How Will Oregon Football Respond the 1st Time It's Really Challenged?
Some team, at some point, will force Oregon into a competitive game. When that time comes, the Ducks have proved they're prepared to take an opponent's best shot and respond in kind—and then some.
Oregon will face much greater challenges in its remaining schedule than anything four BCS conference teams with a combined 8-12 record have provided.
However, Saturday's 57-16 rout of Colorado was the latest evidence that trying to keep pace won't test the Ducks for long, no matter how deep a coach goes into his playbook.
Colorado provided the stiffest first-quarter challenge Oregon has seen yet, holding two separate leads of 3-0 and 10-8.
Head coach Mike MacIntyre's only hope was to throw every haymaker in the arsenal early, including wide receiver Paul Richardson's 75-yard touchdown pass to wideout D.D. Goodson off a double-reverse.
MacIntyre only had so many of these unexpected, explosive calls in his playbook before the well ran dry.
From that point, the Ducks did what they've done all season—unleashed a suffocating barrage.
Sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota scored five of his seven touchdowns in the first half, and four after the Ducks fell behind on Richardson's scoring pass. Mariota's career day powered the decisive deluge.
Mariota has routinely delivered the early round knockout punch. His ever-improving passing touch—he threw five touchdowns Saturday—and his explosive rushing ability are the counterstrike head coach Mark Helfrich dials up after the Ducks have taken their opponent's best shot.
Mariota has Oregon on a pace that's torrid even by its own standard. With Saturday's 57 points, the 2013 Ducks entered a chapter of college football lore none of the previous Oregon offensive machines reached, per Andrew Greif of The Oregonian.
This run is even more remarkable when considering that the Ducks have pulled almost entirely off the throttle in fourth quarters.
How Oregon performs when an opponent's challenge extends beyond the first 15 minutes is the great unknown. It could remain that way until the Ducks face the one foe that made them score in the fourth quarter last year: the Stanford Cardinal.
Two of Oregon's upcoming, currently Top 15-ranked opponents are teams that want to match the Ducks' tempo. This five-game stretch reinforces that this isn't a sustainable strategy.
Up first are the Washington Huskies, which waited until the third quarter in wins over Boise State, Illinois and Arizona before seizing control.
Their offensive pace and defense have worn down opponents, turning a decent 31-12 advantage through the first half of those three games into a more impressive 49-24 edge in third quarters.
Who will be the first opponent to challenge Oregon?
Washington cannot simply wear down Oregon as it has its other FBS-level opponents. The Ducks are too adept at establishing the tempo in the first half, as they continue to demonstrate every week into this season.
UCLA is constructed similarly to Washington, thriving after halftime. Since neither have shown to be particularly hot-starting teams, Oregon is more likely to be able to establish tempo in the first half.
Oregon's defense is also conditioned to endure fast tempos. The Ducks thrive on it, in fact.
When opponents come out like a house of fire, it only hastens Oregon taking over. To wit, Virginia, Tennessee and Colorado scored a combined 24 points in the first quarter.
While that's not a figure that will wow anyone, it's much more impressive than the 16 the three mustered in their remaining nine combined quarters.
Oregon will see much better uptempo offenses, but the Ducks are built specifically to thrive in those kind of contests.
Conversely, Stanford put away Pac-12 opponents Arizona State and Washington State early. The Cardinal's imposing defense and methodical offense led to leads of 17-3 and 29-0 in the first half of those lopsided Stanford wins.
Stanford was the one opponent against which Oregon failed to dictate tempo a season ago, and their Nov. 7 meeting promises to pose a similar challenge.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.
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