The Oregon Ducks took care of business against South Dakota to the tune of 62-13. Despite the margin of victory, there is plenty of work to be done in Eugene this week, as the Ducks prepare to face eighth-ranked Michigan State.
The biggest issue for the Ducks tonight was mental errors. Simply put, the Ducks will not beat the Spartans if they make the mental mistakes they made tonight.
There’s no doubt that the Ducks offense looked as fast and potent as ever. Forty-one points in the first half, on seven possessions, is nothing to scoff at. On the night, the Ducks racked up 672 yards of total offense in a a balanced attack (380 passing yards, 292 rushing).
Marcus Mariota threw for 276 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran the ball six times for 43 yards and a touchdown. Royce Freeman, the freshman sensation, scored two touchdowns on his first three carries and finished the night with 86 yards on eleven touches. The young wide receivers looked poised, as did the offensive line. But the player who looked the most impressive also committed the most glaring mental lapse of the game.
Byron Marshall, the Pac-12’s leading returning rusher, had perhaps his best game as a Duck. Marshall caught eight passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing another 89 yards on eight carries.
However, late in the second quarter Marshall took a hand off from Mariota 52 yards and looked to have found the end zone, which would have been his second touchdown of the night. Instead, Marshall pulled a Leon Lett (or a DeSean Jackson depending on your age) and dropped the ball at the one-yard line thinking he had already scored. The play was reviewed and Marshall had indeed dropped the ball before crossing the goal line and the play resulted in a touchback instead of a touchdown.
While Marshall’s gaffe may have been the most memorable mental error of the night, it certainly wasn’t the only one.
Oregon committed five penalties in the first quarter alone, two of which were for unsportsmanlike conduct. All in all, the Ducks committed nine penalties for 67 yards. The Ducks also missed a PAT at the end of the first half, which was caused by a bad snap and a fumble on the hold.
Oregon’s defense also contributed significantly to the mental lapses. The Ducks defense gave up 13 first-half points, which isn’t terrible until you consider the opponent. Not only did the defense give up 13 first-half points, but they also missed an alarming number of tackles along the way.
In 2013 the Ducks defense was very solid but also had the reputation of missing open-field tackles. They once again played to that reputation against South Dakota. If the Ducks are going to take down a team like Michigan State next week, they'll have to do a better job of wrapping up ball-carriers. Michigan State has one of the strongest rushing attacks in the nation, and the Ducks gave up 172 yards on the ground tonight.
That’s a recipe for disaster.
Oregon’s defense in general seemed to lack an attitude and swagger. The Ducks played a lot of young players, most of whom were making their first appearance as starters. Perhaps that’s the reason they were a little bit tentative. However, Michigan State’s offense isn’t going to care about how experienced the Ducks defense is.
Oregon needs to get their ducks in a row defensively before next week’s game. New defensive coordinator Don Pellum must make this a teaching moment for his young unit and ensure that the missed tackles aren't a trend going forward.
All in all the Ducks played a solid game against an inferior opponent. The offense played efficiently, Mariota threw the ball very well and the playmakers made big plays. The Ducks calmed down in the second half, and the backups played some solid football. However, there’s a lot of work to be done between now and next Saturday when the Spartans come marching into Autzen Stadium.
The Oregon coaches know that if they’re going to beat Michigan State there can’t be any of the mental errors committed by their team tonight. But that’s why they play tune-up games. The Ducks will put this big win behind them, clean up the errors, get their minds right and come ready to play Michigan State next weekend.
Follow Jason Gold on twitter @TheSportsGuy33.