What We Learned: Oregon Ducks Vs Washington State Cougars
Monday, September 22, 2014
As long as Marcus Mariota is upright, the Ducks are a national title contender.
Seems simple enough, possibly even obvious, but it’s impossible to overstate the importance of keeping the Heisman Trophy frontrunner unscathed. Know how some elite players are labeled “difference-makers”? Well, Mariota is a “difference-eraser” - Saturday night in Pullman, it was clear the Cougars’ plan was to prey on an Oregon offensive line that is patchwork at best at the moment, blitzing at will. It was - and remains - a glaring issue, and as a result, Mariota had to repeatedly peel himself off the Martin Stadium turf.
In all, he was sacked seven times.
But you know what? He still threw five touchdowns, misfiring on ONE pass in the second half. Have any idea how hard that is to do? In practice? Against air?
Mariota is a transcendent talent, and sure, the Ducks might suffer a little once he’s gone. Until then, however, Oregon remains a handful (and then some) for every opponent left on the schedule - and maybe one or two in a potential playoff.
It’s hard to win in conference play, especially on the road.
Winning is always better than the alternative - imagine how Mike Leach feels right now. Think the Washington State coach wouldn’t change places with Mark Helfrich, who seemed relieved to have escaped with a 38-31 triumph? Oh, there’s plenty of things for the Ducks to work on, as Helfrich is well aware, but the idea - the mission - is to emerge victorious each week.
Four up, four down. So far, so good.
Clearly, there are areas of concern - in order: the offensive line, the lack of defensive pass rush and maybe the defense in general. The latter was lit up by Connor Halliday although the Ducks always managed to make a play - see DeForest Buckner’s third-quarter forced fumble and Tony Washington’s fourth-quarter sack - when the situation called for one.
So, with said...
The bye week is coming at just the right time.
Next up is a Thursday night thriller at Autzen against Arizona - and a shot at redemption following last year’s thrashing in Tucson.
As in, Thursday, Oct. 2, which is 10 days from today.
Whether it’s the return of fallen offensive linemen or simply tightening up some schemes/assignment, there is much work to be addressed in the trenches. Neither Helfrich nor Mariota bit post-game on the constant queries about the offensive line, which speaks to fine leadership.
There is no point in ripping a makeshift unit that featured a true freshman and a walk-on junior.
Instruction and time is necessary to correct those miscues. It’s not a talent issue as much as it’s a personnel problem - everyone is on the roster for a reason, but when you’re pressed into action without much preparation, it’s difficult.
Long-term, Oregon should be better for the inactivity.