Gameday: Oregon’s trip to Salt Lake City will tell us how physical the Ducks really are
With Oregon leading its nemesis Stanford 21-6 early in the second quarter this past Saturday, both teams lined up for a fourth-and-two play at the Ducks’ 24-yard line. In the past, this is the exact type of play that Stanford would just line up behind its more physical offensive line, hand the ball off to its running back and get the necessary two yards for the first down.
This isn’t the the same old Oregon team.
Unable to successfully run the ball against Oregon this time, the Cardinal used a play action pass to try and get the first down but the play was broken up by Oregon’s Derrick Malone Jr. and the Ducks took over the ball.
“I knew there was going to be a pass but it was my natural reflexes that allowed my bat it down,” Malone Jr. said. “We, as a defense, just wanted to be more physical and we executed our game plan pretty well.”
The fact that Stanford, one of the nation’s most physical teams, decided to throw the ball on fourth down proves to the nation just how far Oregon has come.
“We were very physical at the line of scrimmage, got off blocks and finished every play,” Oregon defensive line coach Ron Aiken said after the victory over Stanford. “Our guys did well but our guys played really well tonight.”
2014 has been a revelation for the Ducks as Oregon has defeated Michigan State (46-27) and Stanford (45-16), two of the better power-running teams in the nation. In those games, the Ducks have averaged 220 yards rushing on the ground while holding those two teams to an average of 127.5 rushing yards per game.
“Every week it’s our job to keep our pads low and be the more physical team and the outcome reflected that,” Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greenwood said. “We (the offensive line) are beginning to come together as a group and believe in each other.”
Now, Oregon faces the same type of beast in 17th-ranked Utah.
“Utah is a good squad, a physical one that we know we’re going to have to be ready for,” Oregon’s Jake Fisher said. “We have to be more physical this weekend and keep improving on that.”
The Utes enter the game averaging 198.1 yards rushing per game (third in the Pac-12) but do so behind a big offensive line and powerful running back named Devontae Booker. Booker averages 123.75 yards per game but has been on a tear recently, averaging 162.2 yards and 1.2 touchdowns per game in his last five games.
It’ll be another test, yet based upon the continued success the defense is seeing, a physical game is exactly what they’re looking for.
Follow Ryan Kostecka on Twitter @ryan_kostecka