On a bye, No. 2 Oregon gets back to basics
ANNE M. PETERSON
Sep. 26, 2014
There's nothing like a close call to get a team's attention. Washington State did that for the No. 2 Ducks.
The Cougars pulled even with Oregon in the final quarter of last week's game between the two teams, but Marcus Mariota confidently led the Ducks back for a 38-31 victory.
With a bye this week before next Thursday's game against Arizona, Oregon went back to basics.
"We're kind of in improvement mode in every phase," coach Mark Helfrich said about this week.
The Ducks are 4-0, including their statement-making victory over then-No. 7 Michigan State in Week 2 and the victory over the Cougars in the conference opener, but a few issues have cropped up.
Oregon has been hit by injuries on the offensive line, with starters senior Jake Fisher and junior Andre Yruretagoyena both out for the foreseeable future.
The Ducks started freshman Tyrell Crosby at left tackle, and Matt Pierson made his first start at right tackle against the Cougars. But the inexperience on the line showed, and Washington State sacked Mariota seven times.
"It wasn't always the new guys," Helfrich said. "That's just a matter of maybe a little bit of human nature: Sometimes if a guy's missing at a certain position guys try to overcompensate and do too much. And that's the worst thing because now you weaken two positions instead of just one."
The off-week has allowed the new players to get more reps against the first-team defense. Oregon has moved defensive lineman Stetzon Bair to the offense.
There's also some unease about Oregon's defense. Overall, the Ducks are ranked last in the Pac-12 for total defense, allowing an average of 443.5 yards per game.
While Oregon's numbers were no doubt hurt by Washington State's prolific Air Raid offense and quarterback Connor Halliday, the Ducks were also working this week to shore up their defense. The Cougars had 499 yards of total offense in the game.
"We had about 200 yards of — I don't want to say 'given' offense — but missed tackles, lost leverage, lack of communication. And that's simple stuff," Helfrich said.
Despite the challenge from the Cougars, Mariota said the game proved to the Ducks that they could win the close ones.
"It gives you confidence that when things are going a little tough, that you can battle through those things and fight through those situations," he said.
With a few days of rest and the start of classes this week, the Ducks planned to start focusing on the Wildcats on Saturday.
Last year Oregon was ranked No. 5 when the team traveled to Tucson and fell 42-16 to the Wildcats. The loss, their second of the season, knocked the Ducks out of the national championship picture and cost them a fifth straight BCS bowl appearance.
Ka'Deem Carey terrorized Oregon, running for 206 yards and four touchdowns. The Ducks had three turnovers and turned the ball over on downs twice.
Mariota was intercepted on the first play from scrimmage. That ended his Pac-12 record string of 343 straight passes without an interception.
As it turned out later, Oregon's quarterback was hampered by a knee injury that he had been nursing for several games.
This week, Mariota played down the idea that the Ducks would be motivated by revenge at Autzen Stadium next Thursday night.
"Some people use it as a motivating factor," he told reporters. "For us it's just another game."