly not Oregon.
video
With 52 percent of the vote, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's diving touchdown was named this week's Pac-12 Blog Play of the Week.

It was certainly a play that made more than a few Duck fans nervous as he launched himself headfirst over five players and soared, upside-down, toward the end zone. But, he bounced up and Mariota gave a Heisman-highlight reel play in a game in which those kinds of plays typically don't happen.

As with every week, we're going to reach out to readers to get some of your reactions as well as some reactions from our team of Pac-12 writers.

Kyle Bonagura: By the time Marcus Mariota gets to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony later this year, most the country will have forgotten Oregon even played Wyoming this season. If that makes you sad for some strange, illogical reason, don't worry because Mariota's Chip-Kelly-Dive-Into-The-Pool impression against the Cowboys is a lock to be featured prominently in his Heisman highlight reel.

It was also one of those plays that can play with the collective emotions of a fan base, which I can imagine went something like this:

"Go, go, go ... he's in! ... Wait, is he in? ... Wait, never mind, is he OK? Get up. ... Yeah, he's ok ... Are we sure he got in? ... [watches replay] Oh, he is definitely in, what a play! ... SHOW IT TO ME AGAIN!”

Kevin Gemmell: The best part about that play was that it didn't have to happen. I get that the Ducks were only ahead 13-7 at the time. But come on, was Oregon really in any danger of losing that game? Of course not. But Mariota doesn't care. He could have stepped out of bounds at the 3.5-yard line instead of going all Evel Knievel. I'll wager dollars to donuts the Ducks would have scored a touchdown one or two plays later. But Mariota was laser focused on delivering a knockout blow. He plays with one speed. And it's pretty fun to watch a guy with no off switch.

Chantel Jennings: The move itself was a bit McKayla Maroney-esque, launching himself up and over a pile of teammates and players, before twisting, turning and landing on his rear end. The feel in the stadium the entire time was "OMG!" but it swayed from a "Oh my gosh, that's so awesome" to "Oh my gosh, is he OK? IS HE OK? SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME HE'S OK!" to a "OK, sweet, he's OK, great. Good score. Wooooo." The only thing Maroney did better was the unimpressed face. Now, if someone can get Mariota to do that, that would certainly win the day.

The best of Twitter:

Vote: Pac-12 Play of the Week

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
4:00
PM ET
Every Sunday, we're going to be giving y'all a sample of the best plays of the weekend in the Pac-12.

SportsNation

What was your play of the week?

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    30%
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    52%
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    14%
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    4%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,675)

You get to vote on which you thought was the most impressive and we'll name our Pac-12 Blog Play of the Week.

If you see something you believe deserves to be nominated, tweet at the Pac-12 Blog here with the hashtag #PlayOfTheWeek.

We'll bring you the best in Pac-12 action and then it'll be up to you to decide which is the best of the best. We start with Week 3, which had a few surprises across the conference.

But to kick off the Play of the Week, we have two offensive and two defensive plays for you to sift through.

1. Jerry Neuheisel's second TD pass

Jordan PaytonMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports
The redshirt sophomore stepped in for an injured Brett Hundley and managed to keep UCLA’s playoff hopes alive in hostile territory. He completed 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns, but none were more important than his final pass of the game -- a 33-yard TD pass to Jordan Payton. The score pulled the Bruins in front of Texas 20-17 and would end up being just enough to keep UCLA undefeated. “This kid is everything that's right about college football and about UCLA," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "I just thought, 'Wow. You couldn't write a better script than this right here.' His dad was a great player here. For him to come to Texas and bringing his team from behind to get a win. It's incredible.”

2. Marcus Mariota's Superman dive

Marcus MariotaAP Photo/Steve Dykes
On a first down in the second quarter, Mariota escaped the pocket and rushed to the right sideline before taking off from the 4-yard line, flipping over five players and going end-over-end for a TD. (Technically, it was a rushing TD, but we're thinking of it more as a flying TD.) Oregon wide receiver Keanon Lowe, who blocked for Mariota on the play, said he expected Mariota to run him over or for the QB to step out of bounds before getting to him. “I hear the crowd go crazy and as I’m blocking I kind of look up and I see him doing a flip outside the back of the end zone,” Lowe said. “First thought that goes through my head was: Did he just jump over me? Good thing I’m only 5-foot-9.”

3. Shaq Thompson's fumble recovery touchdown

Shaq ThompsonOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Shaq Attack (OK, no one calls him that, but let’s consider it?) strikes again with a 52-yard fumble recovery for a score. He barely broke stride to grab Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt's fumble and then made his way down field to bring the Huskies’ lead to 35-5. “I enjoy watching him play,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “You put him on offense, and he does some good things. He’s good on special teams. Then he creates his own offense on defense.”

4. Erick Dargan tipped pass leading to his INT

Erick DarganSteve Conner/Icon Sportswire
Dargan picked off two Wyoming passes in the first half of the Ducks’ 48-14 blowout. But the second one displayed a ridiculous amount of athleticism and focus. Sandwiched by two Wyoming offensive players, Dargan stepped in, tipped the ball to himself and grabbed it in midair. Mariota, who has been picked off by Dargan quite a few times in Oregon’s practices, was pleased to see Dargan picking off another player. “I told him after his second one, ‘Hopefully I won’t throw you any more in practice, you’re getting enough of them,’” Mariota said. “He makes plays like that all the time.”

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
9:00
AM ET
Time to tip our cap to those who were the best of the best in Week 3.

Jerry Neuheisel, QB, UCLA: It was Jerry’s World. The redshirt sophomore stepped in for an injured Brett Hundley and completed 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns as he led the Bruins in a come-from-behind 20-17 victory over Texas.

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA: Perkins took a bit of the pressure of Neuheisel as he was a weapon in the pass and run game. He had 126 yards on the ground on 24 carries and tallied 69 receiving yards on five catches.

Devon Cajuste, WR, Stanford: The senior recorded the first three touchdowns of the day for the Cardinal in a 35-0 win over Army. His 13 yards per catch (four receptions, 52 yards) was a game-high.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: The junior compiled quite the stat line in just under three quarters of play in the Ducks' 48-14 victory over Wyoming: Two passing touchdowns and 221 passing yards on 19-of-23 passing plus two rushing touchdowns and 71 rushing yards on five carries.

Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington: Thompson became Washington’s first player to record a fumble return score and pick six in the same game since at least 1978. He finished the game with four tackles and three carries for 16 yards in Washington’s 44-19 win over Illinois.

D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State: The junior recorded his third-straight 100-yard rushing game, as he accounted for 147 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries. Foster also had three receptions for 52 yards and tallied his first receiving touchdown of the season as the Sun Devils defeated Colorado 38-24.

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona: He helped seal the game for Arizona as he rushed for 171 yards on 29 carries. He recorded the first two touchdowns of the game for the Wildcats en route to a 35-28 win, giving Arizona a perfect 3-0 record entering Pac-12 play.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
8:00
AM ET
Wyoming at No. 2 Oregon
Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Heisman contender Marcus Mariota will look to get his team off to a quick start over Wyoming. A week after defeating MSU in convincing fashion, the Ducks will attempt to make another big statement as they prepare for conference play. The Cowboys are led by first-year coach Craig Bohl, who gained notoriety by leading North Dakota State to national relevance in his 10 years at the helm of that program.

Illinois at Washington
Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: Fox

Washington will attempt to pick up its third win of the season but considering how lackluster the first two were, this game will need to be a bit of a statement for the Huskies. Quarterback Cyler Miles will look to improve the Washington passing game so the Huskies won't be pigeonholed into being one-dimensional this season. Meanwhile, the Huskies defense will look to bend and not break as cornerback Marcus Peters will be sitting out for his one-game suspension due to his sideline behavior against Eastern Washington.

Army at No. 15 Stanford
Time: 5 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Stanford hasn't lost consecutive games since the 2009 season and the Cardinal will look to extend that streak when Army visits The Farm this weekend. Stanford needs to limit turnovers and penalties -- two issues that plagued the team in its loss to USC -- while quarterback Kevin Hogan will attempt to keep the offense moving and finishing. Against USC, the Cardinal came away with just 10 points on nine trips inside the Trojans' 35-yard line.

Portland State at Washington State
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

The Cougars will be playing in their home stadium for the first time in 2014 when they welcome PSU to Pullman. Washington State needs a win badly; its 0-2 start is far from what was expected in Year 3 of the Mike Leach regime.

No. 9 USC at Boston College
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #USCvsBC

USC will make a cross-country trip after its huge win over Stanford last weekend. The Trojans will be without linebacker Hayes Pullard for the first half due to a targeting penalty during the Stanford game. Leonard Williams and the rest of the USC defense will face dual-threat QB and Florida transfer Tyler Murphy.

Side note: Boston College will be wearing special red bandana tribute uniforms Saturday. It's a cool gesture and one that I suggest you learn more about. Take some time to check out the story of former BC lacrosse player Welles Crowther -- "The Man in the Red Bandana" -- before the game. Watch the feature and read more here.

No. 12 UCLA vs. Texas
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
TV: Fox

The Bruins are trying to piece together their first complete performance in their trip to Arlington, Texas, this weekend. Brett Hundley presents quite the challenge for Texas, who has struggled with dual threat quarterbacks this year, already giving up 181 passing yards and 99 rushing yards to BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. Defensively, UCLA won't be facing Texas' best -- starting QB David Ash is out with concussion symptoms and Texas coach Charlie Strong has suspended both starting offensive tackles (among others).

No. 16 Arizona State at Colorado
Time: 10 p.m. ET
TV: ESPNU/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #ASUvsCOLO

The Sun Devils and Buffs open their Pac-12 slates with one another this weekend. Taylor Kelly, D.J. Foster and the rest of the ASU offense will attempt to put up big offensive numbers against Colorado, which has given up 34.5 points per game this season. But at home, Colorado will attempt to break the streak -- the Buffs haven't beaten a ranked opponent in their last 14 attempts.

Nevada at Arizona
Time: 11 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Quarterback Anu Solomon will look to get the Wildcats off to a 3-0 start as Arizona welcomes Nevada to Arizona Stadium. "We're not good enough to play poorly and still win," coach Rich Rodriguez said earlier this week. It's a pretty obvious lesson, one that he watched play out as Nevada took down Washington State last weekend. "We know there are some games where we can make mistakes and it will really cost you. In some games you can make a few more and still be in it. That's not where we are at yet."

Byes: California, Oregon State, Utah
EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon might have a new defensive coordinator this season, but if anyone thought that Don Pellum would be that much different from Nick Aliotti, then maybe last Saturday’s game against Michigan State eased those fears.

Or rather, the second-half adjustments that Pellum made and how the Oregon defense responded in the final two quarters against Michigan State might have cleared the minds of those who were missing Aliotti. Oregon fans really shouldn't have expected anything different from a coach who has been on the Oregon staff for 21 years.

Against the Spartans, Pellum made some impressive in-game adjustments as Oregon rallied from a halftime deficit to a 19-point victory, largely fueled by the second-half defensive performance.

Pellum downplayed any significant halftime adjustments -- he said there were “a few” -- against Michigan State.

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
AP Photo/Chris PietschOregon's defense stuffed Michigan State in the second half of their showdown.
“In the first half we had a lot of opportunities to make plays and we didn’t make them,” Pellum said. “In the second half, we made them. I think we just went in the locker room and refocused and regrouped and guys were playing a little harder, a little smarter.

“I think that was the difference that everyone saw from the sidelines and the stands. Suddenly it looks a lot better, but I think we just played better.”

The statistics broken down by half against Michigan State were staggering.

The Ducks held the Spartans to just three points in the second half after allowing a 24-point second quarter. Oregon gave up just 162 yards of offense in the second half against the Spartans.

But it wasn’t just the drop in those numbers -- it was how Oregon forced that drop in those numbers, how they completely dictated the trajectory of the game with their defense.

According to ESPN’s Stats & Information, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook completed seven passes of 15-plus yards in the first half, on nine pass attempts. In the second half, he was just 1-of-3 on those same passes -- including no completions of 15-plus yards in the fourth quarter.

The Ducks were even stronger up front against the run. Though Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford didn’t tear off major runs in the first half, he did chip away, and that helped to set up some of Cook’s passing efforts.

In the first half, the Spartans rushed the ball 21 times and gained 86 yards (4.1 yards per rush). Of those 86 yards, 69 of them came before contact. That mean 80 percent of their rushing yardage happened before an Oregon defender even got there … meaning the Ducks weren’t exactly flying to the ball the way Pellum envisioned.

But in the second half, with a refocused and re-energized group, the Ducks came out and stuffed the Spartans running game. Michigan State ran the ball 15 times for 37 yards (2.5 yards per rush, a 1.6-yard improvement from the first half). And only 18 of those yards came before contact, showing a much better presence up front. Eight of those 15 rushes didn't gain a yard, as opposed to just three of the 21 rushes in the first half.

It was certainly an impressive performance against an offense that will likely put up big numbers in Big Ten conference play. And the Oregon defense proved that it could stop a team in a disciplined manner while making some adjustments.

Now, Oregon would like to prove they can bottle that second-half effort and turn it into a complete defensive performance. Against South Dakota and Michigan State, Oregon was able to find success even with some defensive lapses, but there are going to be games this season when the Ducks won’t have that kind of luxury and the run-stopping, pestering-the-passer defense is going to need to show up for 60 minutes.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
8:00
AM ET
There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.

Leading off

Remember all that chatter in August about how good the quarterbacks were in the Pac-12? Well, it was also in July, and June ... pretty much since last season ended. The quarterbacks driving this quarterback-driven league certainly deserve their spotlight. But lest we forget, there are some guys who can also do some damage on the ground.

John Marshall of The Associated Press looks at some of the teams in the conference who are also tearing things up on the ground. Marshall goes into detail on the running games of four teams in the league, including Arizona State:
The Sun Devils also have a pass-first perception that isn't exactly true. Since coach Todd Graham arrived three years ago, his focus has been on establishing a strong running game to set up the pass. The Sun Devils have had success doing just that with a variety of backs. This season, it's D.J. Foster's turn. A high-profile local recruit, he spent his first two seasons playing multiple positions so the Sun Devils could take advantage of his versatility.

Arizona, ASU, Washington, Utah, Oregon and USC are the six teams that are averaging more than 200 yards per game. However, perhaps the most interesting element of this story is who isn't mentioned. And that's Stanford. While the Cardinal have never been the team that put up obscene rushing numbers, they certainly have set the standard over the last few years for power running. And they've produced a 1,000-yard rusher every season since 2008. Bizarre seeing the Cardinal ranked 10th in the conference in rushing offense. But as Marshall points out, it's still early.

Individual hype

Some high praise in a couple of different articles about Pac-12 players Wednesday. First, CBS' Dennis Dodd profiles UCLA's Myles Jack. He cites an NFL scout who calls Jack the best athlete in the Pac-12.

Also, Stanford coach David Shaw joined the NFL's college football podcast and compared wide receiver Ty Montgomery to former first-round pick Irving Fryar.
"This guy needs to touch the ball every single way as humanly possible," Shaw said. "Just because he’s that kind of an athlete. He’s that kind of a dynamic football player. We have to make it hard for defenses to key on him … There is one name some of the younger listeners might not know very well, but I spent a year with Irving Fryar in Philadelphia. You’re talking about compact, physical, explosive. Irving ran a 4.3 coming out of college, coming out of Nebraska, and he would run over somebody and then run around them."
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The smile hasn't changed, eh? Good for you, KP.


Something to keep an eye on in 2015?

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
10:00
AM ET
video Oregon made the most noise on the field and the recruiting trail this past weekend, posting a win against a top-10 team in front of a number of potential impact recruits in the 2015 and 2016 classes. Elsewhere in the conference, USC made a statement with a big win and UCLA did the same with a big offer.

Planning for success: Oregon

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
9:00
AM ET
Outside of quarterback Marcus Mariota, the only position group on nearly the entire Oregon roster that came into the season with the fewest question marks was the offensive line. It had five returning starters. It had gained more than 100 pounds as a unit. Last year's shortcomings had lit a fire and they were ready to play for the national title this season.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesAs the Ducks' offensive line continues to be a work in progress, which players will protect QB Marcus Mariota in Week 3?
Then, starting left tackle Tyler Johnstone tore his ACL. So the Ducks moved senior Jake Fisher over to left tackle (he had been at right) and Andre Yruretagoyena, who had taken Johnstone's reps in the spring when he was nursing his previous injury, took over at right tackle.

Then, redshirt freshman Jake Pisarcik beat out Cameron Hunt for the starting right guard position prior to the South Dakota game. Hunt, who had started the final seven games of last season, had become the first true freshman to start on the Ducks' O-line in 16 years and gave fans hope he was a part of a foundation that other players could build upon, not usurp. Against Michigan State, he'd return to the starting line up before more question marks were added.

Early in the third quarter against Michigan State, Yruretagoyena was carted off the field and Oregon put freshman Tyrell Crosby on the right side.

And suddenly, the wall that's supposed to protect Mariota and create a run game for the talented trio of Ducks' backs was seemingly falling down as question marks popped up.

Can the Ducks deal with these kinds of transitions just a few weeks before the start of conference play? Will the young players on the offensive line have a steep enough learning curve that when Oregon plays teams such as Stanford and Arizona -- teams that pushed them around a bit in the trenches in 2013 -- that there won't be any hiccups? Can this O-line, even with the early season shake-ups, be enough to help the Ducks find success in 2014?

Center Hroniss Grasu says yes. And why?

"It's our attitude, it's our mindset we have going in," Grasu said. "It's a mindset of being the best offensive line that we can be and just go out there, if we play together as a unit -- all five guys, one heartbeat -- good things will happen. That's all we think about."

Grasu said it's not even as important as to which five guys it is because the coaches have done a good job of grooming the "next man up" mentality, which is evident in the Crosby and Pisarcik cases. And looking forward to Wyoming, maybe the best question to ask isn't can Oregon's offensive linemen answer the questions, but which Oregon offensive linemen will answer those questions?

The Ducks don't talk about injuries, but even if Yruretagoyena is ready to go for the Wyoming game, it's likely to be a bit of a competition for the starting right guard spot considering Crosby's performance last weekend.

Next to him will likely be Hunt -- though Pisarcik shouldn't be ruled out -- and then the left side remains secure with Grasu at center and Hamani Stevens and Jake Fisher at right guard and right tackle, respectively. But with the amount of shuffling that has happened with this group in the past three weeks, it's hard to say anything is written in permanent marker rather than pencil.

Certainly, no one thought the offensive line would be the group with the greatest question marks at the Week 3 mark. But with the way the running backs, tight ends and wide receivers have played and grown, it's starting to seem that the group that was once considered the most sturdy is the one that has the most to prove.

And that's the one that could have the greatest effect on the Ducks' success.
Oregon got a much-needed win against Michigan State on Saturday. But even more, it grew up in a way that wouldn’t have happened against a subpar team.

In so many regards -- which will be of importance to the College Football Playoff committee -- a W is a W. And so, the Week 1 win against South Dakota and the Week 2 win against Michigan State are both wins, both positive things for the Ducks’ playoff resume.

But what Oregon took away from MSU is something so different than what it took away from South Dakota. The Spartans were able to put pressure in different ways on a young squad in Week 2 of a crucial season for the Ducks. They sent Oregon into the locker room at halftime with a deficit, with all the momentum turning green and white.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesRoyce Freeman and several other young Ducks showed their mettle against Michigan State.
Many young teams -- even at home -- could have shrunk under that pressure. And yes, even with a Heisman-leading quarterback in Marcus Mariota, the game could have turned out differently considering the youth at wide receiver and the reliance on freshman at running back, right tackle and on defense.

"The biggest thing I think we can take away from this is that our team really grew up in the second half," offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. "We’ve got a lot of young players and a lot of them haven’t been in a game like that before. I think it really showed their character that they were able to respond the way they did."

"We thought we had a pretty mature group of young players," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich added. "I think that was very evident in the second half."

Helfrich said that at halftime he noticed the young players were composed, which could have been tough given the moment, the stage, the opponent.

"There was no panic," Helfrich said. "There was no element of fear."

That kind of attitude would be expected out of Mariota or cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu or center Hroniss Grasu, any of the guys who have been apart of these games before.

But the fact that it was coming from players like wide receivers Devon Allen and Darren Carrington, running back Royce Freeman and defensive back Tyree Robinson, who were playing in just their second collegiate football game ever, says way more than a 40-point blowout win over an FCS school.

This experience is going to pay dividends going forward. Allen, Freeman and Robinson are going to be huge contributors for the Ducks this season and thanks to Michigan State, they really aren’t freshmen anymore. They are top targets in the run and pass game who proved themselves worthy of Mariota’s attention in tight situations. They are top tacklers on the team. They are guys who went from untested youth to valuable experience in about 30 minutes.

And that could be the difference between later W’s and L’s this season.

The Ducks have talent and experience, high power and big names. Now, they just need consistency, and a lot of it is going to come from guys whose age wouldn’t necessarily dictate that kind of play.

But age is just a number, and the Ducks don’t care about numbers, just W’s.

Best of the visits: Pac-12

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
4:07
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[+] EnlargeSeth Green and Taj Griffin
Courtesy of Seth Green's familyThe Ducks had a good showing for 2016 target Seth Green and Oregon commit Taj Griffin.
When it comes to visit weekends in the Pac-12, Oregon stole the show on Saturday, as no Pac-12 program brought in as many big-time recruits to witness an atmosphere as impactful as the one provided by the Ducks. While part of that was due to the opponent and the buildup surrounding the game, Oregon capitalized on hosting an impressive group of recruits, making a statement with both the 2015 and 2016 classes. Also represented in this look at the best visits of the weekend is Utah's big win against Fresno State and UCLA's closer-than-expected victory over Memphis.

Green visits the green and gold
While Oregon had a number of official visitors from the 2015 class, the Ducks also hosted 2016 ESPN 300 quarterback Seth Green on an unofficial visit. Green was able to take a photo of himself with Taj Griffin, an Oregon running back commit and ESPN 300 recruit. Green also tweeted, "Where great teams go to die" #WTD, a reference to a story written in the Michigan Daily in 2003, after No. 3 Michigan visited Autzen Stadium and lost to the Ducks.

Locked in to Oregon

The Ducks hosted ESPN 300 defensive backs Marvell Tell and Micah Abernathy over the weekend, and likely received some significant help in recruiting them from committed safety P.J. Locke. In fact, the Ducks had at least three committed recruits on campus for official visits this weekend, as Locke and offensive lineman Brady Aiello (pictured in Locke's tweet, below) were joined by offensive tackle Calvin Throckmorton.
Utes host big in-state target

It's always a positive thing when a significant in-state target spends a Saturday on campus, so Utah coaches had to be happy that mammoth offensive tackle prospect Brandon Bowen took in the Utes' thrashing of Fresno State. Bowen holds offers from several Pac-12 programs, including Colorado, Oregon State and Washington State, but Utah appears to be in solid position.
Bisharat sees slugfest

While wide receivers love watching wide open offenses, it's likely that a 6-foot-2, 200-pound running back, such as 2016 recruit Beau Bisharat, enjoyed what he saw from Stanford and USC on Saturday, as running games took center stage in a low-scoring affair. Bisharat, who holds early Pac-12 offers from Cal, Colorado and Washington State, tweeted a photo of his view of the game.
Unfortunately for the Cardinal, who dropped a heartbreaker, 13-10, Bisharat followed that tweet later in the day by retweeting USC defensive backs coach Keith Heyward, who took a picture of the scoreboard following the game.

Martin sees more than just a game

For 2016 ESPN 300 offensive lineman Frank Martin, Saturday night didn't just result in the memories of an entertaining game between UCLA and Memphis. The big tackle and No. 166 overall prospect also finished the night by earning his 10th offer, this one coming from the Bruins.
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Fresh off its marquee win against Michigan State, Oregon is the new No. 2 team in the AP poll. The Ducks' decisive 46-27 win against the Spartans on Saturday was enough to vault the team over previous No. 2 Alabama, which beat Florida Atlantic 41-0 this week.

Oregon received 16 of the 60 first-place votes and remains behind No. 1 Florida State, which received 38 first-place votes.

USC's 13-10 win against Stanford in coach Steve Sarkisian's first big test moved the Trojans up five spots to No. 9 -- vaulting over previous No. 11 UCLA, which fell to No. 12 overall.

Stanford dropped two spots to No. 15 and is the second-highest-ranked team with a loss behind only No. 13 Michigan State.

Arizona State is up a spot to No. 16 after its 58-23 win against New Mexico.
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EUGENE, Ore. -- When Michigan State scored 20 consecutive points and took a nine-point lead over Oregon in the third quarter, the collective head nod of the college football nation was palpable from coast to coast. Everyone had seen this storyline before. Oregon was a fun team, a good team even. Interesting uniforms. But when the Ducks go nose-to-nose with a highly rated program that makes its money on the line of scrimmage, their ludicrous speed offense sputters to a stop.

Auburn in the national title game after the 2010 season. LSU in 2011 and Stanford the past two seasons. The Ducks, according to the skeptics, wilted against physical teams, and bruising Michigan State was taking it to the Ducks on Saturday. It wasn't difficult to imagine the I-told-you-so's and knowing smirks breaking out across the country.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesRoyce Freeman's second-half production helped Oregon rally past Michigan State on Saturday.
That storyline broached and retweeted by folks ready to dismiss Oregon from the national conversation -- again -- is the most notable part of No. 3 Oregon's 46-27 victory, at least from the Ducks' perspective. The perfectly reasonable reintroduction of that narrative made it all the more meaningful that Oregon ripped the Spartans apart over the game's final 20 minutes, announcing themselves -- again -- as national title contenders with college football's marquee nonconference game of the season.

The familiar script was on the table, and the Ducks tore it up. They matched and overcame the Spartans' physicality. Then they turned on the showmanship, just to remind everyone they were still fancy-pants Oregon and they like to win cool.

It was a big win for the program. It was a big win for second-year coach Mark Helfrich, who is trying to emerge from the considerable shadow cast by Chip Kelly.

"Our team was good tonight," Helfrich said. "[Michigan State] was an exceptional team."

The Spartans, ranked seventh, looked exceptional while taking a 27-18 lead early in the third quarter. To that point, they had stymied the Ducks' offense and moved doggedly down the field with a balanced attack. The Spartans looked a lot like the Stanford team that kept Oregon from playing for the national title the previous two seasons. Yet one quick-thinking play from Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota seemingly changed everything.

On third-and-10 from the Oregon 41-yard line with just over six minutes left in the third, Mariota was chased from the pocket. He probably could have run for a first down, but he flipped the ball to true freshman running back Royce Freeman for a 17-yard gain. It was vintage Mariota improvisation, the sort of creative, off-script playmaking that has distinguished the Ducks during their rise as a national power.

Mariota would finish the drive with a 24-yard touchdown pass. After the Ducks' resurgent defense forced a three-and-out, Mariota gave the Ducks the lead for good with a 37-yard TD toss to Keanon Lowe. And just like that, the rout was on. It was stunning but also familiar. Oregon was doing its thing, imposing its will, wearing a foe down, only it was doing it against a team that was supposed to be unyielding.

"Things started to snowball and we couldn't stop it from snowballing," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.

Speaking of snowballs, Mariota's Heisman Trophy campaign should make like one. He was the linchpin of the Ducks' turnaround. He completed 17 of 28 passes for 318 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions and rushed for 42 yards, but his contribution was more than pure numbers. On the go-ahead drive, he rushed for 11 yards on third-and-9. On the Ducks' final possession, which killed 6:31 off the clock and ended all Michigan State hope, he rushed for 40 yards on second-and-17.

Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. That's what Mariota did. That's what Heisman winners do.

"I should have to pay him to watch him play," Helfrich quipped.

Yet Oregon isn't a one-star constellation. It produced a long catalog of clutch in the overwhelming second half. Physical? The defense produced a critical stop on fourth-and-2 from the Ducks 24-yard line in the fourth quarter. It allowed just three second-half points. While Oregon averaged a stout 7.2 yards per play, the Spartans went for just 5.6. Physically impressive? Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu had a diving interception off a deflection that might end up being the most athletic play of the season.

The Ducks' offensive line, struggling in the first half and suffering an injury to right tackle Andre Yruretagoyena early in the third quarter, asserted itself in the second half. It first pushed the pile for a key third-and-1 conversion before the go-ahead score, and then took control in the fourth quarter as Oregon drove 96 yards in 11 plays for its final TD, a 14-yard touchdown jaunt on fourth-and-2 from freshman running back Freeman.

"I don't think we were fazed by their physicality," Lowe said. "We're physical, too."

Helfrich wouldn't take the bait when asked to ascribe special meaning to the victory. Nor would be say the whole "Oregon can't play with physical teams" skepticism has been vanquished. Truth is it probably hasn't been. As good as Michigan State is, the Spartans play in the Big Ten and the Big Ten had a horrible Saturday, with Michigan getting stomped by Notre Dame and Ohio State losing to Virginia Tech, among other indignities.

Oregon won't win over the entire nation until it wins a national championship, the one glory that has eluded the program.

Beating Michigan State, while only giving the Ducks a 2-0 record, is a significant step toward potentially filling that hole in the program's résumé.

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