by Rob Moseley
Editor, GoDucks.com

Venue: Outdoor practice fields
Format: Full pads

The nature of being a top team is that you're going to be picked over with a fine-toothed comb. I know the TV crew from the Virginia game irked some Oregon fans with some of its critiques; I watched it on DVR when we got home early Sunday morning, and felt like they were for the most part fair. Being a national contender requires few flaws, and the broadcasters were debating what flaws might possibly keep the Ducks from winning it all.

The same level of criticism has befallen Marcus Mariota this week. After going 14-of-28 against the Cavaliers, matching the lowest single-game completion percentage of his career, Mariota has completed 53.1 percent through two games this season. But with as explosive as the offense has been, averaging 62.5 points, and given Mariota's ability to essentially eliminate negative plays including turnovers, you won't hear the Ducks complaining.

"He didn't throw one bad ball (on Saturday)," UO offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Scott Frost said today. "He was 14-of-28, but he had to throw about three away, we dropped about six — that's nine — and then he took a couple shots down the field that were low-percentage deals, and we missed them. That's about 12 of the 14. Looking at the tape, he didn't throw one ball that wasn't a good throw."

What I've found most remarkable about Mariota, in practices and games both, is that lack of major mistakes. He doesn't take huge risks that might provide more highlight-reel moments, but he also doesn't put the team in any bad positions. When he throws a ball, only the intended receiver has a chance to catch it.

"That's a lot of things," Frost said. "That's getting himself in the right protection so he has time to get it off, that's seeing the field well, and that's putting the ball in the right place. He's done a great job."

Today's practice featured more of the same. During a red-zone drill, when turnovers would be most crippling, Mariota was typically efficient. He's such a sublime player, he can lure you into overlooking that efficiency and production, but it's very impressive. He found B.J. Kelley in the back of the end zone and put the pass high enough that only the uber-athletic receiver had a chance at it, and Kelley indeed made the touchdown reception. Mariota also had scoring passes to Johnny Mundt and Bralon Addison during the drill.

What he didn't have, yet again, was a major mistake, like an interception.

"Turnovers are the biggest stat in football, and we've done a great job as an offense the first two weeks, with zero turnovers," Frost said. "Now we're playing the team that's created the most in the country through two games. We definitely need to win the turnover battle."

Highlights: That red-zone drill also included rushing touchdowns by De'Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, and a scoring pass from Jake Rodrigues to Chance Allen. … Allen had one of the plays of the day during a one-on-one drill also conducted in the red zone, leaping and twisting his body to haul in a pass. … Keanon Lowe had two nice touchdowns during that one-on-one period, one thanks to a beautifully thrown ball by Dustin Haines that led Lowe perfectly while he was still in the middle of making a break in his route. … Bronson Yim had a diving interception for the scout defense after a pass was tipped by a receiver. … DeForest Buckner, Joe Walker, Rahim Cassell and Rodney Hardrick all had big hits on the defensive field during the red-zone work.

Other observations: True freshman receiver Darren Carrington has taken more reps this week with the ones and twos, rather than the scout team. He's looking like another guy in the gray area of being in line to redshirt, but kept ready in case he's needed. "I've just got to focus more on the playbook, instead of the scout-team plays," Carrington said. "Just really lock in on the plays." … As happened in August a couple times, Thomas and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu sought each other out during one-on-ones, but the horn blew to end the period before they could go head-to-head, eliciting howls of protest from Ekpre-Olomu. … Oh, for practice to have been "live" for a goal-line collision between Tyner and Danny Mattingly at one point. I'd have liked to have seen whether Tyner could have driven the linebacker into the end zone, or if Mattingly would have held his ground. … Keep an eye on receiver Blake Stanton on Saturday. He's been wearing a huge, old-school neck roll in practice this week. He's going to look like Bobby Boucher from "The Waterboy" in full uniform.

Finally, Mark Helfrich broke from his usual dress code today and wore a U.S. Army shirt for practice. During the post-practice huddle, he reminded players to take a moment at some point today to remember those who died in the 9/11 attacks. He also read a letter to them written by a friend who works in the Pentagon, thanking the team for its efforts to recognize the military.