3 and Out: Thoughts following game vs. Nicholls
EUGENE – Oregon Ducks coach Mark Helfrich experienced no extra adrenaline surge Saturday afternoon at Autzen Stadium, his first as the head coach.
No rattled nerves for the Coos Bay native. No sweaty palms. No anxiety. Not even prior to running through the tunnel with his No. 3 Ducks before 57,769 fans prior to kickoff against Nicholls State University.
Or so Helfrich said following a 66-3 drubbing of the FCS Colonels in a game that revealed no transitional hangover born from the departure of former head coach Chip Kelly, now with the Philadelphia Eagles.
All Helfrich needed to keep him calm was the knowledge that his team would be led by sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota.
“I had my arm around Marcus Mariota [prior to kickoff] and I felt good,” Helfrich said.
It’s tough to believe that the man who grew up a Ducks fan experienced no raging emotions prior or during the biggest moment of his professional life.
Tough to believe until one considers that Helfrich’s overall demeanor is consistent with his claims.
He is the soothing, flowing river to Kelly’s raging tide. That manifested itself on the sidelines Saturday and set the tone for an easy win and maybe the season.
“There weren’t any highs or lows,” Mariota said of Helfrich. “As a player you look to that from your head coach. That gives you the kind of comfort like, nothing’s really bothering him. I can go out there and play loose. I think to have that as a player you really kind of gain confidence as the game goes on. It’s pretty cool to see that from him.”
All went well for Oregon Saturday. Oregon racked up a school-record 772 yards of total offense against a Nicholls team coming off a 1-10 season. For the first time ever, three Ducks reached 100 yards rushing in the same game. Oregon’s defense held Nicholls to 3.9 yards per play.
Only time will tell if Helfrich remains as calm when things aren’t going as smoothly. But at least for now, players and coaches see a difference at the top.
“Mark is probably a little bit more open to suggestions in the game where Chip was a little bit on his own,” UO running backs coach Gary Campbell said. “He had certain things that he wanted to do and he did them.”
One thing that did not change was Oregon’s tempo on offense. The Ducks blistered Nicholls with eight touchdown drives of under two minutes in duration. Oregon led 24-0 with 5:04 remaining in the first quarter.
Sure, there were hiccups. Mariota was not nearly as poetically dominant as he had been during last year’s opener against Arkansas State.
Still, he completed 12 of 21 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 113 yards on five carries and scoring twice.
Joining him with 100 yards rushing were running backs, De’Anthony Thomas (128 and two touchdowns) and Byron Marshall (124 and a score).
Those dominant numbers came via the play calling of new offensive coordinator Scott Frost, last year’s wide receivers coach.
He sat in the coaches booth while Helfrich roamed the sideline for the first time, he said, since he was a graduate assistant with Oregon in 1997.
The play-calling communication the past four years occurred between Helfrich in the booth and Kelly on the field with the latter making the calls. Now it occurs with Frost in the booth and Helfrich on the field with the former Nebraska quarterback making the calls. After Game 1, both felt good about the process.
“That was one thing that we’re working through,” Helfrich said. “We hadn’t done it in a game before. It’s good that a game of this nature kind of played itself out. You got through a couple of those kinks where he’s yelling over the top of me and I’m yelling over the top of him. That’s a good thing.”
Frost said he was pleased with the first effort within the new process but said there were minor kinks to workout.
As for the run-to-pass ratio of 26 passes to 45 runs, Frost said there’s nothing to read into that, nor into the prevailing theory by many that Oregon could pass more often this season than in years past. Saturday was the DAT show with a team-high 18 carries.
“We’re going to call what we feel has the best chance to be successful,” Frost said. “DAT does some freaky things with the ball in his hands.”
Following the game and all its numerically impressive performances – including a team-high 11 tackles from new starting inside linebacker Derrick Malone – the team elected to present Helfirch with the game ball.
“It was his first career victory,” Mariota said. “That’s something special.”
But not special enough to at least outwardly induce special emotions from Helfrich, who said it’s difficult to get worked up while surrounded by so many great players, coaches and people at Oregon.
“It’s just a tremendous amount of confidence being around our guys, being around our staff,” he said. “It’s just a great team win…It’s about our team.”