Honestly, the Oregon Ducks offense wasn't that great on Saturday. Marcus Mariota never could really get in a rhythm with his receivers other than a few throws to wide open guys, as Arizona seemed to drape their coverage back while still playing fairly strong against the run. Kenjon Barner struggled to get anything going and didn't have a rush longer than 12 yards. After De'Anthony Thomas looked unstoppable in conference play, the Black Mamba never got going other than one nice punt return, and was kept in check by Arizona's defense.
And yet they won by 49 points.
The difference? The Oregon defense, even without John Boyett, has never looked better. That is one scary prospect for the rest of the Pac-12 to deal with.
If you had to pick anything that really differentiated Arizona from Oregon, it was all that speed. And for once we're not talking about De'Anthony. The Ducks defense flew to the football, played tight to the passes, and in general did their best to keep Arizona from ever getting comfortable with themselves.
Six tackles for loss. Three quarterback hurries and a sack (two of the hurries came from true freshmen in Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner). Seven passes broken up. Four interceptions (with Ifo Ekpre-Olomu hauling in two of them and breaking up another). Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay suffocating the field with 22 tackles, three tackles, a forced fumble, a pick and a sack. Whereever Arizona went, there was a Duck defender sniffing it out.
Oregon defenders kept on flying to the football. They didn't always make the right play, but they knew Matt Scott's limitations and seemed to do their best to make him try and throw that football to spots he seemed totally uncomfortable to try and deliver. Scott forced too many passes in an attempt to make a play.
Oregon might have just benefited from playing a team they are well-accustomed to defending, particularly on the practice field. A spread option team dedicated to running the football is what Rich Rodriguez wants to install over time at Arizona, and that is clearly what seems to be happening down the line. Unfortunately, that's a team Oregon is well-accustomed to playing against in practice, and they just seemed to be one step ahead all night. For a guy who's had some pretty baller defenses in the past, Nick Aliotti might have his most complete unit he's ever had.
Nowhere did Oregon look more dominant in the red zone. I'm not even talking about their red zone; Arizona's red zone was their land of futility this weekend. The Wildcats took six trips, ended up with zero points. Some of it was self-inflicted, but much of it was Oregon making stop after stop after stop. It was a brilliant performance.
If Oregon's defense can maintain that level of consistency and pair it with a fully functional Duck offense, no one is going to beat them in the Pac-12.
SB Nation Snippet
Offensively, Oregon was not on target. Arizona was doing a good job, especially early in the game, of containing Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas, and neither of them was able to break for a big play, get 100 yards, or score a touchdown in the game. The Wildcats wouldn't let the running backs get to the sideline, and did an excellent job tackling in space. However, the Ducks went to a change of pace package that was unseen before this game. Bryan Bennett lined up at quarterback instead of Marioa, while Colt Lyerla was the running back. Unable to get the corner or pound the middle with Barner and Thomas, Lyera proved a major spark, notching 63 on seven carries and a touchdown, while Bryan Bennett scored another on the ground. Up only 13-0 after the offense sputtered for most of the first half, the Bennett-Lyerla package proved to be the offensive adjustment that Oregon needed to break the game wide open. From there, the Ducks would pour it on, while Arizona did a lot more finding ways not to score.
Elite defenses aren't only measured by consistency, but maybe even more so by their ability to make big plays. This Oregon group showed Saturday night it has that, and it also has the kind of grit and resolve that could make it the Ducks' best-ever D. They held Arizona to 6 of 17 on third downs (2 of 11 after the opening quarter) and 0 of 4 on fourth downs while forcing five turnovers.
Kelly isn't a big stat guy, but he talks a lot -- both publicly and even more privately with his team, I'm told -- about what he calls Response After Turnover. That momentum swing is often where a team's knees buckle, he has reasoned, but not for his bunch, certainly not Saturday night. It explains why no one on the Ducks' sideline was surprised when they went for it on a fourth-and-2 at their own 35 on the game's first series.
But of course, the big question is whether that young Duck offense will ever quite get it going this season.