It was a strange day offensively for the Oregon Ducks. They played fast as usual, scored a ton of points as usual, coasted to a blow out win at home as usual, but all without having a single player rush for 100 or more yards, a first since they beat Cal 59-17 in 2012.
Marcus Mariota and the Ducks aired it out against Tennessee, tearing up their secondary and taking advantage of huge catch and runs by receivers. Mariota more than doubled his total passing yards from the first two games, finishing Saturday’s win with a career high 456.
“There were some things formationally that we thought we could [do to] lock them into a couple defenses, and they had a plan that was similar to what we anticipated and our guys just did a great job of executing that this week,” said Mark Helfrich of the increased number of passing pays. “[We] tried to set up some things early with our formations and verify and validate some of those things that we had in the back of our minds, and the passing game came alive.”
Coming in to Saturday’s game against Tennessee, Oregon had 479 passing yards on the season. Their two, sometimes three or four headed rushing attack averaged 425 yards per game and amassed a school record 500 yards on the ground against Nicholls State.
But Mariota and the Ducks let the nation see another side of the offense this weekend. Oregon threw the ball a season-high 35 times and racked up 471 passing yards, nearly matching their two-week total to start the season. Two receivers, Josh Huff and Johnny Mundt, had over 100 yards receiving, another first since the same game against Cal last season. In total, nine different players caught a pass for Oregon, with Huff, Mundt and Bralon Addison all bringing in at least five.
That isn’t to say the running game wasn’t evident, although it seemed that way given Oregon’s usually absurd rushing yardage totals. The backfield crew, which consisted of nine players on Saturday, collected 216 yards on 41 carries for a very respectable 5.3 average and four touchdowns.
Mariota further solidified himself as one of the best all-around quarterbacks in the game and a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate with his line of 23/33 pass completions, 456 yards and four touchdowns, plus 27 rushing yards and a score in what Huff called a performance “for the ages.” His arm can be forgotten easily given the run-heavy nature of the offense, but it’s as strong and accurate as they come.
“Marcus is an unbelievable quarterback,” Huff said. “He showcased that today by how much we passed and how comfortable he felt back there in the pocket … once he finds his rhythm he’s probably one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.”
Oregon’s receiving corps is underrated and chock full of talent, which Huff says opens up countless possibilities on offense.
“We’re way more balanced than we were last year. They can try to shut down the run and we have receivers on our side that can make plays. Our talent across the board is unbelievable. It’s hard for a defense to key in on De’Anthony [Thomas] or Marcus or myself or anybody else when we have a balanced attack like that, it’s unbelievable.”