The Oregon Ducks, after a slow start, were able to put their foot on the gas and explode past yet another Pac-12 opponent on Saturday.
As it stands right now, there is no team in the nation that has the uncanny ability to flip a switch at the half, come out and absolutely demolish the opposition quite like Oregon. It's a tremendous quality to have, and while the slow starts are worrisome to some folks, the Ducks' unique ability is not a bad thing.
At least not yet.
Every team makes adjustments at halftime. Earlier today, we saw South Carolina trail Kentucky 17-7 at the break and then come out to win 38-17. However, the chasm between merely adjusting to opponents and turning it on full blast is where Oregon sets itself apart from the field.
Against Arizona, the Ducks were up just 13-0, and the Wildcats thought they had a game on their hands. Thirty minutes later, it was 49-0 and Oregon had their backups in the game getting reps.
On Saturday night, the media darling that is Mike Leach had the Washington State Cougars down just four at the half, trailing Oregon 23-19 and looking to get after it in the second half.
What would take place in the next 30 minutes would be anything but the Cougs "getting after it." Oregon put the blitz on Leach's team, scoring a barrage of touchdowns that gave one of the nation's premier offenses a 51-26 victory.
Oregon is like a boxer. It spends the first part of the game feeling its opponents out, looking for holes and checking for weaknesses. The team gets a feel for both sides of the ball and for how its opponent wants to attack.
Then the team goes back to its corner, alters its strategy and comes out swinging for the knockout. The Ducks hit their opponents again and again and again—until they're punch-drunk by the end of the third quarter and still have 15 minutes to go.
This is not just an offensive beating, as the Ducks defense tightens like a noose around opponents' necks.
Saturday, the Mike Leach offense that appeared dangerous in the first half could only muster a touchdown in garbage time against Oregon's continually improving defense. Nick Aliotti's defense is getting pressure with the linemen, playing sound coverage and taking advantage of the other teams' mistakes.
Oregon's moves to feel things out and make adjustments is going to work for the bulk of its schedule. Simply put, the Ducks are just better than most of the Pac-12 by a good measure. For the games where they will face tougher competition, turning it on after the half could be a problem.
But that's only if they do not recognize the issue.
Slow-playing it against USC or Stanford could lead to a halftime deficit that could prove to be insurmountable. After the way last season's USC contest progressed, with the Ducks down 21-7 at the half, expect Oregon to approach those games with a different plan.
We saw this in the Rose Bowl, where they pushed early to match Wisconsin at every turn, eventually out-dueling the Badgers for the 45-38 victory.
So while the ability to flip the switch after halftime could be damning, this Oregon Ducks team understands that all games—and, more importantly, all opponents—are not created equal.
Much like when Chip Kelly spent his pre-conference season getting Marcus Mariota accustomed to passing the ball, Kelly is using lighter conference opponents to tweak and perfect his approach. As long as Oregon recognizes when it might be in trouble, the feeling-out strategy is going to work, and the Ducks will be quite alright.