Oregon at Arizona Recap and What’s Different About This Team
Oregon beat Arizona 56-31 with the defense looking like they were sleepwalking the second half. There are a lot of positives to take away from this game, especially on offense, but it also raised a lot of questions.
I’ve decided that looking at any trends or stats from the LSU game doesn’t add a lot to the conversation. The defense and rushing attack LSU has is video game good. After watching LSU the last three weeks easily handle Mississippi State and West Virginia this defense has proved that it is hard to even run plays against them. LSU’s offensive line and running backs can run against everyone. If (and I’m a huge hater on ifs) Oregon doesn’t turn the ball over in the third quarter, maybe that game goes differently. The score certainly would be much closer. LSU has blown up every line of scrimmage on every play. It’s clearly LSU and Alabama in a two-team race for the national title. The biggest shame is that only one of them is going to make the conference championship game.
The offensive line and LaMichael James finally got things together. LaMichael James averaged 12.6 yards a carry and broke the Oregon single game rushing record, held by Onterrio Smith’s performance at Washington State, with 288 yards and two touchdowns. James had four rushes for over 20 yards, one of which was over 40. And to everyone that thinks LaMichael James, I think you’re crazy. The people who caught LaMichael were so far ahead of him and took perfect lines to barely catch him. He is running so hard and well between the tackles and after contact while still maintaining speed in the open field.
Kenjon Barner returned for his first game since the season opener against LSU. Barner had 13 carries for 72 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also caught a pass for a touchdown. Kenjon Barner looked really good for his first game back and obviously benefited from taking the last two games off.
What’s more surprising than Kenjon’s quick return to play at a high level, is the decrease in De’Anthony Thomas’ touches. De’Anthony Thomas had one carry for three yards and one reception for 19 yards. This shocks me, because against LSU he looked like the best offensive player when he had the ball in his hands. He improved so much over the last two weeks I thought he was going to be a much more important part of the offense even when Barner got back.
On another note, Darron Thomas kept the ball a lot. He had ten carries for 52 yards and two touchdowns. Arizona clearly came out in the first quarter and made a statement that Darron Thomas would be taking all the carries. They did this by having the read player always flowing to LaMichael James. Darron Thomas then shredded the defense for first downs. So now hopefully fans will stop complaining about Darron Thomas keeping the ball some times to make the defense play honest. They are playing honest by keeping an end at home, that’s the whole point of the read option. If you have Darron Thomas keep the ball when the defensive player respects the run and stays home, you’re putting Darron Thomas at risk and avoiding the entire basis of the read option. Obviously he wasn’t hesitant to carry the last few games and this is purely a function of how the defense reacts.
The running game was so strong this week that Darron Thomas only had to throw the ball 20 times. He completed 11 of those passes with many drops. There’s still a little too small of a sample size against good competition with the receivers, but some of them appear to be struggling to make plays.
Arizona attempted more rushes, 35, than they have any other game so far. Teams probably see
the defensive line and Oregon’s rush defense as a weakness, and the Wildcats tried a lot to see what worked. The interior of the line looked a little vulnerable and let a few big runs happen when Arizona had two lead blockers out of the full house formation. While the box score shows the Wildcats had a yard per carry of 2.3, the top four running backs had a yards per carry of 4 or higher. Not good for this defense against a team that is one-dimensional.
The inexperience in the linebackers is really showing in all facets of the game. All the great Oregon teams have had great running backs. Casey Matthews and Spencer Paysinger led the 2009 and 2010 defenses, which won conference titles. 2007 had Jerome Boyd, Patrick Chung at rover, and A.J. Tuitele. The linebackers have trouble supporting the line on rush defense. It seems like if the running backs get past the line of scrimmage they will get to the secondary. They also seem a little lost on pass defense and left the defensive backs out to dry.
There were a lot of Arizona plays that almost went for big gains but the Ducks lucked out because of an off-target pass or dropped pass. There were at least three plays where there were wide-open receivers but the pass was a few yards off. There were also multiple third down passes that would have moved the chains had they not been dropped by the Wildcat receivers, and they were easy catches to make. This game got out of hand early and the Wildcats weren’t able to dig out of their hole. Arizona still got outscored in the 2nd half 21-18, but if something like that had happened in the first half, then anything could have happened in Tucson. Winning ugly is a trait of championship teams, and the Ducks won ugly in a blowout.
What concerns me most about this team is that this doesn’t feel like one of Chip Kelly’s teams we’ve seen the last couple years. After the Missouri State game there were players saying they took the bears lately. The defense looked like it took the second half off (or maybe Arizona finally started connecting, which I’ve already said that they didn’t do in the first. So really this could go either way). From an outsiders perspective it doesn’t feel like this team has the same stone-cold concentration that the previous years teams did. But, if I’m totally wrong I couldn’t be happier about it. It’s not like what I think what the team thinks actually matters. As long as the team is staying focused from here on out, and winning games Monday through Friday rather than on Saturday alone, then we’ll be laughing all the way to the Rose Bowl.