Marcus Mariota lit up Tennessee on Saturday
We wrote at length this offseason about how Oregon might blow out a ton of opponents, put up gaudy stats and get comfortable in the Top Five.
Through three weeks, that's exactly what has happened, and it's hard to find anything truly surprising about the 2013 season so far. Many expected Oregon to be 3-0, and there was a fair amount of preseason chatter about Marcus Mariota and the Heisman Trophy, too.
Perhaps coming out in all-yellow "highlighter" uniforms was surprising to some?
In any case, Oregon is rolling teams as expected, but there are still a few storylines developing that are surprising to those who have been following this team for awhile.
Here are five of the biggest surprises for the Oregon Ducks through Week 3.
The Ducks celebrate one of their eight touchdowns on Saturday.
In recent years, Oregon has been a team that plays very differently from week to week, and it doesn't matter if it's the first game or the last. Sometimes the team will put it all together in Week 2, and other seasons it won't be until Week 8 when everything comes together.
So far in 2013, we've seen steady improvement each week. The game against Nicholls was sloppy and produced a full quarter, with the starters in, in which the offense failed to score.
At Virginia, the offense seemed to kick it into high gear more often, but the team was plagued by penalties and some missed tackles.
Against Tennessee, well, it was a near-perfect performance. The run defense was stout, the secondary stiffened up after allowing a big play early, and the offense was a thing of beauty.
It's not exactly a huge surprise that this team is improving, but it's certainly nice to see it happening from week to week. It also begs the question that if the trend continues, how in the world will this team be stopped later in the season?
The defensive line has been great so far this season.
The Ducks didn't notch a single sack or tackle for loss in the win over Tennessee, and yet, the Volunteers failed to get anything going on the ground.
The team's top two backs, Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane, both averaged less than five yards per carry, well under their respective season averages.
The Volunteers as a team managed to rush for 178 yards, but that's a decent effort by the defense when facing an offense that likes to run the ball. Oh, and when the offense has one of the best front lines in the nation, too.
Fans go back and forth with each other about how good the defense is, because it often allows quite a few yards. But remember this: Because Oregon's offense plays so fast, the defense is on the field longer than anybody else. It sees more plays, too.
Against Virginia, the Ducks allowed just 124 yards on the ground, and Nicholls put up a measly 87.
So far, the defensive front for Oregon has been spectacular, which bodes well for the rest of the season.
DeForest Buckner is yet another non-starter making an impact this season.
One of the reasons the Ducks were discussed as a national title contender in the offseason was because of the current depth.
For example, starting tight end Colt Lyerla sat out Saturday's game against Tennessee. Backup Pharaoh Brown wasn't available either, which meant true freshman Johnny Mundt had to step into the spotlight. He responded by catching five passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
In the past couple of seasons, the Ducks have struggled with the starters out of the game. This year, the backups manhandled Nicholls, moved the ball on Virginia and hung in there with Tennessee.
The two-deep has more talent than ever before, and guys even farther down on the depth chart are managing to make an impact each game.
While it comes as little shock that this team has depth, it is surprising just how many players on the roster are ready and able to make plays at the college level.
QB Marcus Mariota hands it off to RB Byron Marshall.
Surprise, surprise! Oregon looks like the exact same team on offense that it was in 2012. And 2011. And 2010. You get the idea.
The offseason was filled with speculation (some from me, admittedly) that the offense might look different with Mark Helfrich at the helm and with Scott Frost as the offensive coordinator.
Turns out the offense is the same, smooth-running machine that it has been, only this time, there are more options. Bralon Addison has emerged as a big-time playmaker, Josh Huff has put together three solid games, and De'Anthony Thomas is doing it primarily from the backfield.
While Marcus Mariota may have dazzled fans with his aerial display against Tennessee, the team ran the ball extremely well against Nicholls and Virginia. In other words, the offense is taking what the defense gives it.
If Saturday's game has you convinced the Ducks are ready to air it out more, remember the games against Cal and USC last season where Mariota threw it all over the field. That happened because the Bears and Trojans were loaded up to stop the run. The same rules apply this season in that Oregon is going to find a way to exploit what the defense does so it can score points as quickly and efficiently as possible, be it on the ground or through the air.
This is otherwise known as the exact same thing Chip Kelly has been doing for years.
When De'Anthony Thomas was listed as the team's starting running back, eyebrows were raised.
Surely Helfrich simply put him there because he was more of a back than a receiver, right? Thomas would still be lining up in the slot for much of the game, right?
In a surprising twist, De'Anthony Thomas has been the team's workhorse back this season, already carrying the ball 42 times in just three games. The results have been great, as the junior lightning bolt already has seven rushing touchdowns.
What's most surprising is that many of Thomas' runs have gone straight up the middle, where bigger, stronger players are ready to pounce. Yet De'Anthony seems to dish out as much force as he takes, and the question about whether De'Anthony can take a beating is no longer relevant because it's been answered.
He can, and if the first three games are any indication, De'Anthony Thomas will remain the workhorse back throughout the season.