Oregon Ducks No Longer Flying High

Last season’s Oregon Ducks were a well-oiled machine. Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota lead a fast-paced offense that averaged 547 yards a game, and the defense had a bend-but-don’t-break mentality anchored by an experienced defensive line and secondary. 

This year, however, the results have been drastically different. After posting a 13-and-2 record last season, Oregon is 3-and-3 this season. The last time the Ducks lost three games this early in the season was 2004 when they finished 5-6, also their last losing season. 

Oregon was predicted to struggle, but not like this. The Duck’s woes can be explained by looking at both sides of the football. Offensively, things are not “Oregon-esque,” as quarterback problems have lead to inconsistent play. Defensively, young players don't step up and give up big plays.

Offense  

Oregon’s minor offensive problems come down to two issues: injuries and inexperienced quarterbacks. Losing three starters from the previous year to the NFL is hard, especially when two of them played offensive line: tackle Jake Fisher and center Hroniss Grasu.

Vernon Adams was brought in from FCS Eastern Washington to fill the shoes left by Mariota. With experience running the spread offense, Oregon immediately named Adams the starter and expected him to lead the offense with no problem. He hasn't been that savior for the Ducks, and due to a nagging finger injury sustained in Week 1, long time backup Jeff Lockie has been the starter since the game against Georgia State, but he hasn't fared much better. 


2015 Oregon Quarterback Stats


AttemptsCompletionsPassing PercentagePassing YardsTouchdownsInterceptions
Jeff Lockie548464.354454
Vernon Adams437160.658142

Oregon relies on quick high-percentage passing and quick decision making from the quarterback position, which they have not gotten this season. 

There isn't a lack of weapons for the quarterback to rely on, but some key players have suffered serious injuries. Junior running back Thomas Tyner had shoulder surgery before the season and isn't expected to be back. Senior wide receiver/running back Byron Marshall was carted off the field in the game against Utah with a leg injury and is out for the remainder of the season. Marshall was 4th in rushing and 1st in receptions and receiving yards while Tyner was 3rd in rushing yards last season.

These injuries have lead to sophomore running back Royce Freeman taking a bigger load in the running game and forced the Ducks to play true freshman Taj Griffin more than they would like.

Oregon has the pieces in place to overcome injuries to receivers and running backs, but not with poor quarterback play as well.

This season, Oregon averages 529 total yards per game, 10th in the country, but down from 547 total yards per game last year. Scoring isn't the problem either, as they average 41.5 points per game, good enough for 9th. 

Defense

Oregon has never been known as a strong defensive team, but this season they take that reputation to a whole new level. Last year, the Ducks gave up 414 yards per game, but were able to hold opponents to only 22.5 points per game. This season, the Ducks are giving up the fourth most passing yards at 323.5 per game. On top of that, they are giving up 38.7 points per game, 13th highest in the country. 

The secondary causes many of this year’s problems. Oregon lost three starting defensive backs: cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill, and free safety Erick Dargan. The team also lost starting outside linebacker Tony Washington and defensive end Arik Armstead to the NFL.

In the Duck’s secondary, 5 underclassmen have started in different games this season. Safety Reggie Daniels is the only returning starter in the secondary, with sophomore cornerback Chris Seisay being the only experienced cornerback. Unfortunately, Daniels missed both the Utah and Washington State games for unknown reasons.  

To make matters worse, the injury bug bit Seisay as well, sidelining him for the Utah game. This left Oregon to rely on two freshmen as their starting corners, Ugo Amadi and Glen Ihenacho. The results, as expected, did not end up pretty. Utah’s offense carved up Oregon for 530 yards and accounted for 62 points. Neither freshman has played well (only one interception between the two of them) and the defense has suffered drastically. 

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a high ranking in the preseason, Oregon expected to struggle. Coach Mark Helfrich brought in Adams to soften the blow of losing so many key players, but he hasn’t paid off. While offense is not the main issue, their quarterbacks need to step up. Without a proper defense, it doesn’t matter how good the offense is; the other team will score in bunches on the Ducks. The only positive to come out of this season so far for Oregon is that young players are getting much needed experience for next season.

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