September 8, 2012; Eugene, OR, USA; Oregon Ducks running back Kenjon Barner (24) runs the ball against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Autzen Stadium. Photo by Scott Olmos.
De’Anthony Thomas was as elusive as ever, Kenjon Barner matched him score for score and the offense looked like a well-oiled machine. Oregon looked, well, like Oregon.
But, much like last week, the offense slowed down considerably as the Ducks (2-0) put up a paltry seven points in the second half en route to a 42-25 victory at Autzen Stadium.
This time however, there were no backups to point the finger at as the one's and two's struggled while Fresno State attempted to mount a comeback. Two key injuries to wide receiver Josh Huff and offensive lineman Carson York elicited groans from the 55,755 in attendance and didn’t help matters for the Ducks.
The Bulldogs (1-1) posted ten points in the third quarter after recovering back-to-back Oregon fumbles, one by freshman wide receiver Bralon Addison and one by redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota that affirmed the Ducks offense was stalling.
“I think when you turn it on and turn it off, that’s what we need to work on as a group,” head coach Chip Kelly said. “I think that’s what this group needs to learn as we keep moving.”
Following the Mariota fumble, Bulldogs quarterback Derek Carr was able to connect wide receiver Isaiah Burse in the corner of the end zone to give Fresno State a little life, but Addison’s miscue moments put the ball on the Oregon 12 yard line, giving Fresno State a chance to make it a two score contest.
But, a stingy defensive stand near the goal line forced the Bulldogs to take a field goal. Mariota would commit another turnover in the fourth quarter when he was sacked by Phillip Thomas and fumbled, but the Bulldogs still couldn’t put the ball over the goal line.
“Had they converted those [turnovers] into touchdowns that game could have gotten scary, because we weren’t clicking as a team on all cylinders in the second half,” defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said.
It wasn’t until Barner scored his third touchdown of the day with just under four minutes left that the game was officially put away. Barner took nine handoffs on that drive alone, amassing 201 yards rushing on 31 carries overall and three touchdowns.
The Ducks have been recognized as a second-half team under Kelly, but the first two contests of the 2012 season have seen Oregon flip the script. And the Bulldogs seemed determine to make the sluggish Ducks work for every yard as the game wore on, getting to Mariota regularly and stopping the big threats in Thomas and Barner.
“As an offense, we didn’t necessarily struggle, but there were some drives where — I wouldn’t say laid back — but we definitely took the foot off the gas a little bit,” Mariota said.
Though there was no update on York, Huff’s injury, which occurred on punt coverage in the first half, added some concern due to the Ducks lack of experience at the position. He went down away from the ball and had to be helped off the field. By the end of the game he was walking without the aid of crutches.
“I just planted wrong and it gave out on me,” Huff said, adding later, “I’m fine. I’ll be back Monday.”
And Monday is when the Ducks will get back to work on improving the second half offensive game. Most were positive after the game, citing these experiences as growing pains.
With one last non-conference game against Tennessee Tech on the horizon next weekend, the Ducks will have a shot to correct those mishaps before Arizona comes to Autzen in two weeks.
But, at 2-0 the Ducks aren’t sweating anything yet.
“It’s a lot easier to make corrections when you win than when you lose,” Kelly said.