Talent level pushes Oregon higher
Notebook: Teams looking to rediscover the red zone ... and fast
Take a trip inside Oregon head coach Chip Kelly’s mind and you might find yourself lost in a vast forest of ideas. Trees stretch across the expanse, spreading out their arms and fingers to full extension, each neon yellow branch masked with leaves featuring pictures of ESPN’s Scott van Pelt and phrases like “Danny Boy.” The natives of his imagination, clad in every combination of green and yellow, run wildly along rivers of liquid metal, communicating only through complex hand motions in which only one-fourth of gestures truly mean something.
You might imagine Kelly’s imagination would look something like this because of the way he designs schemes on the field. The Ducks’ offense has no floors and no ceilings. The depth chart is a sinkhole of talent, swallowing opponents who test its ability. Opponents truly have no idea what is coming next with such a variety of different players of many talents.
Take, for example, Saturday’s game against Arizona. Six different Ducks had more than 10 yards rushing. Three had more than 40. All of Oregon’s runners combined for 228 yards on the ground and two scores.
Tight end Colt Lyerla had, prior to the Arizona game, just six receptions for 54 yards and two touchdowns. He had no rushing attempts. Saturday, however, was a different story. The 6-foot-5 tight end found himself lining up in the backfield on several occasions to take handoffs. He finished with seven carries for 63 yards and a touchdown. Needless to say, it was all but expected by the Wildcats.
Yet despite such a tremendous offensive performance by the Ducks, their defense has improved game by game, Saturday’s shutout being their pinnacle of achievement to date this season. The performance by the defense had offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich beaming after the game.
“Every possible superlative for our defense was awesome, just awesome to watch,” Helfrich said. “Those guys have worked their tails off, as has everybody.”
His sentiments may have generated from the fact that the defense was an equal contributor to the offense. Defensive end Dion Jordan said the Ducks’ defense has been waiting to get on the board all year. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill ended that wait, each scoring on interception returns.
Points have come from so many sources for Oregon. On Saturday, the Ducks scored twice by air, twice by land and twice on defense. Even kicker Rob Beard caught a pass from punter Jackson Rice for a two-point conversion. Folks may wonder if there are any ways the Ducks can’t score.
With such potent scorers and a defense improving with each play (and LSU stumbling against Auburn), Oregon deserves recognition in the national title conversation. Don’t be surprised to hear just that in the weeks to come.
Arizona (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12)
• Back to Earth it is for the Wildcats. Week 4 is often said to be the best chance to fully understand a team. Now each team in the Pac-12 has a conference foe or two out of the way and for Arizona it did not go as well as expected. The Wildcats are in need of damage control more than anything to make the landing back on the home planet as soft as possible.
• A soft landing is not as easy with Oregon State and Stanford waiting the Cats. Quarterback Matt Scott was stunned Saturday and the sooner Scott can put the Oregon loss behind him and return to playing how he did in the first three weeks, the better off he and his team will be.
• A paramount statistic from Saturday for Rich Rodriguez: the Wildcats reached the red zone six times. As evidenced by the score, they failed to convert on each trip.
Next Game: vs. Oregon State Sept. 29
Arizona State (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12)
• Saturday’s win against Utah was therapeutic for the Sun Devils to prove to themselves that they can still punish a worthy opponent after falling short against Mizzou in Week 3.
• Arizona State is a mysterious team that has proven it can pile on points and keep its foot on the gas, yet is still vulnerable to defeat. The Devils have toppled decent competition in Utah and Illinois, but also lost to Missouri. In the coming weeks they face Cal and Colorado, two teams that can be easily defeated but won’t stand out on a resume. With an idle week sandwiched between, Arizona State could be an underwhelming 5-1 heading into its contest with Oregon Week 8.
Next Game: at California Sept. 29
California (1-3, 0-1 Pac-12)
• Cal’s woes in the trenches continue. The Golden Bears have given up 13 sacks in two games, leaving quarterback Zach Maynard on the turf more often than he’d like. Improving protection should be Cal’s No. 1 priority moving forward as Maynard is far too talented to end so many plays on the ground.
• Brendan Bigelow only received four carries against Southern Cal. Although he did not equal the 160 yards he had the previous week on those four carries, the point stands that he is dangerous with the ball in his hands but isn't getting it. Bigelow averaged nearly eight yards per carry against the Trojans.
Next Game: vs. Arizona State Sept. 29
Colorado (1-3, 1-0 Pac-12)
• Jordan Webb proved his toughness – head coach Jon Embree called it “the heart of the Buffalo” – in CU's win against Washington State. Prior to Week 4, Webb completed just 50 percent of his passes. He completed 69 percent Saturday with 345 yards and two touchdowns. The Buffs need that type of performance from their leader if they want to avoid the embarrassing season pundits expected them to have.
• Colorado may have a good draw on its hands. Washington State appeared after Week 3 to be turning things around. After beating a team with momentum and energy, the Buffs face a reeling UCLA team post-heartbreak to Oregon State. To take advantage, though, Webb will need to be at his best.
Next Game: vs. UCLA Sept. 29
No. 2 Oregon (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12)
• Oregon is clicking on all cylinders with an entirely-too-deep offense and a rapidly improving defense. The Ducks are quickly becoming one of the most well-rounded teams in the nation, assuming the defense continues to play like it is the real deal.
• The Ducks have another defensive test this week against Washington State. The Cougars have thrown the ball extremely well -- as had Arizona prior to Week 4 -- so Oregon will again have its hands full. The Ducks' defense must relish these opportunities against talented offenses – offenses they can also outscore – in preparation for the later weeks of the season in which they will face Southern Cal, Stanford and Oregon State.
Next Game: at Washington State Sept. 29
Oregon State (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12)
• Perhaps now, after two games, media and fans can accurately judge Oregon State’s football team. The judgment: pretty darn good. The Beavers’ only two opponents – Wisconsin and UCLA – have been ranked in the top 25. OSU slowed Wisconsin to a snail’s pace and left UCLA in the dust. It would appear the Beavers have the ability to adjust their playing style to the opponent, making them difficult to plan for.
• Storm Woods, aside from having a cool name, is explosive on offense. Woods ran for almost five yards per carry, reeling off a 23-yard run in the process. He can set the pace of next week’s game with a speedy Arizona squad. The Wildcats are fast, but the Beavers have the choice of slowing things down (as seen against Wisconsin) or speeding things up (as seen against UCLA). Woods is the pace car.
Next Game: at Arizona Sept. 29
No. 13 Southern Cal (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12)
• Southern Cal still has not dazzled as expected. The Trojans’ opening drive Saturday ended in a Matt Barkley interception in the red zone. They allowed Cal to hang within one possession until the start of the fourth quarter. The Trojans play well enough to win, but leave the door open for upset to unsuspecting opponents.
• Matt Barkley has not played Heisman-caliber football. He finished two games with less than 200 passing yards. One game in which he did eclipse the 200 mark – against Stanford – he completed less than 50 percent of his passes with no touchdowns. Chances are it won’t affect Barkley’s draft status, but it could spell trouble for the Trojans who are idle next week. USC is not in championship mode despite the lofty expectations to start the season. There’s a spark missing from this team after it lost its chance at a signature win to start the conference schedule.
Next Game: at Utah Oct. 4
No. 8 Stanford (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12)
• The Cardinal are in prime position to grab a pair of wins before a showdown with Notre Dame Oct. 13. Washington and Arizona are beatable opponents. But beating Southern Cal did not grant the Cardinal invincibility. The Huskies and Wildcats are both hungry for signature wins to bolster their bowl resume, so the Cardinal should keep a keen eye.
Next Game: at Washington Sept. 27
UCLA (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12)
• Oregon State punched the Bruins in the mouth. Still riding the high of a 3-0 start, UCLA was caught off-guard by the Beavers. The offense was relatively static and Johnathan Franklin was rendered useless. The Bruins bumped the high rail, but didn’t fall off the horse. Colorado should be an easy victory for the Bruins, as long as they can put the shock of their first loss behind them.
• The Buffs are obviously vulnerable to the pass, as seen against Washington State. Brett Hundley has played well for UCLA and he has quite the target in Shaq Evans. The two connected six times for 148 yards including a 65-yard touchdown against Oregon State. They’ll have a chance at a field day in Boulder this weekend.
Next Game: at Colorado Sept. 29
Utah (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12)
• The Utes need an identity. Each week fans have no idea what to expect when Utah takes the field. In four weeks, the Utes have blown out and been blown out, won a close game and lost a close game.
• Now idle for a week before a three-game onslaught of USC, UCLA and Oregon State in that order, Utah needs to find its rock. Is it Jon Hays at quarterback with or without a healthy dose of Travis Wilson? Is it John White, Kelvin York or both in the backfield? How can they get Kenneth Scott, a tall and talented wide receiver, the ball more often? Questions remain but time to find the answer does not.
Next Game: vs. Southern Cal Oct. 4
• The Huskies have their eyes set on a signature win. Their first crack came against LSU, which, a 38-point defeat later, did not go as planned. But after a comforting win against Portland State, Washington has rediscovered the end zone and put itself in position for another attempt to prove itself worthy against Stanford.
Next Game: vs. Stanford Sept. 27
Washington State (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12)
• Everyone knew the Cougars had trouble putting teams away. That is one of the pitfalls of such a pass heavy offense as Mike Leach’s. It finally caught up with them Saturday as they allowed Colorado to stage a comeback and win a game that once seemed to be well in-hand. They need to figure out a consistent way keep opponents tied down so they don't give up many more 17-point leads.
• On the bright side, Wazzou’s passing game is stellar. The changing of the guard from Jeff Tuel to Connor Halliday at quarterback did wonders for the Cougars’ offense. Halliday, in two and a half games’ worth of action, has racked up 855 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Gabe Marks and Marquess Wilson may be the best wide receiver tandem in the Pac-12 behind Robert Woods and Marqise Lee at Southern Cal. The passing game is the Cougars’ bread and butter. If they find a way to finish games, all will be gravy.
Next Game: vs. Oregon Sept. 29