The authoritative word on the Oregon Ducks

YOU HEAR IT all the time about the Ducks: That wide receiver(s) is holding! And they never call it! We asked Steve Summers, publisher of eDuck, for his take on that … plus his thoughts on the Oregon o-line, a Duck defense that does not rate well in the stats category, the Marcus Mariota effect, whether Mark Helfrich has proven himself yet and more …

1. Oregon’s o-line struggled earlier due to injury, starting a walk on and true freshman, etc. It turned around when Jake Fisher returned - but were there other factors at play besides the obvious ones? And talk about what Steve Greatwood, one of the more underrated assistant coaches in all of college football in my view, has done this season with his group.

Summers: I think the biggest factor of why the Ducks struggled without Jake Fisher was a confidence issue and surprisingly I think the linemen most affected were the experienced upperclassmen, who may have tried to do too much to compensate for the loss of Fisher, Andre Yruretagoyena (Andre Y. for short) and the All-American Tyler Johnstone. While Johnstone was lost during fall camp, there may have been a certain uneasiness about the depth particularly after Andre Y., was knocked out action leaving only Fisher as remaining experienced tackle. When we look at the Arizona game, crucial calls were made on senior center Hroniss Grasu and senior guard Hermani Stevens. Grasu admitted during post-game interviews that he may have been over compensating, and I believe him because the very next game on the road against UCLA with Fisher back, the Oregon offense looked healed.

Offensive Coordinator Scott Frost also pointed out that Fisher was instrumental in helping the Ducks get the running game back against UCLA. An interesting note, that during the first five games of the season, the Ducks did not have one running back gain over 100 yards. Freshman Royce Freeman rushed for 121 net yards. While media isn’t allowed into practices at Oregon, it is clear that Frost and the other offensive coaches really worked hard with the young offensive line and the young running backs in the UCLA game week to improve the running game.

Still though, Fisher’s presence was a big boost in confidence for all the offensive line from the UCLA game on.

2. One of the biggest complaints you hear from opposing fans is the alleged frequent holding by the Oregon wide receivers, and that it never seems to get called enough. What’s your take on that?

Summers: I will say I’ve never disagreed with an official’s call of holding on the Ducks. I don’t know if that particular statistic is kept anywhere and without going back through all the play-by-play descriptions in the official statistics, but I would guess that holding is the most common call made against Oregon.

I recall hearing some old coach say the difference between a holding call and what teams do to get an advantage is that when a flag is thrown it is holding, when the flag is not thrown it is good technique.

So the question then is if the Ducks are guilty of holding so frequently, then why aren’t they called more on it?

Oregon is eighth in the conference in penalties with 86. Arizona State has the fewest flags thrown at them at 53 while Oregon State and California have had 100 penalties each so far this year.

Maybe that old coach was on to something!

3. Critics of the Ducks say without Marcus Mariota – the closest thing to a one-man team there is in college football – Oregon would have struggled considerably this year given the defense, other factors… instead of being on the cusp of the playoff. Agree or disagree? Regardless, who are the unsung Duck players not getting enough credit with Mariota shining so very brightly this season.

Summers: I think Marcus Mariota is the best football player in college football, will win the Heisman Trophy and will be the first player taken in the NFL Draft.

Is the he the difference in a a team that has already cinched the Pac-12 North and is No. 2 in the NCAA Playoff standings?


Would the the Ducks be the same without him?


Would they still be a factor in the Pac-12 race and a team commonly mentioned as an elite team?

Now that’s an interesting question. I believe this is the best talent that has ever been at Oregon. I think there are more future NFL players on the roster than has ever been and including the team the played Auburn in the BCS Championship game four years ago.

What we don’t know, mainly because we can’t get into practice and watch, is just how good are the back ups. We’ve seen Jeff Lockie in clean-up roles but he’s isn’t asked to do much. He’s 19-for-25 in passing this year for 194 yards. Lockie comes in during garbage time so it’s very hard to say exactly what we’ll see next year and it won’t be until the Spring Game at that. Some rumors have leaked out saying Lockie has a very strong arm and has good touch on the ball. However, by the time he gets in the Ducks have a double-digit lead and his primary role is to hand the ball off to a running back and finish the game.

As far as unsung heroes, I’d have to point to Royce Freeman, who has rushed for 1,050 yards on 187 carries and 16 touchdowns. Byron Marshall is was a running back last year but now is used primarily as a receiver and has 50 catches for 660 catches and four TDs. Pharaoh Brown was having a first team All-Pac-12 sort of year until he suffered a freakish injury that has knocked him out of the season. Brown had 25 catches and six TDs. The Ducks are getting great production from Dwayne Stanford (32 catches, six TDs), Darren Carrington (22 catches, one TD) and speedster Devon Allen (34 catches, six TDs). Plus a very steady and reliable senior, Keanon Lowe (25 catches, four TDs). Keep your eye out for freshman Charles Nelson as a receiver (eight catches, three TDs) and in punt returns (two punts returned for touchdowns).

You’ll notice I left Thomas Tyner off the list, not because he hasn’t contributed, because he has (three TDs rushing and one TD receiving) but he most likely will miss the Civil War for an unspecified injuries that some claim are related to his shoulder and ankle. Again, the Ducks won’t comment on injuries so that is not official.

4. Oregon’s ranking in total defense is hovering around 90-100 nationally this season, with most other defensive stats not what you might expect from a team in the top four (except perhaps scoring defense at No. 42.) Is it a case of the best defense being a good offense this season, or do the stats lie a little. How much of the criticism Don Pellum has received is deserved, if any, and is there already pressure on him looking ahead with Mariota (presumably) leaving after this year?

Summers: Actually the Ducks are No. 2 in scoring defense in the conference at 23.6 ppg, (Stanford leads the conference in the all-important scoring defense category at 16.5 ppg) and wins against Washington, Stanford and Colorado in which the Ducks gave up 20, 16 and 10 respectively helped bringing that defensive scoring stat down.

I’ve seen improvement in the overall defensive plan as the year has progressed. I thought the worst effort was against Washington State, where the Ducks seemed incapable of doing much about the Cougars throwing the ball all over the place, but Oregon scored more points and won the game.

I thought Ducks did a better job against the Huskies by keeping them from scoring TDs and kept the Dawgs to 317 yards total offense compared to Oregon’s 554 yards. Against Stanford, the Duck defense allowed Stanford to kick field goals (three) and only allowed one touchdown.

I thought that the Oregon defense’s best game was against UCLA for over three quarters allowing only 10 points. The Bruins scored three times in fourth quarter but Oregon ahead 42-10 when UCLA tacked on some more scores that turned out to be meaningless.

5. His winning percentage is stellar but is the jury still out on Mark Helfrich? Has he made many changes in what Oregon is doing as a program, top to bottom, from the way Chip Kelly ran things, has Helfrich put his stamp on the program to this point?

Summers: I think the jury is coming in now with pretty positive things to say about Helfrich. He’s won 21 games and lost three. His team beat Texas at the Alamo Bowl in Mack Brown’s final year of coaching and that was a tough thing to do. He had a good recruiting class for 2014 and out of that class has already seen significant contributions from players like Freeman, Nelson and Tyrell Crosby (a starting tackle) and this year’s recruiting class is shaping up to be very good. The Ducks even have three verbal commitments for the class of 2016.

I think Helfrich weathered the storm of losing to Arizona at home and has bounced back nicely with five straight wins including three on the road.

The changes in the football program are subtle but we’re seeing more blue-chip players coming to visit and a lot more are showing interest in Oregon. As far as on the field, I think the Helfrich will call on the punter and field goal kicker a little bit more often than Chip may have.

Of course, Mark Helfich has had No. 8 on the field so that helped a lot!

6. Bonus question if you are so inclined: Oregon is a huge 20-point favorite in this game. Last year, they were a 23-point favorite but it came down to a last-minute Duck TD in a 36-35 game. How do you see the 118th Civil War unfolding and what’s your prediction?

Summers: Before the Beavers beat Arizona State, I was thinking that it was going to be a big task for Mike Riley to get the Beavers up for the Oregon game. If just seemed like I was hearing a lot of negative things being said about Riley. Sean Mannion’s stats were down from last season and I hadn’t seen a good replacement for Brandin Cooks.

Then the Beavers took it to the Sun Devils.

I thought that the Beavers had found themselves and was expecting them to beat Washington at Husky Stadium. Of course that didn’t happen so now I think the Civil War could be competitive for a while but I really believe the Ducks have too many weapons at their disposal for the Beavers to hang with for the whole game.

I think the betting line favors Oregon by 20 and I would go along with that as the odds makers seem to get those things right more often than not.

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