Oregon kicked off its season in a manner befitting the No. 5 team in the nation: Oregon 57, Arkansas State 34.
Before we get into the grades for each position, three things must be noted. One, Oregon's helmets were just the coolest thing on the planet—lemon yellow with silver, mirrored wings. Amazingly beautiful from the stands.
Two, the score was 50-10 at halftime, and was really headed to a blowout before all the reserves played in the second half. I would be surprised if almost every player suited up didn't get in the game.
Three, a star is born. Marcus Mariota was simply dazzling in his debut. He will be one of the best Oregon quarterbacks ever.
The Ducks were dominant from the opening moments, going up 7-zip on a very nice Kenjon Barner run. From their powerful start in a rockin' Autzen, Oregon put their heel on A State's throat and kept it firmly in place until halftime.
For those of you not lucky enough to be in Autzen Stadium tonight, here comes the report card for each position.
In his first major college football game, as the starting QB for the No. 5 team in the country, Mariota could not have been better.
As if he'd prepared for this moment all his life—and he had—Mariota was calm, cool and collected. He finished 18 of 22 for 200 yards passing and three touchdowns. Not throwing a single interception in his Duck debut, Mariota was barely touched by the Red Wolves.
In relief of starter Mariota, Bennett showed some nerves, as any human being would after being passed over for the job. But Bennett was competent in relief of Mariota and got better the longer he was in.
Overall, as long as Mariota stays injury free, and Bennett just stays, Oregon hasn't a care in the world at the QB position.
Man, that felt good. No more LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner is, at last, The Guy.
Happily, The Guy did precisely what The Guy is supposed to do: run right through and around the other guys. Honestly, Barner was a thing of beauty early on tonight, and really fun to watch as he did his thing. He only played about one and a half quarters, but had some yummy runs and scored two TDs.
It would be disrespectful to say "LaMichael who?" but Barner is now the star RB for the Oregon Ducks.
More on him later on.
The true freshman saw good action in the second half tonight. He made a couple of frosh mistakes—run forward, Byron, not backwards and sideways—but overall looked pretty solid for his first college game, and scored his first college touchdown.
You have to say that the future of Oregon's running back position looks good.
Josh Huff wears the No. 1, and tonight he was No. 1. Named as one of four team captains (the others were Marcus Mariota, Bryan Bennett and Dion Jordan), Huff had a beautiful TD catch and exhibited good footwork to stay inbounds.
Virtually every WR played tonight and spread the wealth around. One pleasant surprise was Rahsaan Vaughn, who, prior to fall camp, many thought would be a starting wide receiver. Vaughn didn't start but played in the second half and caught a very nice 7-yard scoring pass.
If the Ducks had any weaknesses last year, one could say that WR was one position from which the Ducks could have hoped for more. That was last year and this is this year; look for the Ducks to kick butt from the WR position in 2012.
Out of Chip Kelly's doghouse and straight into the fans' hearts—that's tight end Colt Lyerla. After months of swirling rumors and innuendos about Lyerla, the big bruiser of a TE put it all behind him tonight in a strong, solid performance.
He had a good catch over the middle early in the first quarter, and was tough to bring down on every play he was involved in.
Freshman Pharaoh Brown saw lots of action after the break, especially fielding short kickoffs successfully. He's a big kid with good hands.
Tight end isn't a crucial position in the Ducks' offensive schemes, but it was great to see Lyerla in there. Let's get this grade up to A next game, OK?
Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett hardly had a hand laid on them tonight. Kenjon Barner and DAT had hole after hole open up for them to squirt through.
I'm not sure what else the O-line could have done for the Ducks' offensive performance tonight. Very, very solid.
Poor Arkansas State. First Dion Jordan, Isaac Remington, Wade Keliikipi and Taylor Hart made mincemeat out of their O-line, and put unrelenting pressure on QB Ryan Aplin.
But it turned out to be a tale of two halves for the Ducks' D-line. After the break, with the D-line starters sitting, A State began to put up some numbers. So, my first half grade is A, but the second half was a B-, so overall, I'm going with B+.
The depth here that we've been talking about was MIA in the second half. But still, if teams want to succeed against the Ducks this year, they better have a strong O-line and a QB that can get rid of the ball fast. Otherwise, they are going to eat it because Oregon's starting D-line is a force to be reckoned with.
I'm just warning you all.
More trouble for Oregon's opponent on the few times they got past the defensive line—they were usually met by linebackers Boseko Lokombo, Kiko Alonso (who proved his Rose Bowl defensive MVP was not a fluke) and Michael Clay.
If there are three better starting linebackers anywhere in the nation than the Ducks' two seniors and one junior (Lokombo), I'd like to see them.
The Oregon linebackers—at least, tonight in the first half—seemed like men playing a boy's game.
Arkansas State's Ryan Aplin likes to throw the football and he's pretty good at it. The Ducks' cornerbacks got a good workout tonight, and for the most part, aced the exam.
Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu started and were the class of the group, and didn't get beat much. Most of the cornerbacks played tonight, and, while there was some drop-off in the second half, it was more the "bend, don't break" strategy.
Free safety John Boyett (John Boyett for Heisman) was simply everywhere on the field, seemingly all at the same time. His second quarter interception of a Ryan Aplin pass was one for the ages.
The Ducks did miss departed rover Eddie Pleasant tonight; his replacement, Brian Jackson missed on a Red Wolves TD play.
Overall, this unit got the job done, and they will only get better each week.
Has the word "electrifying" been overused in regards to De'Anthony Thomas? Tough, it's getting used again. The kid is absolutely electrifying, and is a danger to skate into the end zone literally every time he touches the ball.
It was hard to know where to talk about DAT in this piece because he rushed, he caught and he returned. All brilliantly, and all in human highlight reel fashion.
Kickers did a good job on kickoffs and a lot of extra points; 100 percent efficiency rating there.
Punter Jackson Rice doesn't get much action on this Ducks' team, but when he does get to show off his skill, it's dramatic. He should win the Ray Guy Award this season.
The minus on the A grade is for one missed field goal in the second quarter. It was almost balanced out by a nifty two-point conversion on the first touchdown when Rice passed to Dion Jordan. He caught it, he scores the two-pointer!
Put Oregon's special teams up against any in the country.
Please don't tell anyone I said this, but I was somewhat concerned about this head coaching matchup—Chip Kelly and Gus Malzahn.
Malzahn, as offensive coordinator at Auburn, had the opportunity to observe Oregon's schemes up close and personal in the biggest game of the year. And as a brand new head coach, Kelly could not have known exactly how Malzahn would run the game now that he is in charge.
Remind me to never worry about Chip Kelly and the Oregon assistant coaches again, OK? Their performance in this opening game was brilliant. The play calling was innovative and spot on.
The killer instinct in the first half was palpable, but bringing in the reserves when leading 50-10 was also a smart move. Fans may have wanted more blood, but it was a luxury to see every player perform in Week 1, and to protect the stars...it's a long season, folks.
In Chip we trust.
If we had just graded the first half, it would have been straight A's. Before the break, the Ducks were flawless.
Even with the starters sitting, the reserves held down the fort for the most part against a good quarterback.
The Oregon Ducks in 2012 are an excellent college football team, and nothing the Duck faithful saw tonight will cause worry.
Only six days to go until the next game. Bring it on.