RB De'Anthony Thomas
College football is back, and after a ho-hum 66-3 victory over Nicholls, it's time to grade Oregon's new starters.
How much can you really take from a game that pitted an offensive juggernaut coming off of a second straight BCS bowl win against an FCS team that had compiled just two victories in the past two seasons?
Oregon racked up a school-record 772 yards in the victory, including a whopping 500 on the ground. Marcus Mariota, De'Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall each eclipsed the 100-yard mark in rushing.
For fans, it was simply a chance to see the Ducks take the field for some meaningful action. But for coaches, players and everyone else looking to get a little more out of Saturday than a nonchalant beatdown, it was about getting a chance to see what this year's crop of young talent can accomplish.
Let's take a look at the new starters on the Oregon Ducks and grade their Week 1 performances.
All defensive and kicking statistics via cfbstats.com.
OG Mana Greig
It was difficult to get a real grasp on Mana Greig’s individual performance for a couple of reasons.
The first is that he was going up against an FCS team in Nicholls that won just one game last season. In other words, the offensive line, whether it was filled with NFL Pro Bowlers or third-string walk-ons, was expected to dominate.
The second reason is that guard play doesn’t usually stand out as much as the play from a center or tackle. Guards have an important job with both run-blocking and picking up blitzes in pass protection. In those areas, Greig seemed to manage things quite well.
The most important thing to take away from his first game as a starter was the first three drives of the first quarter, which all resulted in touchdowns. In those instances, Greig, along with the entire offensive line, protected Mariota well and created nice holes for De’Anthony Thomas to scamper through.
OG Hamani Stevens (No. 54)
Like Greig, there weren’t any major revelations about Hamani Stevens on Saturday. Also like Greig, Stevens was a major part of the Ducks’ successful opening quarter.
Stevens is probably the more interesting guy to keep an eye on as we move forward given his size and highly touted abilities. By my count, there was only a play or two where the Nicholls' defensive line was able to break through and harass Mariota.
On the several occasions where Mariota ran toward the sideline, it almost seemed like those were his intentions all along. Looking ahead, the Ducks now head into back-to-back weeks where they’ll face BCS foes, and that should give us a much better picture of where things stand at guard. It will also tell us what both Stevens and Greig need to work on as the season progresses.
RB De'Anthony Thomas
Initially I decided to skip over De’Anthony Thomas, as most fans already knew what Oregon had in the explosive running back.
But on Saturday we saw a side of him we hadn’t seen before, and that’s worth revisiting.
Despite seeing De’Anthony atop the depth chart at running back, many fans were curious what kind of increase in carries he would see at the position, if any. As it turns out, calling him an every-down back would appear accurate. The Black Mamba carried the ball 18 times for 128 yards, and many of those touches went straight up the middle into the heart of the defense.
To be fair, there was no Shayne Skov or Anthony Barr waiting on the other side. But Thomas took his share of hits and popped back up every time without hesitation. In the receiving game, he had just one grab.
It will be interesting to see what kind of workload he receives as the schedule ramps up, but it’s clear that coaches aren’t afraid to give him the ball over and over again. However, fans have to wonder if his limited role in the passing game is a sign of things to come or just simply a product of the Week 1 game plan.
OLB Tony Washington (ground)
Tony Washington is going to help fans forget about Dion Jordan. Yep, I said it.
I did not say he was more talented, nor did I say that Jordan wasn’t incredible in his time at Oregon. He was a bit faster than Washington and more athletic in space. But his numbers didn’t quite match his talent his senior season, and I think Washington can be equally as effective if not more so.
Again with the caveat that the game occurred against Nicholls State, Washington had seven tackles, which included two for loss as well as a sack.
We had the chance to see him use his speed rush, and it put pressure on the quarterback more often than not. Washington was one of the new starters expected to play well because he had seen plenty of game action in the past.
But he kicked off his 2013 season in a nice way, and we could witness to a big year from No. 91.
DT Arik Armstead in last year's Fiesta Bowl
In a somewhat surprising move, Arik Armstead was given the starting spot on the defensive line ahead of veteran Ricky Havili-Heimuli.
The Colonels’ game plan on offense was obviously to avoid the pressure of the defensive line, something they executed with mixed results. When the quarterback dropped back, the line was all over him, and Armstead found himself in the mix more often than not.
But when they ran screen passes or checkdowns to the running backs, it sort of took away the effectiveness of the line and players like Armstead.
Two things stood out from his performance on Saturday. The first is that he looks a lot more comfortable on the field. You can tell this isn’t his first rodeo, and when plays are there to be made, he makes them.
The second thing that stood out was how physically imposing he is as he bull-rushes offensive linemen. When Armstead lunged forward and bullied his way toward the quarterback, he gained ground more often than not. In the first quarter, he even showed off his speed in getting to the quarterback and forcing an errant pass.
Like everyone else being evaluated, it’s difficult to tell what an effort against Nicholls will mean as we move forward. But so far so good for the highly touted defensive lineman in year two.
LB Derrick Malone
Derrick Malone was part of a trio of linebackers with big shoes to fill, and he had a very solid performance in Week 1.
Malone tallied six tackles and was given credit for assisting on five more.
The good part of Malone’s day was that he was very sound in his tackling, something that doesn’t always happen for inexperienced players. He wrapped up well and made sure the play was over when he arrived at the ball.
The bad part was that he seemed a little bit slow on his diagnosis of certain plays. The only real success Nicholls had was on quick screens to the running back or checkdowns in the passing game. While it may have been Nick Aliotti’s game plan to drop his guys back and keep the play in front of them, they still should have swarmed to the ball a little quicker in the second and third quarters.
Overall, you have to be pleased, as the game will continue to come to Malone, and tackling is typically an issue for new starters.
LB Rodney Hardrick (No. 48)
Rodney Hardrick didn’t quite stand out as much as Malone from the linebacker position, but he did display a few traits that set him apart.
The first is his physicality. Hardrick definitely seems like the guy you’d shy away from given the choice, although neither linebacker is a welcome sight for running backs.
The second is his athletic ability, which was evident as he burst into the backfield and nipped the running back for a four-yard loss early in the first quarter.
Ultimately, Hardrick was only credited with a couple of tackles, so there’s plenty of room for improvement. To be fair, however, many of the plays went toward Malone’s side, giving him a few extra opportunities to make a tackle.
But for whatever differences you might find in each new linebackers’ game, the takeaway for both players is the same. The athletic ability is there, but they both need more game action to develop quicker reads and stop plays from getting downfield.
We didn’t learn too much about Matt Wogan on Saturday because the field-goal duties were handled by Alejandro Maldonado, who made his only try.
Wogan did punch through a trio of extra-point attempts, and he was the kickoff man throughout the afternoon.
The kickoffs were a mixed bag, as one of them went deep into the end zone for a touchback while two more went out of bounds. That’s okay in game one against an inferior team, but that has to be ironed out as the season moves forward.
If Maldonado continues to make field goals, we may not see Wogan very much until 2014, save for a few extra points.