Someone forgot to tell New Mexico not to play at Oregon in early September.
Coming into the game, Oregon was a blistering 16-1 in home openers the last 17 years. Simply said, the Ducks are almost unstoppable when it comes to their opening game.
Looking ahead, in those same 17 years, the Ducks are a mere .500 in their first road game of the season. The Ducks, who look to be a championship caliber team this season, can ill afford an early season loss. A win next week at Tennessee would go a long way to silence the still large number of Pac-10 critics.
The Ducks season officially started Saturday, and players couldn’t have been happier. After an offseason that saw Oregon players dominate the headlines for their off the field troubles, it was nice to see a positive story once again.
After this first game, all suspensions are lifted and the Ducks will finally have their full roster once again. Players and fans alike are now hopeful that the rest of the season will provide images of touchdowns and celebrations rather than the mug shots seen just months ago.
If there was one criticism of the Ducks in years past, it’s that they tend to look ahead to their opponents. Especially in early season games, the Ducks have seen their National title hopes crumble in the wake of unworthy opponents.
This year, that was not the case.
Most Oregonians will tell you the Ducks season really begins next week when the 11th ranked Ducks visit Tennessee. It would have been easy to look past New Mexico and focus on this tough SEC matchup; however, the Ducks showed the type of execution a championship team needs week in and out.
Talk about making a name for yourself.
Sophomore Kenjon Barner was accustom to playing just a quarter and half last year as he saw limited time in the backfield. Saturday, Barner played just a quarter and a half for a much different reason.
Barner looked untouchable as he racked up nearly 150 yards and four touchdowns rushing in just the first half. Add a 60-yard receiving touchdown and Barner was merely a fantasy dream. Though he was in the backfield sparingly last season, Barner attributes his experience as a kick returner to his running success.
“It helps me see the entire field. I’m able to see lanes better and find the holes,” Barner told me after the game.
In a word: no. Oregon played five different running backs Saturday (and a QB converted running back), none of which was the All Pac-10 running back from last season, LaMichael James.
James, who is serving a one game suspension for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor offense in the offseason, watched in awe from the sidelines as his teammates rushed for over 350 yards.
Oregon fans hope this trend continues, but also want to see their star running back on the field for the rest of the season. That should happen, as the Ducks, who have a young and inexperienced quarterback in Darron Thomas, will rely heavily on the run game again this season.
In another word: no. Glooming thoughts from the departure of former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli were long gone Saturday.
The biggest question during the offseason was how Oregon was going to replace the star QB. Duck fans’ worries were put to rest, at least for now, as both Darron Thomas and Nate Costa showed composure, good decision-making, and the leadership needed to command the team.
If a 72-0 win wasn’t good enough, a rye smile lurked across the faces of Oregon fans, as Masoli’s new team, Ole Miss, was beaten in double overtime by FCS Jacksonville State at home.
Those who know Chip Kelly understand the coach literally obsesses over game planning for each opponent. In fact, Kelly gets so prepared for each game that he prepares more then 70 offensive plays even before the game starts.
Saturday’s game, however, was almost over before it began.
With the Ducks scoring 59 points in the first half, almost every starter was out by the time the Ducks took the field after halftime. Scouts must beware that they saw probably only half of what was in the playbook for Saturday’s game. One can only wonder how many points this team could score with a full array of players and plays.
Darron Thomas made his first start at quarterback for the Ducks on Saturday, and while it was a win, there is still a lot to be determined about the QB.
Thomas, who ended the day (or the half) with over 200 yards and two touchdowns, saw little to no rush and was never put in a third and long situation.
The Ducks’ next few opponents will test the QB and show whether the Sophomore can handle the pressures of being a Pac-10 starter.
One thing can be can be certain from Saturday’s game, New Mexico is not Tennessee.
Speed is something the Ducks pride themselves on. Not many teams, including New Mexico, are able to keep up with them. However, Tennessee’s speed out of the SEC will surely test the Ducks come the 11th.
Former Oregon coach Mike Belotti used to end each pregame speech with one phrase. The coach would say nothing more than “Special Teams” and the 105 players surrounding the locker room would respond in unison with “Be Special.” Coach Belotti would have been proud by the Ducks performance on Saturday.
Oregon, who always finishes the season highly ranked in kickoff and punt return average, started the season off strong. Sophomore cornerback Cliff Harris retuned two straight punts for touchdowns in the second quarter.
Punt returns and kickoffs were the only part of special teams fans got to see on Saturday as the Ducks were never put in a punting situation and only returned a kickoff to start the game. It should be noted that the Ducks’ special teams could be the difference in this week’s matchup versus Tennessee.