(Here is a story from Gary Horowitz of the Salem (Ore.) Statesman Journal, one of our Gannett partners. For coverage of the Arizona’s opponent this week, check out Statesman Journal’s Oregon Ducks’ page.)
By Gary Horowitz
EUGENE — Imagine being at a Bruce Springsteen concert that you’ve been looking forward to for months. You’re hoping to hear an acoustic version of “Born to Run.”
Anticipation is at a fever pitch.
But before “The Boss” takes center stage, you have to hang in there through three opening acts that don’t exactly register high on the excitement meter. Fatigue has set in.
Consider Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech warmup acts for the Oregon football team (3-0) before the curtain finally goes up on the 2012 season. Bring on No. 24 Arizona.
The fourth-ranked Ducks did what everyone expected Saturday at Autzen Stadium. A 63-14 victory against lower-division opponent Tennessee Tech (2-1) had its highlights, but there was no drama.
“I’m excited for every Saturday, it really doesn’t matter who we play,” defensive end Dion Jordan said.
That may be true, but here’s another fact: Oregon has yet to be tested this season.
Do you think anyone in the sellout crowd of 57,091 was worried after Tennessee Tech scored the first touchdown?
Oregon doesn’t have to apologize for playing a soft early season schedule. Kansas State and New Mexico were originally on the Ducks’ 2012 schedule, but they backed out of an appearance at Autzen. The Ducks had to scramble to fill home dates.
Since coach Chip Kelly took over as head coach in 2009, the Ducks have played Boise State, Purdue, Tennessee and LSU in nonconference games. They aren’t avoiding early season challenges.
Oregon needed a 12th game this season and Tennessee Tech obliged. For a $500,000 payout, the defending Ohio Valley Conference champions stepped up in competition. The Golden Eagles are now 0-29 against Football Bowl Subdivision schools since 1978.
The Ducks amassed 652 total yards and dominated the line of scrimmage. But there were a few red flags … make that yellow flags.
Oregon committed 12 penalties for 105 yards, fumbled three times (losing one), threw two interceptions, and had a field goal blocked. Yet they still won by 49 points.
That kind performance won’t be good enough to beat teams like No. 2 USC and No. 21 Stanford down the road, and the Ducks need to address their miscues this week in preparation for the Pac-12 grind that begins Saturday at home against Arizona.
“You’re not gonna survive with 12 penalties against anyone that’s coming up on our schedule,” Kelly said.
There is reason for concern, but perspective is in order. If you’re going to have a few sloppy games, get them out of the way early.
Oregon players can profess to play a “faceless opponent” every week, and they do an excellent job of embracing Kelly’s “win the day mantra,” but there has to be more excitement when teams like Arizona, Washington, USC and Stanford start appearing on the schedule.
A compliment defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti paid to Tennessee Tech spoke volumes about Oregon’s final non-conference tuneup.
“Gutsy little football team, coming in here to Autzen having a chance to play in a game like this,” Aliotti said. “I thought they played hard all the way to the end.”
So did the Ducks, who went deep into their bench .
Unlike the Arkansas State and Fresno State games, Oregon was not outplayed after intermission. The Ducks extended a 35-7 halftime lead to 56-14 heading into the fourth quarter, and freshman running back Byron Marshall ran for all of his game-high 125 yards after the break.
There’s a lot to like about Oregon thus far.
In three college games, redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota looks like the real deal. He threw for 308 yards and four touchdowns in the Tennessee Tech game, along with his first interception.
De’Anthony Thomas remains a thrill to watch every time he touches the ball — he had 222 all-purpose yards Saturday and two touchdowns — and Kenjon Barner proved in the Fresno State game (34 carries for 201 yards and three scores) that he can thrive in a workhorse back role, a la LaMichael James.
The defense will miss free safety John Boyett, who is out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury. But there are veterans across the board like Jordan, linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso, and strong safety Brian Jackson to make this potentially one of Aliotti’s strongest units.
The opening acts are over. We’re about to find out how good the Ducks really are.
“No doubts in my mind at all,” Jackson said.