Oregon Football: 5 Things Ducks Must Improve During Bye Week

Jeff Bell@@JrayBellCorrespondent ISeptember 23, 2013

Oregon Football: 5 Things Ducks Must Improve During Bye Week

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    Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
    Oregon QB Marcus MariotaScott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    The headline is entirely too dramatic, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few things the Oregon football team can improve on during the bye week.

    Let's be clear, though: The following items are strictly things to work on, not major problems that can wreck the season.

    After all, the Ducks have been nearly flawless so far.

    Marcus Mariota is putting up huge numbers, De'Anthony Thomas is carrying the ground game and the defense is playing lights out.

    If you've watched the first few games, there probably isn't a single aspect of the team's performance that you can single out as "poor" or "needing major work."

    All that said, the moment you let up is the moment you become worse as a football team.

    Here are five things the Ducks can improve upon during the bye week.


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    Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone team up for a tackle.
    Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone team up for a tackle.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    This list could be made at any point during the season and tackling would almost always appear.

    Not because it's a problem that has plagued the Ducks, but because defenses can always get better at tackling.

    Despite the inexperience at linebacker, Oregon has done a pretty good job showing steady improvement in this area. But good tackling is the difference between those long, bend-but-don't-break drives that we love to complain about and the short, three-and-outs that give the ball back to the offense.

    Against Tennessee, linebacker Joe Walker missed a pair of tackles that would have resulted in either a fourth down or a lot less yards on the play. This isn't meant to single Walker out, though, because he wasn't the only one.

    Against better teams, good tackling will mean the difference between winning and losing. If you caught any part of the Arizona State-Stanford game on Saturday, you saw a Cardinal team that had extremely physical running backs who shed tackles like fleas.

    If there's one thing the team can work on during the bye week, it's tackling.


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    Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich.
    Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich.Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Penalties are another aspect of football that coaches are probably never happy with, and you can be certain that's the case at Oregon.

    Some personal fouls, such as slightly late hits, are acceptable because they show hustle and effort. Others, such as leading with the helmet or unsportsmanlike conduct after the play, are not okay.

    The Ducks, through three games, have committed 24 penalties for 224 yards for an average of just over 74 yards per game.

    Against Virginia, the team committed 11 penalties for 119 yards.

    This isn't something where the guys don't know the rules; it's a matter of reminding them what to do in certain situations so as to avoid the calls.

    Pass interference calls are going to be made on every team, and you can live with a holding call now and then. But 15-yard penalties and false starts can be corrected, and it'll be interesting to see if the penalties continue to be an issue moving forward.

Sluggish Starts

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    WR Josh Huff
    WR Josh HuffJonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    This is the type of slide where, if you're a fan of any other team, you laugh and call Ducks fans spoiled.

    Sluggish is probably a bit much when you consider the team lead Virginia 21-7 after the first quarter and was up 38-7 on Tennessee at halftime.

    So we're really just looking at how the team performs during the first couple of drives. Against these first few opponents, the slow starts meant nothing as the rust was soon dismissed and the points started to come at a furious rate.

    But the game against the Volunteers was a great example of a sluggish start as the Ducks missed a field goal on their first drive and failed to score a touchdown from inside the red zone on the second drive.

    Again, none of this had any effect on the result. But against teams like Washington, UCLA and Stanford, a fast start could mean all the difference in the world.

    It will be interesting to see how the Ducks look at the beginning of next Saturday's game against Cal.

Power Run Game

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    RB Byron Marshall
    RB Byron MarshallJonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    Don't factor in the game against Nicholls here, because the Colonels weren't going to stop the Ducks even if Marcus Mariota slowly jogged up the middle on every play.

    But against Virginia, it became very evident that Oregon's power run game is lacking from the past few years.

    It's nice when you have a guy like De'Anthony Thomas who can counter that by darting outside and scoring on the edge, but there are going to be moments this year when the team has to pound up the middle and get yards the hard way.

    Thomas has held up remarkably well for his size, and he does a great job no matter where the play is designed to go. But he's rarely going to chunk off five- to 10-yard runs up the middle, like Byron Marshall should be doing.

    Marshall bounced back from an underwhelming effort at Virginia to have a nice game against Tennessee. But his only touchdown run came when he took it outside. That's fine, but fans are still waiting to see him consistently get yards up the middle.

    Because the offense is scoring so much, this isn't a major issue. But the team definitely needs to improve it's straight-ahead, power rushing attack.

Deep Throws

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    Marcus Mariota
    Marcus MariotaJonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    How to you make an order of fluffy, blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup and whipped cream even better? Toss in a side of bacon, of course!

    That's what complaining about a lack of deep throws feels like, because the offense has been so good. But it could be impossible to stop with the threat of the deep ball.

    Mariota's three longest passes this season have been 57 yards, 54 yards and 45 yards. All three came against Tennessee and all three were short throws that the receivers gained yards after.

    The star quarterback doesn't have a single deep ball yet, at least in the traditional sense. For the final time, remember that this is not a serious issue. The Ducks have put up as many points as they wanted to in the first few games, and adding in a few deep balls wouldn't have changed a thing.

    But moving forward, connecting on a few big throws is going to open up defenses even more. This in turn could help the power running game.

    During the bye week, Oregon can improve upon its deep routes in preparation for the beginning of the Pac-12 slate.