GameDay: No. 5 Oregon vs. Arkansas State (Preview and Live Blog)
It’s finally Game Day, and your EDN sports team is here to give you our views on today’s action and what to expect. Sports editor Alex Shoemaker and the two Ducks beats, Sean Larson and Conor Armor, give you their predictions for today’s action.
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What makes this pick so difficult is the high turnover the Ducks will have from their 2011 season, bringing in 11 new starters including a new quarterback. Oregon will have a lot of continuity issues, as does every team, starting the season and won’t be the same team we’ll see four weeks from now.
Will the Ducks be up huge at halftime, benching the starters for the second string earlier rather than later? Probably. Arkansas State did get 10 wins last season, but return that same number of starters from that 2011 team: 10. Six starters, including dual-threat quarterback Ryan Aplin (3,588 passing yards, 588 rushing yards, 29 total TDs) on offense, but their defense brings back just four starters. Add with that all the depth Oregon possesses, and this game could get ugly.
It will be interesting to watch when Kelly takes Mariota out and puts Bennett in. Will he have the two play interchangeably throughout, or will he take Mariota out at some point and leave him out? Does Mariota stay in longer than he normally will in a blowout to get as many live reps as possible?
I say he will keep Mariota in awhile. Expect Mariota to see 75% of the reps today, and Bennett about 25% to boot. With that reason, I expect Mariota to be the game’s MVP. He’ll see a lot of action, while guys like Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas will see a lot of the bench. No reason to get these guys injured.
While many fans aren’t thinking twice about Arkansas State tonight, make no mistake, the Red Wolves are coming into Autzen intending to win this game. Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin said, “We’re going to go out there and give them hell and do what we do best, up-tempo, and hopefully put a shock to them.” Last season, Arkansas State finished the season 10-3, including a perfect 8-0 record in the Sun Belt Conference. Head coach Gus Malzahn knows how to beat Oregon too. Malzahn was the offensive coordinator at Auburn when they defeated Oregon in the 2011 BCS title game. Unfortunately for Malzahn, the Red Wolves aren’t Auburn.
This game will likely be over by halftime. Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota will get plenty of chances to prove to everyone he rightfully earned the starting job. Look for Mariota to lead the Ducks offense down the field for around five touchdowns in the first half. After building a comfortable lead going into halftime, Oregon head coach Chip Kelly will get to bring in the backups for the second half, including quarterback Bryan Bennett.
Aplin is the player the Ducks will need to keep a close eye on. Last season, Aplin threw for 3,588 yards and 19 touchdowns, adding another 588 yards on the ground and 10 rushing touchdowns. Aplin is a dangerous dual threat that the Oregon defense will need to contain.
Look for sophomore De’Anthony Thomas to make more explosive plays in this season opener. Thomas will likely score an early one touchdown off an explosion play (gain of 25 yards or more) that will propel the Ducks to a dominating performance and a smooth, easy win.
All eyes are on new starting quarterback Marcus Mariota, and for good reason. The questions of just how good the redshirt freshman is have overshadowed the focus on the Ducks’ last freshman darling – the Black Mamba. Don’t forget, De’Anthony Thomas’s last two carries were in the Rose Bowl, and both went for scores – 91 and 64 yard scores to be exact. Named to the preseason watch lists for the Maxwell Award, Paul Hornung Award, and Heisman Award, Thomas enters the season opener with higher-than-ever expectations.
Expect the Mamba to deliver Saturday, even if he only sees significant action in the first half. And though many expect this to be another laugher a la the Ducks’ 72-0 season opener drubbing of New Mexico in 2010, or 56-7 crushing of Missouri State last season, don’t sell Arkansas State too short. The Red Wolves ran the table in the Sun Belt conference last season, and finished 10-3 overall behind strong play from dual-threat quarterback Ryan Aplin. Though there’s little reason to believe the Red Wolves’ inexperienced defense can slow Mariota, Thomas, Kenjon Barner, and company, Aplin could keep the game interested with steady play at quarterback.
At least for the first half, that is. Even as the game may turn to “garbage play” in the late goings, Bryan Bennett will likely get his chance. Expect the fiery backup quarterback to do everything he can to showcase his abilities, even if it means building on an already wide margin on victory.
Make your score prediction below and discuss who you think will be the game’s MVP!