Preseason games mean nothing — we all know that. And yet … the Philadelphia Eagles stomped on the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, and it was hard not to be excited by the way the team played. Even if you ignore the…
With the NFL preseason around the corner, all of the intrigue that has been building throughout the offseason will finally
Chip Kelly doesn’t just want his skill players to have speed. He places a high premium on athletic offensive linemen who can execute their blocks both at the line of scrimmage and in space. It is easy to see how Lane Johnson‘s rare athletic ability convinced Kelly to select the Oklahoma offensive tackle with the fourth overall pick last year. …
With Chip Kelly being hired as the Philadelphia Eagles head coach the first question out of the mouths of everyone was, could Michael Vick run Kelly’s offense? The answer is both yes and no. Vick showed us in their first game against the Washington Redskins that for a half he could run the offense and the score on anyone.
The problem with Vick is he cannot stay healthy for an entire season. Since being drafted in 2000 by the Atlanta Falcons, Vick has only played one complete 16 game season. Then we looked at Nick Foles. Not as mobile as Vick and no where near the speed. He won 2 games for the Eagles then went down with an injury.
That left Matt Barkley to run what is clearly the fastest offense in football – not the prototypical read option quarterback. He ran a pro style at USC and didn’t need to make the quick reads and decisions needed to effectively run the offense the Eagles and Kelly wanted. Many experts said that the Eagles read option quarterback for the future was not on their roster, meaning they would have to find someone other than who they had to run it.
Looking around the NFL at the quarterback position there are not many that can run the offense the way Kelly wants. Or is there? My suggestion for Kelly and the Eagles is to contact the New York Jets and ask for Tim Tebow‘s phone number. He ran the read option at Florida and was very successful at it. He won a National championship and the Heisman Trophy with the read option. His quarterback rating at Florida was 201.73 in 2006 and 172.47 in 2007.
The first thing people say is he does not have an NFL arm. True he doesn’t. He wont need one to throw bubble screens and dump passes over the middle. His longest pass completion in college was 65 yards. What he does bring to the table is a determination to win, the ability to read a defense and physicality on the ground.
Tebow could make the Eagles a winner and allow the coaching staff to be creative with Vick. Have both in the backfield and let the defense guess what is coming next. Then they could trade Barkley for a guard or tackle that can actually block.
World, meet Marcus Mariota.
You probably didn’t notice him, thanks to Kenjon Barner’s record-breaking performance, but Mariota had the best game of his career Saturday night when the Ducks topped the Trojans in a 62-51 shootout.
As a unit, Oregon’s offense needed to be near perfect — and they were. Their quarterback was no different.
The redshirt freshman from Hawaii had more touchdown passes than incompletions and threw for more than 300 yards on 20-of-23 passing. He didn’t quite match his season high of 308 yards set against Tennessee Tech, but his four-touchdown, 304-yard performance is better than the 182 yards and three touchdowns he had in his last two games combined.
Oh, and he did this in the biggest game of the season to this point — not that anybody on the Ducks’ squad buys into any one game being bigger than the others.
But all of that was lost on most of us — present company included — before the postgame stat analysis began, thanks to some dude wearing No. 24 rushing for more yards and getting more touchdowns than anybody had ever done against USC. Mariota, however, wasn’t missed by the coaching staff.
“It wasn’t quiet to me, I can tell you that,” said head coach Chip Kelly. “When we needed big plays, Marcus had them. I didn’t see his final stats, but he didn’t seem like he missed too many passes. And his ability to run really makes this an offense tough to defend.”
Of course, how could we forget Mariota’s ability to run. In addition to his career night passing the ball, he picked up 96 rushing yards on 15 attempts, reading USC’s defense flawlessly and executing the zone read to perfection. With as good as the Trojans were offensively — his counterpart had 484 yards passing — the Ducks’ offense needed to be near perfect, and under Mariota’s leadership, well, it was.
“We felt like if we could hold serve,” Kelly said. “That was a big deal for us. If they answered, then we answered.”
While Mariota finished with fewer yards and fewer scores than Matt Barkley, it’s what the former didn’t do that led the Ducks to victory. Barkley threw two picks (three, really, but a phantom pass interference call bailed him out), and Mariota threw none. Take away one of Oregon’s scoring drives and give USC’s Marqise Lee another chance to run rampant over the Ducks’ defense, and this becomes a different game entirely.
Luckily for the Ducks, that’s just a hypothetical.
Saturday was the first time the Ducks were challenged for 60 minutes (Mariota was out of the game so early the last two weeks that he even had more passing attempts on Saturday than he had the previous two weeks combined), and their quarterback responded. In just the second game where he played start to finish, Mariota showed he’s not as good as advertised, he’s better.
Oh, and world? He’s a freshman.
Sports Illustrated revealed this week’s cover via its tablet app Tuesday night, and the cover boy is none other than sophomore sensation De’Anthony Thomas.
— Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor
There comes a time in life when you simply have to make a judgement. It doesn’t matter whether it’s making a career choice, deciding what to buy a the grocery store, or figuring out certain matters in the world of sports. The latter case is definitely my department, so here are three topics in which I’ll “take my pick.”
Oregon RB LaMichael James vs. Wisconsin RB Montee Ball:
What a timely subject to start off with, considering these two guys will be competing against each other in the 2012 Rose Bowl. Seriously, which running back would you like to have on your team?
On the one hand, you have James. He is the Ducks’ all-time leading rusher who won the Doak Walker Award last year (and was also a Heisman finalist in 2010). This season, even though he had to sit out a couple games with an injury, James still finished fourth in the nation with 1,646 rushing yards. There’s no question in my mind, that this is the best running back in Oregon history.
That being said, there is a world outside of Eugene and some would say Ball is the guy they’d want in their backfield. It’s not hard to see why. He’s leading the nation in rushing with 1,759 yards this year, and he just might win the Heisman Trophy over the weekend. He’s also scored 32 touchdowns in 2011, compared to only 17 scores by James.
Ah, that’s where things get tricky. Sure Ball has found the end zone more times, but do the Badgers have guys like Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas on their squad? I’m not saying that Wisconsin lacks depth, but if you have as many playmakers as Oregon does, then one guy isn’t necessarily going to get the bulk of the scoring load.
There’s also one other stat to contemplate: yards per carry. Ball’s average of 6.4 yards isn’t too shabby. But James gets around 7.4 any time he touches the rock. Thus, I’ve got to go with LaMichael on this one.
Stanford QB Andrew Luck vs. USC QB Matt Barkley
Duck fans may not like either of these guys, but they were two of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12 this year. An argument could be made that both of these gentlemen should be Heisman candidates on Saturday, and people have been clamoring about how prepared both of these guys are going to be in the NFL.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the guy who will be going to New York and might (just might) win the big trophy. A lot of folks have been saying that Luck can do everything from leap tall buildings in a single bound to changing water into wine.
Now that we’ve gotten the exaggerations out of the way, Luck has shown an uncanny ability to read defenses and get the ball right into his receivers’ hands. The fact that he plays in a pro-style offense at Stanford will probably help him at the next level.
But is he the best quarterback in the nation or even his own conference? Matt Barkley might have something to say about that. His QB rating is lower at 161 (compared to Luck’s 167). However, look at some other numbers and they tell a different story.
Barkley has 39 touchdown passes this year, while Luck has only thrown 35. He’s also been a tad more careful with the ball, throwing only seven interceptions to Luck’s nine.
Putting the statistics aside, Barkley seems more athletic and I like his ability to improvise on the fly. Thus, if you made me choose between the two, I’m going to have to go with Barkley.
The BCS System vs. A Playoff Format
The Bowl Championship Series was supposed to solve all the problems of deciding a true national champion when it was installed in 1998. How do you think it’s working out so far?
Last season, the system seemed to work just fine as the two best teams (Oregon and Auburn) squared off for all the marbles. But, my friends, that was an exception. Most of the time, you’ll get two teams that the voters happen to like as opposed to the two that are the most deserving.
This year is a perfect example. For some context, let’s look at some words from then-LSU head coach Nick Saban in 2003. “If you don’t win your conference championship then you have no business playing for the national championship,” he said.
Wonder how the now-head coach of Alabama feels about those sentiments now? He probably doesn’t care. His Crimson Tide squared off at home against the Tigers and lost 9-6. That victory paved the way for LSU to win the SEC conference, and they definitely deserve to be in the title game.
But Alabama? They might deserve to play in one of the other BCS bowls, not the biggest one of all. Saban was right back in the day and, if he was true to his word, he’d decline the invite to play in the game. (We know that won’t happen).
I understand that Oklahoma State lost to a paltry Iowa State squad. The Cowboys, however, actually played a stronger schedule than the Tide and actually beat more BCS-caliber opponents during the season. An argument could be made that this was the biggest theft in the history of the BCS since Oregon got snubbed in 2001.
I could go on and on about that one, but I won’t go there. What I will do is state that this situation demands an eight-team playoff format. Have the top eight teams go against each other after the regular season, and let them prove on the field who really is better than who.
There might still be some politics with that format in choosing the top eight, but at least we’d have clear winner when it was all said and done. If you take the ‘C’ out of BCS, and you’ll get an an idea what I truly think of it these days. So ends my picking for now.
By Sam Finley, EDN Sports Editor
Let’s get this one out of the way: Lindsay McCormick and I were right. We said in last Friday’s column that Oregon would topple Stanford in Palo Alto. Sure enough, the Ducks stunned the nation by spanking the Cardinal 53-30 on Saturday. Before the contest, a lot of ‘experts’ claimed that Stanford’s power game was mightier than Oregon’s quickness. Most of those guys forgot about two little words: speed kills.
The Ducks set the tone when linebacker Dewitt Stuckey intercepted an early Andrew Luck pass, (who may have tossed his ‘inevitable’ Heisman with it). Shortly thereafter, the Ducks were up 8-0. True, the Cardinal kept it close for three quarters, but they showed the weakness of their ball control style of play.
In order for that kind of offense to work, your team has to have a slight lead, so you can smash the running back at the defense for a few yards (or get another five with a play action pass) while taking a few minutes off the clock in the process.
Against Oregon the Cardinal found themselves in the position of having to play chase. The Ducks would zip down the field and score in 60 seconds or less, and Stanford was puffing and wheezing just to keep it a one-posession game. Eventually they got worn out, and that’s when the roof caved in on their BCS title hopes.
Meanwhile, with this victory, the fourth-ranked Ducks are clearly back in the national championship hunt. A couple more dominoes have to fall, but now a January trip to New Orleans (as opposed to Pasadena) doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it did after the opening loss to LSU. That being said, don’t expect Oregon head coach Chip Kelly to spend his time lobbying for a higher ranking in the next three weeks.
“It doesn’t work that way,” said Kelly. “You all have your opinions and you’re going to formulate them based on what you see on the field and how the game is won. I don’t think anyone votes LSU as number one because Les Miles is standing on top of a soapbox saying so. I’ve never seen anybody get a ranking because the coach lobbied for it.”
Nor should you place any bets on running back LaMichael James to talk up any possible Heisman Trophy honors. Some might argue that he got himself back in the race by rushing for 146 yards against Stanford. But his priorities are elsewhere.
“I don’t care about the Heisman at all,” said James. “I only care about winning games.”
And that’s how it should be when the stakes are now higher than ever for this season. If the Ducks lose one game from worrying about potential honors, then any arguments will become a very moot point. Remember, they haven’t even won the Pac-12 North yet.
“It’s wasted energy for us,” Kelly explained. “Our energy is solely focused on getting ready for a really good USC team. That’s the one thing we can control.”
Indeed, USC comes to town this weekend and will be fired up. Although the Trojans are currently atop the Pac-12 South standings, they can’t play in the inaugural conference championship game nor can they go to a bowl – they still have a little thing called ‘probation’ to contend with. So, for the Men of Troy, this is their BCS game. Knocking off the Ducks would send a message to the rest of the nation that they’re still a force to be reckoned with. While Stanford might’ve been the best overall conference foe Oregon has played this year, USC could be the most talented.
“They may have the fastest receivers we’ve faced,” said linebackers’ coach Don Pellum. “Matt Barkley is a really good quarterback. They’ve got a really talented line. Is it the best we’ve faced? It’s the best this week, because that’s who we’re playing.”
“They’re better than they were a year ago,” Kelly stated. “Barkley is playing at another level as a junior. They’ve also improved on the defensive side of the ball, and have a better understanding of what their coaching staff is doing.”
Then again, USC having a solid squad is nothing new in the college football world.
“What I see is another talented USC team,” claimed Pellum. “They’ve got hard-running backs, like Marc Tyler, that break tackles. They always have blocking tight ends, and they’ve got a great scheme. It’s been the same USC formula since I started my college career.”
By the same token, the Oregon defense should be up for the challenge. The defensive line, led by Terrell Turner, has delivered some key sacks in recent weeks. The secondary has finally started getting takeaways. And linebackers Stuckey and Michael Clay are playing at a much higher level than when the season started.
“We’ve gotten a little better as group every week,” Pellum explained. “One guy has performed well in one game a little better than another guy. But the nice thing is, overall, the group has been consistent. We’ve simply achieved this through hard work.”
It will be up to the defense to slow the Trojan attack down, which might be easier said than done.
“You’d better tackle the tailbacks,” said Pellum. “Historically, that’s the way it has always been. You’ve also got to pick and choose when to pressure them and you’ve got to find a way to limit explosion plays.”
So how does this one play out? Maybe it is appropriate that the opponent is from Los Angeles, because there will be plenty of drama between now and Saturday. Will James run for over 100 yards again? Can De’Anthony Thomas run wild against a stacked USC defense? Can the Kardashian family please go away? Whoops, wrong story.
In the end, while the Trojans may have the weapons to hang with the Ducks for four quarters, I don’t think it’ll be enough to spoil the party (especially at Autzen, where the crowd will be even more amped than usual). Oregon will win a wild 52-35 shootout over the boys from Southern California.
Now onto some other quick items, starting with high school football. You have to tip your hat to Sheldon head football coach Lane Johnson. After years of serving as an assistant to his brother Marty, he has done an outstanding job of continuing the Irish’s winning ways this season. Last week, Sheldon ripped up Clackamas 50-0 in the first round of the 6A OSAA playoffs. It’s safe to say that Lincoln High will be a stiffer joust in the second round game on Friday. But win or lose, it’s clear Johnson has the program on the right track and we should be seeing them in the championship game.
Staying on prep sports, we’ll be ramping up our high school basketball coverage within the next three weeks, stay tuned as they say. Until next time, I’ll see you in the bleachers.