If there was any hope that the defensive questions would be quelled in the Ducks 61-28 victory over Georgia State on Saturday inside Autzen Stadium, the Panthers erased that hope by putting up 431 yards on the Ducks, thanks in large part to a big day from quarterback Nick Arbuckle.
Arbuckle finished 25-of-35 for 318 yards and three touchdowns, with two interceptions and a fumble against the Ducks and connected with nine different targets, led by Penny Hart’s nine reception day for 128 yards.
It’s not to say the Ducks didn’t have their share of successes defensively. They were able to put pressure on Arbuckle at times, which led to four sacks. They also forced four turnovers and returned two of them for touchdowns. But for all the victories, there were still missed assignments and missed tackles that led to big gains for Arbuckle and company.
“I think in some areas we got better,” linebacker Rodney Hardrick said. “In some areas we stayed the same. There’s still too many missed tackles.”
The morning started out promising for UO when Tyree Robinson hauled in the first of two tipped interceptions he had and returned it 41 yards to the end zone just three plays into the contest.
Eventually though, Arbuckle settled in and was able to lead the Panthers on a scoring drive at the end of the first quarter, punching in a quarterback sneak to cut the lead to 13-7. The Ducks looked sluggish on both ends of the ball until the second quarter, when things tightened up and Georgia State was kept off the scoreboard leading to a 33-7 halftime lead.
But, as has been the case so far this season, Oregon compounded mistakes in the second half, starting with an immediate fumble by freshman Kirk Merritt on the opening kickoff that led to a quick GSU touchdown.
Arbuckle continued to torch the soft Oregon secondary throughout the rest of the quarter, going 9-for-10 for 153 yards and three touchdowns in the frame alone, including a 75-yard quick strike to receiver Robert Davis that was highlighted by multiple missed tackles by the Ducks secondary.
“I know that we had a lull,” defensive coordinator Don Pellum said. “And during that lull we gave up a lot of easy points and a lot of plays that we didn’t have to give up.”
It wasn’t until Tyson Coleman stripped Arbuckle of the ball and Joe Walker returned it 52 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter that the game became truly out of reach and he went to the bench. But penalties and mistakes continue to haunt the Ducks heading into Pac-12 play.
Head coach Mark Helfrich acknowledged that while the effort was there, the overall play needs to be cleaner going forward and that’s something they’ll focus on next week in practice.
“You just coach the heck out of it,” Helfrich said of the problems. “You’re trying to create as much confusion and discomfort in practice and that’s hard to duplicate. 4th and 1 on the 1 with a 300-pound guy lined up across you and the crowd going crazy. That’s hard to duplicate. Can we not jump offsides as an outside guy on the punt team? Absolutely. Those things are the ones that kill you. Or the roughing the passer. Just unnecessary.”
Utah looms next week, and while not viewed as an offensive power, the Utes had the Ducks on the ropes early in Salt Lake City last season before Kaelin Clay’s infamous goal line fumble that led to a Walker recovery and touchdown flipped momentum back in UO’s favor. While they avoided an upset last year, the Utes are a tough team and the Ducks will have to improve with tougher competition ahead.
“We have to improve in everything,” Robinson said. “Every aspect of the game. Finishing at the end of the routes, making tackles and just staying consistent.”