It is easy to look at Oregon's impressive 72-0 win over New Mexico and see all the things that went well for the Ducks. However, the harder and more important aspect to look at is what can be learned from the season opener and what the Ducks need to work on based upon the victory.
Oregon was simply too fast, strong, athletic and experienced for the Lobos to ever have a shot at making the outcome respectable. We all should have expected a 72-0 outcome based upon Oregon's hype and their 2009 season and New Mexico's miserable 2009 campaign. But not all was confirmed on Saturday for the Ducks. A few loose ends are still dangling for the Ducks that must to be wrapped up.
Thomas came into this season as the much-hyped next Dennis Dixon for the Ducks. Dixon was best known for this devastatingly quick movements, sneaky ball-fakes and his ability to run the football when he felt it was needed. Dixon was the perfect quarterback for Chip Kelly's offense.
Thomas may look like Dixon, but his play is far from it so far. Thomas seems to be much more comfortable standing up in the pocket and delivering strikes down the field rather than scrambling around and using his feet to find the open target, which is fine. He shredded the New Mexico defense for 220 yards and two touchdowns in just the first half of the game.
What the Ducks didn't learn was if Thomas can use his wheels to get out of sticky situations. Thomas was never really pressured by the defense and so the question remains: Will Thomas be able to get out of harms way and adapt to the on-the-move QB play that Dixon and Jeremiah Masoli grasped so easily? Or, will Thomas flounder in the pocket while under pressure? Tennessee will likely give us an answer.
Oregon's defense hinges on its speed. Speed is always a very welcome advantage to have on either side of the football. The Ducks can swarm and stop any run play that is run to the outside or any screen play because of their advanced speed and athleticism.
New Mexico didn't have any muscles to flex against the Oregon defensive line and therefore couldn't challenge or answer any of Oregon's physicality questions. Their attempts to run the ball outside didn't provide any positive yards and neither did their pursuits up the middle. But, it was New Mexico.
Does Oregon have the physicality to stop a team that can muscle the ball straight up the middle of the Ducks defense? Will Oregon be "Gerharted" again? Did the Ducks D learn from the Stanford game last year? Tennessee's physical offensive brand of football will hopefully give us an answer for this.
This may seem a bit picky due to his one interception last week, but Thomas should have been more careful with that attempt. On that initial drive against the Lobos, Thomas looked very comfortable and surprisingly relaxed. Once the Ducks got into the red zone, Thomas's demeanor changed. He seemed too confident and slightly cocky.
Thomas' throw was lazy. He didn't have any excuse for throwing that ball. So, hopefully Thomas is replaying and replaying that interception and learning from it. Hopefully he is learning that he cannot get too comfortable or too relaxed at any time while on the field because he is not going to be playing against New Mexico every week. If he doesn't learn from this, Thomas may throw many interceptions this year against quality opponents.
One thing I did love from the interception was that Thomas tracked the defender down and made sure he brought him down in order to limit the damage.
Oregon plays very, very well at home. Most teams do. But what defines teams and what makes special teams special is what they are able to do on the road. In week one, Oregon demonstrated their dominance at Autzen. In week two, Oregon travels to the South, which will show us whether the Ducks can or cannot win on the road in a tough environment.
Neyland Stadium can be an intense place to play because of the capacity and the fact that their fans are rabid and wild. If the Ducks cannot tame the crowd and let them get going behind their team, then this game will probably be close. If Oregon can jump on the Vols early and make sure their crowd is quiet, then the Ducks can cover the spread.
Can the Ducks win on the road? We will see.
New Mexico is obviously not a big-time program. Tennessee, however, is a big boy program. Last time Oregon played a national powerhouse was in the Rose Bowl last season and that didn't go so well. If Oregon hopes to become a legitimate part of the debate regarding national power programs, then they must win this game and do it convincingly. If Oregon pulls out the victory late in the fourth quarter, the win will not bolster its reputation.
If Oregon decimates the Vols, they will be put on the map and make the SEC fan base and programs eat their words for always discounting the PAC-10. Oregon MUST win this game in order to make the argument for the PAC-10. The PAC-10 has the quality of the SEC and we all know it. However, the SEC will never give credit to the PAC-10 without seeing a PAC-10 team defeat one of its teams at home.
Hopefully Oregon can show what the PAC-10 is all about and finally put on a whoopin' in the SEC.