Oregon Football: Winners and Losers of Oregon vs. Arizona Game
At last, a real game. The non-conference season is there for a reason—to let the new team come together and settle in. Work out the kinks, make adjustments, etc.
But the Ducks—even starting a new quarterback—didn't seem to really need the tuneup season. Oregon came out of the starting blocks precisely where they'd left off in January at the Rose Bowl.
The weak non-conference schedule seemed to drag on and on, and fans were hungry for a real game. Bring it on 'Cats!
Alas, while it was a really fun night in rockin' Autzen, the competition wasn't all it was cracked up to be. The question must be asked: Is there any competition out there for this great Ducks team?
There were distinct winners and losers in this important Pac-12 Conference matchup. Here they come.
Winner: Nick Aliotti's Entire Defense
Dear Oregon fans: It should make you very angry when the rest of the college football world dismisses your team as "flashy" or "good offense, no D", or some other completely clueless designation.
After Saturday night's total annihilation of the former No. 4-ranked offense in the nation, if you dismiss the Oregon Ducks' defense, you are not paying attention.
To a man, they are big, strong, physical and smart.
If an opponent gets by Dion Jordan or Wade Keliikipi on the line, they come face-to-face with Kiko Alonso, Michael Clay or Boseko Lokombo. If they try passing the ball away from excellent cornerback Terrance Mitchell, they get picked off by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu on the other side. Or Brian Jackson comes flying in from the rover position and makes you wish you were on another planet.
Totally dominating defense by the Ducks. Totally embarrassed if you are Rich Rodriguez.
We might not see the Oregon defense on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But then again, if they continue to dominate the game like they did Saturday night, we just might.
Loser: Sports Illustrated Curse
Virtually no one in the state of Oregon mentioned the Arizona Wildcats in the week leading up to the game. All the talk was of the Sports Illustrated "curse", and would it bite the Ducks because of De'Anthony Thomas' Friday cover.
Not to worry.
While DAT didn't score any touchdowns for the first time in the season, the Ducks had so many weapons against the 'Cats, it didn't matter. Oregon is just too strong to be brought down by any voodoo, karma woo-woo curse. Jinx? Schminx.
Winner: Colt Lyerla
Friends do not let friends get in Colt Lyerla's way. And, quarterbacks should not try to keep a planned fake hand-off when Colt Lyerla apparently doesn't like fake hand-offs.
Lyerla's third-quarter touchdown where he pulled a not small Bryan Bennett with him over the goal line was the crowd's favorite play of the night, and probably turned Lyerla into an instant Duck legend.
Whether you call Lyerla a tight end or a big new Oregon running back, there is no question that he provided a new dimension to the Ducks' offense.
Lyerla had seven rushes for 63 yards, and two great catches for 53 yards on the night. The 34-yard pass from Mariota to Lyerla in the third quarter was a thing of beauty, and put the Ducks in perfect position to go up 21-0 a couple of plays later on his bulldozing TD.
Colt Lyerla owns a big piece of the victory over Arizona.
Loser: Rich Rodriguez
The Pac-12 is happy to welcome Rich Rodriguez into the Conference. He has already improved things in Tucson, and he will bring Arizona back to the party.
However, against the Ducks, Rodriguez and his staff were overmatched and out-coached, particularly in the second half.
For the first time this season, the Ducks got off to a, by their standards, rocky start. The offense wasn't clicking on all cylinders, and they looked a little ragged. The defense's brilliant play kept it close until the 13-0 halftime.
But it was Chip Kelly and his assistants who made all the proper adjustments, and it was visible from the first few minutes of the second half. Oregon seemed better prepared, and the Ducks responded calmly and coolly after mistakes, whereas Arizona compounded its mistakes.
Perhaps it was depth and the pace that wore down the 'Cats, but it appeared that Kelly and Co. had an answer for everything Rodriguez tried. This game was billed as one master of the spread offense against another, but, at least on this night, Rodriguez lost the coaching battle.
Winner: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
With the emergence of Terrance Mitchell last season at one cornerback position, it was clear that whoever won the starting CB job on the other side for the Ducks would be picked on this year.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (IEO) earned the job during fall camp, and he earned his stripes Saturday night. He was tested early and often and was up to the challenge all night.
IEO's 54-yard return of an interception in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach, and, man-oh-man was he fast on that play. He looked like De'Anthony Thomas' twin brother.
There were so many defensive stars Saturday night for the Ducks that it's difficult to single out anyone. But IEO's stellar play was a welcome sign for Oregon fans to see with the games yet to come in the pass-happy Pac-12 Conference.
Loser: Matt Scott
I think it's safe to say that Arizona quarterback Matt Scott did not enjoy his visit to Autzen Stadium. And, that Oregon linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso are not his new best friends.
Scott had been sailing along through Arizona's first three games in most impressive fashion. The fifth-year senior embraced his new coach and the spread offense.
Through Week 3, Scott had 995 yards passing with a 71.5 completion rate, and 190 yards rushing. Not too shabby. He was the No. 3-ranked Pac-12 QB, and No. 34 in the nation.
Scott's QB rating will fall dramatically as a result of the Oregon defense. He might even—horrors!—fall below Matt Barkley.
Loser: Arizona Red Zone Performance
The single most stunning aspect to Oregon's dominating win over Arizona was the 'Cats inability to score from close in.
In the first half, Arizona had the ball inside the red zone four times and came away with nadda. Two of those occasions were inside the five-yard line and had most Oregon fans covering their eyes at the sure touchdowns to come.
There were three more instances when the 'Cats were inside Oregon's 30-yard line and could not convert. The primary reason why Arizona came up empty-handed was a powerful Ducks defense that simply would not be denied, and an ear-splitting Autzen crowd that rattled them.
However, there were also several plays where the 'Cats just did not execute. With all the scoring punch in the Pac-12 this year, you must execute and score when you have the opportunity. Arizona did not do that against Oregon and paid the price.
Winner: Oregon Kickers
Oregon's place kicker Rob Beard and punter Jackson Rice are excellent at their jobs.
However, no one knows this because they rarely get a chance to strut their stuff.
Saturday night was different; Rice actually got to punt. Oregon fans don't want the Ducks to make a habit of this, but it was nice to see Rice booming punts and make it onto the game film. He should be considered for the Ray Guy Award.
Beard made two clutch field goals when Oregon needed the points early in the game. His 41-yarder in the second quarter was especially nice.
Winner: Autzen Stadium Fans
There is a reason why opposing teams and coaches do not want to come to Autzen Stadium.
When the fans are into it, which is always from the get-go, the place has the decibel level of jets taking off. Saturday night, with the return of the students (and, not coincidentally, the full day to beverage up), it was full-on noise and mayhem.
While the "Wear Black" blackout didn't quite come off as planned, it was still impressive. Note to Oregon Athletic Dept. staff: We really like our yellow.
The student section was in full voice, as if they were determined to welcome the new freshmen with cherished student section traditions: "We will beat the s--- out of you and you and you and you!".
And, it's simply not possible to have more fun as an adult than the rowdy singalong "Shout" to Otis Day and the Knights at the end of the third quarter.
Stay home and watch the Ducks on TV? Not if you can by hook or by crook get your hands on a ticket.
Take next weekend off, Autzen fans, you've earned it after four straight home games. But come back even louder and crazier on Oct. 6 when the Huskies come to town, OK?