For those waiting to see the Oregon passing attack, the wait ended Saturday afternoon as the No. 2 Ducks ( 3-0 / 0-0 ) and quarterback Marcus Mariota torched the Tennessee Volunteers 59-14.
Relying primarily on their rushing attack in their first two games of the season ( 856 yards ), the Ducks moved their attack to the air in week three laying to rest the national whispers Oregon is predominently a one dimensional offensive team.
On Saturday, in front of 57,895 at Autzen Stadium, Mariota threw for 456 yards completing 23 of 33 with 4 touchdowns.
It was a career day for Mariota as he tied former Oregon quarterback Akili Smith for fourth all time in single game passing yards.
Mariota overcame a sluggish start completing just two of his first seven passing attempts, but then caught fire and led Oregon to 59 unanswered points after Tennessee scored at the 9:00 mark of the first quarter on a Justin Worley to Jason Croom 6 yard pass play.
“That slow start made me kind of settle down a little bit,.. and find my pace with the guys,..I just had to get a few throws under my belt,..which kind of worked for me.”
It certainly did.
After a 38 yard field goal by freshman Matt Wogan, Mariota threw a 16 yard dart to freshman tight end Johnny Mundt putting the Ducks in the lead at 10-7 with 3:34 to play in the first.
It was Mundt’s first career touchdown and showed why he was so heavily recruited as an offensive weapon.
“He was awesome” said Mariota after the game.
“He was incredible,…he made the most of each opportunity,…every catch he made he made sure he finished with the ball …did the most he could do with it,…I’m so proud of that guy,..you know as a freshman you expect him to be wide eyed but he was ready to go…he was calm and collected.”
On the day Mundt caught 5 balls for 121 yards and 2 scores.
“Coach Helfrich said work hard,…give it your all and look at your results after,…it was a little overwhelming,..kind of new for me,…but fun” said a smiling Mundt after the game.
“The nerves kind of overnight,..they kind of went away,..I knew my assignments,…I knew what I was doing,..I was confident and I just had to execute.”
“The guys rock solid” said Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich in his post game press briefing when asked about Mundt.
“He comes and works everyday…he has a great attitude…he’s a guy you root for….a positive guy and works really hard,..and he wants to do everything he can to help our team.”
Against a very big, athletic and fast Tennessee team, the Ducks scored eight touchdowns – four through the air and four on the ground.
In all, the Ducks tallied 687 total yards while the Volunteers gained 316.
Leading up to the game, most of the outside talk revolved around the assumed competitive edge Tennessee may have because of their size and speed, but that notion quickly faded in the early moments of the 2nd quarter when Mariota tossed a 54 yard touchdown pass to Josh Huff to extend the Duck lead to 24-7.
“We know we’re going to get everybody’s best shot” said Helfrich.
“Those guys came out very enthusiastic and by the end of the third quarter things were different. That’s what we pride ourselves on is play to the end,..no matter who’s in there…no matter what the score is,…we’re finishing the game.”
Once again, Mariota and the Ducks offense spread the ball to nine different receivers.
Josh Huff led that group with 6 catches for 125 yards and 1 touchdown – his first of the season.
On the ground, this was the first game of the new season the Oregon offense didn’t have a 100 yard rusher.
Leading the way was De’Anthony Thomas who carried the ball 13 times for 86 yards and 1 score.
Oregon now heads into a bye week and will return in two weeks to begin Pac-12 play when the Ducks host the Cal Bears.
When asked about the upcoming bye week, Helfrich said his team will take Monday off and return to a light and revised practice schedule next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“We’re basically going to have treatment the next couple of days” said Helfrich.
“We won’t practice tomorrow or the next day,…we’ll practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We’ve kind of re-worked our bye week schedule a little bit trying to just project it to the future in terms of resting some guys,…getting healthy,..but at the same time staying sharp.”
TURNING POINT OF THE GAME;
After taking an early 17-7 lead with 14:54 to play in the 2nd quarter, Oregon’s defense continued to put pressure on the Volunteer offense.
Needing a score to keep pace with the quick strike offense of the Ducks, Volunteer quarterback Justin Worley was tagged hard in the pocket by Duck defensive end Taylor Hart forcing an incomplete pass on a key third down forcing Tennessee to once again punt the football away giving the ball right back to Oregon’s offense.
It took just 85 seconds for the Ducks to find the end zone.
Oregon scored on a beautiful 54 yard touch pass from Mariota to Josh Huff which extended the Oregon lead to 24-7 with 9:53 to play in the half and seemed to take the air out of Tennessee’s offense.
QUESTIONS ASKED & ANSWERED;
The big question coming into Saturday’s nationally televised match-up with Tennessee was could the undersized ( comparatively speaking ) Duck offensive and defensive lines have success against the larger Volunteer lines.
With fresh legs in the first six minutes of the game, the Vols controlled both lines of scrimmage as they smacked the Ducks in the mouth and took an early 7-0 lead.
But, that lone score seemingly fired up Nick Aliotti’s defense and the Ducks never allowed another score until late in the 4th quarter when the game was out of reach and well into garbage time.
Offensively, the Ducks offensive line used their superior quickness and speed to gain leverage at the point of attack and continued to create running lanes for De’Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall.
On the negative side, Oregon did give up their first two quarterback sacks of the season.
Defensively, the Ducks faced arguably one of the best offensive lines in the country with three Volunteers projected to be drafted into the NFL next April.
Aliotti’s squad responded well though, limiting the Vols running game to just 178 yards.
Oregon also forced several errant tosses by Tennessee QB Justin Worley in crucial 3rd down situations limiting the Volunteers to just 5 of 15 conversions.
* Oregon now heads into a bye week and will return on September 28th to face Cal in Autzen Stadium.
* Oregon gained 602 kickoff return yards on 10 attempts, while Tennessee gained just 189 yards on 3 attempts.
* Oregon also outgained Tennessee in punt return yards 392 to 139
* In the red zone – Oregon 6 of 7 - Tennessee 2 of 2