The Ducks rallied late to edge past in-state rival Oregon State in the regular-season finale and annual Civil War matchup. The Ducks' 10th win of the year won't get Oregon to any championship games this season, but it keeps the Ducks in BCS at-large contention.
While it's odd to think no one is talking about Oregon when it comes to the Pac-12 or national title race—losses to Stanford and Arizona took care of that—we still saw some impressive things from Mark Helfrich's team on Friday evening at Autzen Stadium.
We'll go over some of them here in our weekly rundown of 10 things we learned about the Ducks.
When you face a quarterback like Sean Mannion, "bend, but don't break" might be a good philosophy to follow. But it wasn't just Mannion who was torching the Ducks defense early.
Oregon State running back Terron Ward put up 145 yards on the Ducks, and the Beavers ran for 231 yards despite giving back 28 yards' worth of sacks. All of this coming from a team that was 11th in the conference in terms of rushing offense (72.8 rushing yards per game through 11 games).
But critically, Ward was kept out of the end zone, and many of the impressive drives from Oregon State ended in stops, turnovers or field goals.
Sacks can be drive-killers, and Oregon certainly did a good job of bottling up Mannion in the first half. But these sacks not only led to losses, they led to big losses.
Mannion, throughout his career at Oregon State, has shown an innate ability to overcome negative yardage to convert for first downs. Mannion is an accurate quarterback (29-of-47 for 314 yards passing against Oregon) who can find receivers anywhere on the field. But even the best quarterbacks have a hard time recovering from 2nd-and-25—especially when the defense is swarming around the backfield.
The Ducks placed enough pressure on Mannion early to cause some premature throws, and it was clear late in the game that he hadn't forgotten about it.
For most of the game, Oregon's secondary did a nice job of downfield coverage. The Pac-12's all-time leader in single-season receptions, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, was "limited" to 11 receptions (117 yards), but no touchdowns and a long of 31.
But with all of the focus the Ducks put on Cooks, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion was able to find receivers underneath the coverage for important late-down yardage. While limiting the big play is certainly important from a momentum standpoint, several of those drives ended in points for the Beavers.
On evenings when the Oregon offense struggles to put up 60 points, any scores for the opposition are important, and leaving a linebacker in place for intermediate coverage should be an important consideration for the coaching staff heading into bowl season.
Despite going the first 10 games of the season without throwing an interception, Mariota has now thrown four picks in the past two games, including two against Oregon State. Combine that with the losses to Stanford and Arizona, and Mariota has likely played his way out of serious Heisman consideration for the 2013 season.
It's worth noting, however, that Mariota still carries a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 30 to four this season.
While Mariota is still one of the best quarterbacks in the nation—which he proved again late in the game—there are still some rough edges that should be smoothed over before he thinks about moving his career to the professional level.
There's also the lingering concern over his knee. He hasn't been quite the same "hair on fire" kind of signal-caller we have come to expect since the injury, and there are sure to be some NFL staffs out there concerned about his long-term viability and durability (think Robert Griffin III). If Mariota wanted to put all of those fears to rest, and thrill the daylights out of Ducks fans, he would announce right now he's returning for another year in Eugene.
Oregon entered the game against Oregon State allowing 158.3 yards per game on the ground. That's not spectacular, but certainly not terrible by any means, either. Oregon State, on the other hand, had the second-worst rushing attack in the conference, averaging less than 73 yards per game.
We expected a big Oregon advantage in this category. Instead, what we witnessed was a Beavers ground game that ran almost at will against the Ducks, including two players with at least 73 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns and a total of 231 yards.
Not what we expected from Oregon State, certainly not against Oregon.
If the Ducks are going to have success in their bowl game this season, they better either spend a great deal of time shoring things up on the defensive side of the ball or hope to draw a team that doesn't run the ball very well.
Then again, before this game, Oregon State didn't run the ball very well, so...
With players like De'Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota possibly looking to take their talents to the NFL next year, Oregon fans are left asking who will be the next big offensive superstar in Eugene. We might have our answer.
Thomas Tyner, a freshman, put on the performance of his young career against Oregon State, rushing for 140 yards and a touchdown on 22 strong carries. It's clear to anyone watching this youngster run that the offensive backfield will be well looked after when Mariota and Thomas leave campus.
We mentioned earlier that when Oregon got pressure on Mannion in the first half, it disrupted the Beavers' rhythm and resulted in sacks, incomplete passes and punts. As the game wore on, however, Oregon State began to find much more room downfield, and that was thanks in large part to a near complete lack of pressure on Mannion.
There are a lot of teams across the country that don't have a quarterback like Sean Mannion, but even they would have been able to find some success given the amount of time Mannion had in the pocket. Oregon's defensive line was putting up only token resistance late against Oregon State. Had Mannion felt heat more often, this game wouldn't have been nearly as close.
And against better competition, defensive performances like this will undo the Ducks.
In stark contrast to many teams, Oregon is clearly a squad that not only rises to a challenge but also relishes it and thrives on the adrenaline.
Maybe it goes hand in hand with the pace the Ducks like to run plays or the fact that Oregon is built as a quick-strike team, but without an urgency to gain big yards and score quickly, Oregon almost seems lost. The Ducks clearly play best early, when momentum is up for grabs, and late, when the score is close and the game still in doubt.
We saw that again versus Oregon State. Rather than the middling performance from the second and third quarters, Oregon found its footing in the fourth quarter and rallied to answer—and then beat—Oregon State when it mattered most.
Any team can win a game after building a four-touchdown lead. But truly good teams can win the tight contests that test mettle.
It's pretty rare to see a home crowd jeer the officiating crew when they stop a game in the fourth quarter to add time to the clock when the home team has the ball and is trailing. But that's exactly the reaction we saw from the folks at Autzen on Friday evening.
With less than two minutes to go, Oregon began a classic Oregon drive, moving quickly down the field. After a first down, the clock continued to run for just two seconds before it stopped to move the chains. When the referee stopped the game and instructed the timekeeper to add the two seconds back, there was a distinct mixture of cheers and boos from the partisan crowd is Eugene.
If you run an offense like Oregon, rhythm is everything. Running a play every 15 to 20 seconds has a way of not only gassing the defense, but also not allowing for adjustments. It's a huge advantage to the offense if it can be executed correctly, and the Ducks have made their names on doing just that.
Anything that throws all of that out of sync is cause for concern.
It's not just the officials, either. Oregon State's defense had success against Oregon's running game through the middle part of the game, and it was evident that unexpected setbacks rattled Oregon and its play-calling scheme.
Teams that live by the hurry-up also die by the hurry-up. Once the train leaves the tracks, it's difficult—if not impossible—to start things up again. It's almost a foregone conclusion that the drive will end in a punt, and the offense has to reset for its next drive.
So go ahead and boo, Oregon fans. We get it.
Oregon won't be playing for a national championship this season. Somewhat surprisingly, Oregon won't even be playing for a Pac-12 title this season. But that doesn't mean the Ducks aren't one of the best teams in the nation.
From a new head coach to injuries to setbacks to unexpectedly close one-point rivalry games after entering as 23.5-point favorites, Oregon has overcome adversity time and time again in 2013 and still emerged as a 10-win program for the sixth straight season. It's clear that Oregon also possesses the talent to not only compete with, but also possibly beat almost any team from any conference on any given Saturday.
Sure, the "We Want 'Bama" shirts and signs and tweets may have been a bit premature; it's a classic case of taking care of your own business first. But who's to say Oregon couldn't beat Alabama? Who's to say Oregon wouldn't best the top teams in the other "power conferences," such as Ohio State or Michigan State? Baylor or Florida State?
Oregon may have its shot. With the win, Oregon is almost assured of staying in that all-important Top 12 in the BCS rankings. The Ducks will be eligible for a BCS at-large berth, and based on the level of pure talent the Ducks ooze out of Autzen, we think it wouldn't be right if Oregon wasn't the second Pac-12 team in the BCS this season.
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