Saturday, September 1, 2012

Oregon blasts Arkansas State in opener

Making the first start of his career, Marcus Mariota led fifth ranked Oregon into the 2012 season opener against defending Sun Belt conference Champion Arkansas State.

The Red Wolves boast a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate with Ryan Aplin and a national championship head coach with former Auburn Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn taking over an Arkansas State team that finished 2011 10-3 with a strong passing attack.

The Oregon offense gets all of the headlines, but their defense may be the best the Ducks have seen for some time and they showed on Saturday why they have received so much early season praise.

The Ducks offense marched the ball down the field for a score on their first possession with little trouble. The defense then set the tone for a long night for Arkansas State forcing a quick three and out.

De'Anthony Thomas scored his first touchdown of the season on a beautiful pass from red-shirt freshman Marcus Mariota midway through the first quarter.

Asked about Mariota's ability to lead the team, Thomas replied "He's been making plays all summer. It was nothing new."

The Duck defense created its first turnover on the next possession with Michael Clay recovering a fumble. With 7:57 to play Mariota threw his second touchdown pass of the game and the rout was on with the Ducks racing to a 22-0 lead.

The Ducks continued to move the ball at will taking a 29-0 first quarter lead. Arkansas State worked the short passing game for some decent gains scoring a field goal before Oregon continued to extend the lead eventually building a 50-3 lead in the second quarter.

Arkansas State's only first half highlight was a 72 yard catch and run on a blown coverage by the defense that made the score 50-10 with just over three minutes left in the first half.

Bryan Bennett, who lost the competition to replace Darron Thomas, entered to a standing ovation in the second quarter. At the half, Oregon had amassed 417 yards of total offense with Mariota completing 18-22 passes for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns. On the ground, Oregon was led by Kenjon Barner in the first half with 9 carries for 66 yards and 2 touchdowns. Electrifying as always, De'Anthony Thomas had 3 carries for 64 yards and 4 receptions for another 55 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Looking to score early, the Red Wolves took the second half kick-off and began marching down the field. The Ducks stiffened up, though, and held Arkansas State to a field goal cutting the lead to 50-13.

Arkansas State controlled the third quarter of the game cutting the lead to 50-20 with 1:53 left in the third quarter against the Oregon reserves. The Duck reserves finally broke through for a score with 11:36 left in the game to extend the lead to 57-20 against the Red Wolves.

The fourth quarter was a tale of Oregon's reserves and Arkansas State's starters looking to gain valuable experience.

In the end, the Ducks still piled up nearly 600 yards of total offense. Showing an improved ability to throw the ball, Oregon gained over 320 through the air while amassing nearly 250 on the ground.

Head coach Chip Kelly spoke about Mariota's performance after the game saying that "(Mariota's) got a really good command of our offense. To see how he performed today is what we hoped for; what we wished for, but you really don't know until you get him out there."

The Red Wolves punched in one more late touchdown to make the final score of 57-34 look a lot closer than the game was played.

Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti was not pleased with the lapses on the defensive side of the ball during the second half. Asked if he felt the players weren't lining up correctly, or weren't attacking the ball or weren't flying around, Aliotti succintly summed up the second half defensive problems with "all of the above. As a competitor, I would just like to see us compete a little bit better when guys have an opportunity to play."

Oregon next returns to action next week at home against Fresno State. Fresno State enters the contest fresh off of a 37-10 victory over FCS foe Weber State.

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