Rosenthal: Strange times for Duck football

Two 100-yard rushers. Over 500 total yards. 27 first downs. 42 points.

The Ducks didn’t play a bad game on Saturday when they dismantled Fresno State 42-25.  Not hardly.

But if you were to take to the twittersphere in the second half of Saturday’s game, you might think the Ducks were losing by that same score. A stale second-half performance that saw the Ducks score just seven points while allowing 19 overshadowed–at least in the minds of a fair number of Duck fans–another stellar first half.

The Ducks had a similarly sloppy second stanza against Arkansas State, but with second and third teamers running straight up the middle every time, few really seemed to care.  But this week was different. Marcus Mariota’s offense played the entire game and laid an egg in the second half hour. Mariota finished with a very pedestrian 166 yards passing–fewer yards than he had in his quarter and a half outing against the Red Wolves–and just 149 of the Ducks 500+ yards came in the second half.

Chip Kelly didn’t seem too bothered by his team’s play in the second half, and the voters didn’t seem to mind either.  Oregon held steady at number four in both the AP and coaches polls, even picking up a lone first place vote in the latter.

But for fans, the Ducks’ second half collapse–if you can call anything that happened in a win a “collapse”–against the Bulldogs simply wasn’t good enough. That’s an indication of just how far Oregon has come as a program.

Autzen Stadium is home to a team that has played in three straight BCS bowls, winning its conference all three times. Kelly is a coach with more conference titles than conference losses, and the Ducks’ second-string running back scores once every five times he touches the football. Last week, I wasn’t concerned with the way the Ducks played in the second half because it was all reserves in the game. This week, I still can’t bring myself to worry too much.  The Ducks are still outscoring opponents 85-16 in the first half, and they’re also 2-0 for, believe it or not, just the second time in Kelly’s short tenure as the Ducks head coach.

But if the Ducks play a similarly lackluster second half against FCS Tennessee Tech–even though I think even the Golden Eagles expect Oregon’s scrubs to be playing by halftime–fan patience may start to run thin. The fact of the matter is that the Ducks play in an, er, let’s call it “unpredictable” Pac-12 conference and they won’t be able to put every game away by halftime. If these second half woes don’t stop, it’s going to cost the Ducks a game somewhere down the road, and with the new high standards of Duck fans, one loss–if it comes against somebody else in the Pac-12 north–might be enough to keep the Ducks out of a BCS bowl.

Then you’ll really hear what the fans think.

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Isaac Rosenthal

Isaac Rosenthal