After being overmatched against a dominant Stanford defense, the Oregon offensive line struggled for much of the game against Utah on Saturday. The Ducks allowed three sacks and averaged just 4.17 yards per rush, despite averaging 6.67 yards per attempt through their first nine games.
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota has been dealing with a strained MCL since the UCLA game and was severely limited in responding to constant pressure from the Cardinal linebackers in the Ducks' 26-20 loss.
His knee was still a concern leading up to the matchup with the Utes, but it appeared to hold up against their better-than-advertised defense. The sacks and Mariota's limited mobility led to a second consecutive game in which he finished with a negative-yardage total on the ground.
In fairness, the Utes led the country with 3.67 sacks per game prior to the matchup with the No. 6 Ducks. They also were holding opponents to just 3.50 yards per carry through nine games.
For the game, the Ducks allowed fewer sacks than Utah's average and earned a higher yards-per-carry average, but they didn't approach Oregon's averages. The offensive line didn't do the Ducks any favors in the first half.
Not only did the Ducks commit three false-start penalties, but the usually dominant Oregon rushing attack was also held in check.
Between Byron Marshall, De'Anthony Thomas and Thomas Tyner, Oregon rushed 12 times for 33 yards before halftime. If you add in the three sacks allowed, which the official statistics do, the Ducks had just 10 yards on 15 attempts.
The Ducks came out stronger after halftime in all aspects of the game, especially on the ground. Aided by runs of 16, 17 and 21 yards from Marshall and a 21-yard run from Tyner, the Ducks totaled 135 yards on 20 second-half carries.
With center Hroniss Grasu and tackles Jake Fisher and Tyler Johnstone leading the way, there is no reason for the Ducks to struggle the way they have of late. All three are multiyear starters who appear headed to the NFL.
Stanford and Utah both have very strong defensive fronts that cause problems for any team they face, but Oregon has to figure out a way to win the battles up front if it hopes to get over the stigma that it's a finesse team.
Through the season's first eight games, Oregon rushed 383 times for 2,652 yards and 38 touchdowns. In the past two games, the Ducks have managed just 207 yards and two touchdowns on 59 carries.
The Oregon ground game has sputtered despite a talented group of running backs taking turns lining up alongside Mariota in the backfield.
When the star quarterback is dealing with a knee injury, a veteran offensive line should perform better than Oregon's has of late. It has allowed 6.5 sacks in the last two games, after only giving up just 9.5 sacks in the season's first eight games.
Arizona and Oregon State are next on the schedule, and the Ducks would normally run all over such teams. But their recent struggles along the offensive line could force the Ducks to rely more on quick passes to keep Mariota's knee intact.