Oregon vs. West Virginia: Which Offense Is Better?
West Virginia. Oregon. Passing. Running. Two offenses that get the job done in very different ways but stand as the third- and seventh-ranked units respectively. They are explosive and have weapons that get fans up out of their seats.
Chip Kelly and Dana Holgorsen are two of the finest offensive minds in the game today and watching them work their magic is quite impressive. For Kelly, it comes from his Ducks working the run game to open things up all over the field. In the case of Holgorsen, we're seeing a revamped form of the Air Raid attack that leaves defenses scratching their heads as receiver, after receiver gets open down the field.
Both units are equally frustrating for the opposition and their fans, but which squad truly has the edge as far as offenses go? This is more than just a total yardage or points question, we'll look at the pieces to put together this puzzle.
The Quarterback Position
On one hand you have a redshirt freshman starting for the first time. On the other you have a seasoned senior who is currently leading the Heisman race.
Geno Smith seems to give the edge to the Mountaineers in this category. He's a savvy pocket passer who is not afraid to stand in the pocket and make throws downfield. While he is not a fan of getting out of the gate with his legs, he does possess the ability to extend plays in order to get his receivers open and hit them in space.
Marcus Mariota is growing into a quality ball player. He's thrown 11 touchdowns against four interceptions and added another 181 yards on the ground. Early, Chip Kelly made sure to force the throwing game with Mariota so the freshman could grow his confidence in his arm and receivers against weaker competition.
Expect the rushing numbers to increase as the Ducks get into Pac-12 play and Kelly calls on the young quarterback to make the reads that require Mariota to be a rushing threat in his own right.
Geno Smith is torching the stat sheet right now as he's thrown for 20 touchdowns and no interceptions. Smith is a player that is the clear leader for his club and with his experience comes a guy that Dana Holgorsen trusts to always make the right decision.
While the quarterback spot gives West Virginia a clear advantage, the offensive weapons proves to be a true stalemate. The Mountaineers have Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey as their two studs that decimate defenses. Oregon calls upon Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas to do the same.
In Austin and Bailey, Holgorsen has two wide receivers that catch everything thrown their way and are remarkable after the catch. Both Bailey and Austin are active in the screen game and can get on top of safeties when asked to get vertical down the field.
Once the ball is in their hands the fireworks start. They slip tackles, they leave jockstraps on the turf and then get into the end zone in a hurry. Seventeen of Geno Smith's 20 touchdowns are divided between Bailey and Austin.
Out in Eugene, the Ducks' Duo is busy doing much of the same; as they have combined for 18 total touchdowns. Fourteen of the TDs have come on the ground, with another four through the air.
Barner is a true running back, the senior who was backing up and splitting reps with LaMichael James is now the star of the run game and he's handling it quite well. Averaging over six yards a carry, Barner sticks his foot in the ground and goes better than most backs in college football.
Which brings us to De'Anthony Thomas. The Black Mamba is truly one of college football's most dynamic players to watch. As a running threat he's deadly, able to hit the corner quick and not afraid to burst through an interior seam to pick up big yards.
Thomas is also Oregon's primary receiving threat. He can get vertical or make defenses pay in the short passing game; turning a five-yard completion into a 30-yard gain.
Geno Smith's passing numbers are great. Oregon's rushing numbers are stellar. However, the hallmark of a truly great offense is in their ability to do more than one thing. As it stands at this point in the season, Oregon gets a bit of a nod when it comes to being dynamic.
The Ducks are putting up just over 300 yards on the ground per game, while still managing to pass for almost 250 yards in each contest. West Virginia is a pass, pass and pass some more team posting 441 yards through the air but a less than stellar 157 yards on the ground.
There is a real need for dynamism as the season progresses. One-dimensional attacks, regardless of how potent they are, run the risk of being shut down and having a viable rushing option is a must for the Mountaineers.
Just a season ago Oklahoma State was able to excel, not merely because of their overwhelming passing game; but because Joseph Randle would make defenses pay for not respecting the Pokes' rushing ability.
Oregon's pass game does not rival West Virginia's, the Ducks are averaging 216 yards in Pac-12 contests; but it does force teams to respect their ability to do both.
The Verdict: Oregon
In a move that is likely to drive fans of the Air Raid, Dana Holgorsen and West Virginia mad; I'm taking the Ducks.
While Geno Smith is a great quarterback, easily if it boiled down to he and Mariota, you take Smith; the entirety of the teams makes me pick Oregon. Give me the rushing attack that creates vertical seams and forces safeties into the box, then goes over the top tot he likes of De'Anthony Thomas.
Truthfully, we're splitting hairs here and while the dynamism of Oregon draws me in, picking the Mountaineers is not a bad bet. It will take a heck of a defense to squash their all over the field passing attack. This weekend against Texas, we'll see just how well the Big 12's premier defense can stand up to Dana Holgorsen's offensive onslaught.
For Oregon, the big test this year will still be a USC defense designed to match their speed to the edge. As the season goes along we'll have to check and see which squad is better designed for success.
After Saturday's offensive scorefest, the real question both of these elite offenses need to answer is not about scoring the football; rather it is can you stop the other team from finding the end zone?
Oregon's defense has played well this season, West Virginia's gave up 63 points in a winning effort. Each of these offenses are going to score plenty, the key to either of them hoisting a crystal football will come on the other side of the ball.