TUCSON, AZ—The Oregon Ducks and Arizona Wildcats of the Pac-12 kicked off their conference season this Saturday in front of a raucous Wildcats crowd with Oregon coming away with a 56-31 victory.
The Ducks answered early with an opening drive touchdown that went all of 2:42 seconds.
Late into the second quarter the Ducks had made their way to a 35-3 lead, thanks in large part to the Wildcats’ defense being unable to stop the Ducks’ run game and the receivers’ inability to catch the football.
It was Arizona’s seniors making the vast majority of the Wildcats’ errors, and head coach Mike Stoops was in fits all night.
The Ducks had several key players who stepped up, but also some areas of concern were exposed against the Wildcats.
If you watched this game, you had to have known LaMichael James would be first one on this list. Against the Wildcats, James rushed for a career (individual and school) record of 288 yards on 23 carries (12.2 yards per carry) with two catches for 15 yards and 60 yards on three punt returns (long of 51).
That’s 363 total yards by just James for arguably the best offensive performance by a Ducks player ever. James entered the game ranked No. 13 in the Pac-12 in career rushing yardage, but in one game, he climbed all the way to No. 6 one spot in front of former Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers.
James was the clear MVP for the Ducks.
I don’t know who to blame for the Ducks’ inability to cover Arizona’s passing attack. The Wildcats passed for 398 yards, and let’s be realistic. That passing yardage should be at least 100 more yards if Juron Criner and the other Wildcats’ receivers didn’t drop all of those deep passes by Nick Foles.
You can blame the safeties (Eddie Pleasant, John Boyett) for not coming overtop or being anywhere close. You can blame the corners (Anthony Gildon, Terrence Mitchell, Cliff Harris) for playing too loose of coverage. You can even blame defensive coordinator Nick Allioti and the coaching staff for poor game planning.
Regardless, the Ducks’ secondary needs to get better before they face the likes of USC, Arizona State and Stanford who will tear that secondary apart.
Oregon’s Kenjon Barner is a winner in the sense that he finally seems to be 100 percent back.
After an apparent injury in the opener against LSU, Barner has been inconsistent and nonexistent for the Ducks this season.
Starter LaMichael James has been overworked because of the lack of depth, and having one of the best second-string running back in college football is key for Oregon’s run-heavy offense.
It's going to be great for the Ducks' productivity to finally have Barner back.
De’Anthony Thomas didn’t have a horrible game, but there were several key moments that may hurt his production this season.
The first was the return of Kenjon Barner (previous slide) who now takes his rightful place as second-string running back. The second was yet another muffed punt by Thomas, leading to the switch with LaMichael James, which later went for a 51-yard return.
Thomas’ place as a punt returner will ultimately diminish once Chip Kelly chooses to put in Cliff Harris, and now it appears he’s behind James as well.
The game against the Wildcats was easily the offensive line's best game of the early 2011 season. The line was not penalized nearly as much as previous games, the snaps from the center were crisp, and the production yardage was outstanding.
The reason LaMichael James was able to rush for so many yards (288) was in large part the great upfront blocking from the O-line. You can say it was against a bad Wildcats defense, but the line did look a lot more stable.
It appears that the line is back to the form of past seasons.
Cliff Harris didn’t have a great game for the Ducks.
It doesn’t help that he still isn’t starting and is still in Chip Kelly’s doghouse.
Harris has not been brought back to return punts, and he’s split time at corner with red-shirt freshman Terrence Mitchell.
The Ducks have a bye week before they play the Cal Bears in a Thursday night game, by which time Harris may or not have earned his way back as a starter.
With how poor the Ducks’ secondary has played, Kelly might choose to put Harris in permanently sooner rather than later.