There’s no question the Oregon Ducks can put up big offensive numbers. Having scored seven touchdowns before the midway point of the second quarter in last Saturday’s 57-34 victory over the Arkansas State Red Wolves, the patented fast-paced attack ranked ninth nationally with 605 yards from scrimmage in week one.
Tim DeRuyter’s Fresno State Bulldogs proved to be no slouches offensively in week one either. In their 37-10 win against Weber State, the Bulldogs collected 515 total yards of their own, good for 26th nationally.
Of course, Weber State is no Oregon. Behind redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota’s impressive display of accuracy and five scores from running back duo Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas, the No. 4 Ducks made waves with their 2012 national television debut.
DeRuyter isn’t concerned, however. The first year Fresno State head coach mentioned road games in recent years at Nebraska and Cal as reasons facing the Ducks won’t overwhelm his team.
“One of the advantages of being a school where we’ve taken on anybody, anytime, anywhere is that I don’t think our guys get hung up on that,” said DeRuyter. “(The field) is 120 yards long with ten in each end-zone and 53 1/3 across just like the one we’ve practiced on.”
Despite boasting identical dimensions, Fresno State’s practice field certainly does not match the noise of Autzen Stadium. Three early Arkansas State false starts seriously hindered the Red Wolves’ ability to move the ball on offense and keep Mariota and company off the field last Saturday. For the Bulldogs to keep the game close, it must rely on mistake-free football and steady play from quarterback Derek Carr.
Yes, that would be the brother of NFL quarterback David Carr. The younger Carr, a second team All-WAC selection in 2011, impressed in his first 2012 action, completing 20-of-25 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns. He found a pair of favored targets in freshman wide receiver Davante Adams and junior wide-out Isaiah Burse, combining for 13 catches and 204 yards along with two touchdowns.
The Bulldogs’ spread attack poses a threat on the ground as well. Senior running back Robbie Rouse ran for 123 yards on 22 carries and took it in for a score twice against Weber State.
Fresno State’s offensive play will only matter if their defense is able to slow the Ducks, a task much more easily said than done. The Bulldogs allowed 35.2 points per game in 2011, and are in the midst of transitioning between defensive systems.
And of course, there’s the three-headed monster of Mariota, Barner, and Thomas that dismantled Arkansas State’s defense with speed and precision. Mariota, making his collegiate debut, threw for 200 yards while completing 18 of 22 passes despite being replaced by backup quarterback Bryan Bennett in the second quarter.
“I’ll never doubt what coach Kelly or coach (offensive coordinator Mark) Helfrich are going to have us do,” said Mariota regarding his short stint. “I would have liked to play a little bit more. It’s always the competitive nature in me to want to play.”
How long Mariota, Thomas, and Barner play depends heavily upon exactly how competitive the game remains into the second, third, and fourth quarters. If and when the second and third units enter, Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti expects a better performance than in the late goings of the Arkansas State game.
“Overall, both sides kind of sputtered in the second half. Whenever you get a chance to compete, you have to compete,” said Aliotti. “You never know when you’re going to be called upon.”
The Ducks and Bulldogs square off on Saturday at 3:30 PM at Autzen Stadium. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.