Oregon Ducks offense in need of repairs

Oregon Ducks offense in need of repairs
January 2, 2014, 11:15 am
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Mariota on health of knee, Alamo performance

Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) runs past Texas Longhorns defensive end Caleb Bluiett (42) during the first half at Alamo Dome.

(Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)

Many Oregon fans watching Baylor and Central Florida run up and down the field during Wednesday night’s Fiesta Bowl might have felt a twinge of nostalgia.

Oregon’s offense used to look like that.

No. 15 Central Florida upset No. 6 Baylor 52-42, which should help No. 10 Oregon move up in the rankings following its 30-7 win at Texas in Monday’s Alamo Bowl.

That win set up Oregon nicely for next season when it returns 10 starters on offense. But which UO offense will we see in 2014?

The one that averaged around 50 points per game during quarterback Marcus Mariota’s first 21 starts and had the Ducks ranked No. 2 after eight games this season?

Or will it be the offense that produced just 120 points over the final five games this season with special teams and defense contributing another 26 including 14 in the Alamo Bowl?

Had Texas carried a better quarterback than Case McCoy that could move the ball and didn’t throw two interceptions for touchdowns the Longhorns might have defeated Oregon.

Then the talk would not have been about Mariota’s knee returning to health and him running wild for 133 yards.

It would be that the Ducks offense once again struggled and this time cost them a bowl victory after costing them a shot at the BCS national title, the Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl berth.

Oregon’s once amazing offense has hit the skids and the Ducks need to find solutions or next season could be a rough one for Oregon.

“I think a lot of people would take our problems if they were 11-2 and a top-10 team,” Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said following the Alamo Bowl. “But our coaches understand some of the things we’ve struggled with on both sides of the ball. Our players understand it and we’re ready to do things we need to do to fix those things and move forward.”

First and foremost, Oregon needs to return to finishing drives. The Ducks moved the ball well in each of their final five games.

One shouldn’t expect the same offensive numbers from Oregon against a Stanford or Texas as the Ducks threw up against the likes of California and Colorado.

Still, one should expect that if Oregon moves the ball between the 20-yard-lines that it should be able to finish with points.

Even against Stanford when the Ducks seemingly were stymied they did manage to move the ball. Oregon was held to 312 yards but that came on just seven possessions as Stanford’s offense chewed up clock with its plodding running game.

The Ducks managed just 16 points against Arizona but outgained the Wildcats 506-482.

Turnovers, penalties and poor execution led to Oregon’s failure to convert in the red zone costing the Ducks multiple scoring opportunities in both contests.

“Probably the biggest difference with our offense at the end of the year was we weren’t scoring touchdowns in the red zone,” Frost said. “Part of that is I need to get us in the right play calls. I think we need to be able to run the ball consistently when we get it down there.”

Even against Texas Oregon played as if the end zone were covered with toxic waste.

Four times the Ducks got to within the 22-yard line but had to settle for field goal attempts.

That from a team that treats field goals more like a nuisance than a form of strategy.

Against Texas, however, the Ducks needed those points because the offense produced just one touchdown.

So despite all of the attention that was placed on Mariota for being healthier than he had been in several games the reality was that even with a healthy Mariota Oregon’s struggles on offense continued.

So where do the Ducks go from here?

It’s difficult to say.

One on hand, Oregon will return 10 starters while only losing wide receiver Josh Huff.

On the other hand it’s the same 10 starters that struggled down the stretch with Huff and could also lose backup wide receiver/running back De’Anthony Thomas to the NFL should he forgo his senior season.

The reality could be that the rest of the football world has caught up to Oregon’s “blur offense” and the pace of it no longer impresses defenses.

Oregon has gone from a special preparation offense for opposing defenses to just another spread attack that attempts to play a bit faster than others.

Texas’ defenders said before the Alamo Bowl that they weren’t worried about Oregon’s style because they see it all of the time in the Big 12.

The Pac-12 is loaded with teams running either spread-pass or spread-option offenses and many are going no-huddle.

Consequently defenses are better prepared for what Oregon does because seemingly everyone else does the same types of things now in terms of pace and spreading the field.

Yet while it’s logical to draw these conclusions it’s also impossible to ignore the fact that Oregon spit up on itself continuously over its final five games.

Most of Oregon’s drives were stalled because of penalties and turnovers. While some turnovers should be credited to the opposition, some also were all about the Ducks’ failure to execute in the face of resistance from a good team.

“Just finish drives,” Mariota said when asked about what the offense needs to do to improve. “We move the ball well down there and we tend to kick field goals. We can’t leave points on the board like that. That comes from me. That comes from making some throws, some key throws…At the same time we have an offseason to prepare for that kind of stuff, just continue to push finishing. We’ll get it done.”

Certainly Mariota’s knee bothered him and that hurt the offense but he played and no offense should falter that much because the quarterback can't run as well.

Consider this: In 2011 Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas injured his knee at missed a game against Colorado. Upon returning he rushed for just 90 yards in seven games (60 came in one contest) yet the Ducks averaged 46.9 points per game during that stretch.

Mariot's knee is no excuse and he's never used it as one.

Mariota said he must improve on his ball security and accuracy. Center Hroniss Grasu said the entire offensive line must get stronger to make the running better against tougher teams.

All teams go through rough spells. But the fall off for Oregon’s offense has been stark these past five games.

Nevertheless, the players in place are the same guys who had the Ducks humming prior to the Stanford game.

So with some hard work this offseason maybe they can return to the Ducks to those once dizzying levels of offensive success.

“We’ve made it look easy around here for five years,” Frost said. “But it’s not.”