September 26, 2011
Oregon grades: Arizona
Summary B Oregon 56 - Arizona 31: The Oregon Ducks took to the road and headed to Tucson for their Pac-12 opener against Arizona. Tucson has been the site of a series of tough battles between the Ducks and the Wildcats over the last decade, but this time the Ducks arrived in Arizona with a sense of purpose and dominated the Wildcats from start to finish. It was another offensive masterpiece as the Ducks got into rhythm and shredded the Arizona defense seemingly at will. The defense wasn't as impressive, particularly in the second half, but it was more than adequate to ensure that the Ducks left Tucson with an easy victory on the road in their first ever contest in the newly formed Pac-12.
Offense A- (56 points, 516 yards, 29 first downs, 6-19 third down)
AJ: Oh no, Pac-12. This is not what you wanted to see out of the Oregon offense. When Oregon attempts 20 passes in a game it usually means they will win. When the running game is working and the Ducks have their familiar lead, Chip Kelly is happy as a New England clam to run the ball all day, throwing the ball just enough to keep the defense honest and the WR group from mutiny. What really seemed to open up the offense for the Ducks was Darron Thomas keeping the ball several times early. As we have noted in previous grades and analyses this year, that helps LaMichael James immensely as the opponent linebackers have to wait and read longer, keeping them from loading up against one of Oregon's best players from Texarkana.
JC: The offense was scintillating. It sliced and diced the Arizona with a speed and regularity that sent the students in the notorious 'Zona Zoo" heading toward the exits at half-time. The key to the performance was LaMichael James who put on one of the greatest rushing performances in Oregon history. Darron Thomas showed why people call him a dual-threat quarterback early in the game and his efforts helped ensure that Arizona wouldn't be able to clog the line and slow down James and the Duck running game. If the Ducks could get the same level of performance from their receiving corps, they would be unstoppable.
Quarterback A- (Thomas 11-20, 2 TD)
AJ: Darron Thomas is not really a dual-threat quarterback; he is a pocket-passer by nature. But when he shows the run, something he is highly competent at doing, he opens the offense and can be his best. Saturday night against Arizona, Thomas played like the guy who quarterbacked Oregon's 2010 team prior to Costa's injury, after which he became an option quarterback whose keys seemed to change to read 'keep' the balance of the season. Showing the Wildcats his feet early had the exact effect it should have; it kept the Arizona LB's and safeties from cheating to the Oregon running back. Passing-wise Thomas was fine, good enough obviously. Aside from excellent decision making, the other highest component of his UA grade was for ball handling, which was a notch more precise than it had been lately.
JC: Darron Thomas played from start to finish. Thomas showed the versatility that makes him really special in the Oregon offense, something that he hadn't done yet this year. For the first time this year, Darron made sure he established himself as a rushing option, carrying the ball on two of the first three offensive plays for 14 yards. His first run probably left many Oregon fans holding his breath when an Arizona defensive lineman grabbed him by the collar as he went by and yanked him backwards to the ground. Thomas demonstrated his trademark toughness when he jumped back up and trotted to the line of scrimmage to get the Duck offense moving immediately (after the officials walked off 15 yards against the Wildcats) despite what appeared to be a twinge in his left knee. Over the course of the game, Thomas carried ten times for 52 yards and two touchdowns. Darron also accounted for another two touchdowns via the air in an 11 for 20 passing performance. The numbers aren't gaudy, but they don't tell the whole story. Thomas' establishment of himself as a running threat and his deft ball-handling had a lot to do with Oregon success running the ball and his passing performance would have been more impressive if his wide receivers could just do their job in the passing game. Darron's grade was hurt a little by his inaccuracy in throwing the deep ball, something that is a rarity for him.
Offensive line A (8.8 ypc, 5 tfl against)
AJ: The offensive line was very good against Arizona. While the Oregon running backs did a great job of breaking and avoiding tackles, the big uglies up front provided some gaping holes much of the night. They looked physical and mean yet agile as dancing bears, leading James and his buddies into the second level on numerous plays. Carson York and Nick Cody both had excellent games inside for Greatwood, something especially welcome given the loss of Ramsen Golpashin. Asper and Weems were solid despite each having a breakdown or two. Hroniss Grasu continues to improve rapidly in the role of being a college center.
JC: The offensive line opened gaping holes in the Arizona defensive front seven on a regular basis. It was a much better performance than the unit put together against Louisiana State and, coupled with their performance against Missouri State suggests that the 2011 offensive line may have found its identity. The rushing game netted over 400 yards against Arizona and the Wildcats never even got a sniff of Darron Thomas when he dropped back to pass. You can't really ask much more from an offensive line than what they gave on Saturday.
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