By Rob Moseley
Several minutes after No. 2 Oregon had wrapped up a 59-14 win over Tennessee on Saturday in Autzen Stadium, UO coach Mark Helfrich finally got a chance to check out the stat sheet.
It didn’t take him long to digest the numbers, or offer an assessment.
“I’ll take that,” Helfrich said during his postgame press conference, drawing laughter from the room.
The Ducks dismantled the Volunteers to the tune of 687 yards of offense, and held the Vols to 316. Tennessee entered the day tied for first nationally with nine takeaways, but Oregon made it through a third straight game without a turnover.
Oregon wore down the traditional SEC power on both lines of scrimmages, and was faster in the open field. The Ducks came into the day as four-touchdown favorites, yet won by seven.
And yet, there were nits to be picked, by those so inclined. Oregon had eight penalties, one that negated a long kickoff return to open the game and another that took a touchdown off the board. The Ducks missed a field goal, and were slow to establish a rhythm offensively.
“It’s not going to be perfect,” Helfrich said. “We’re not going to win 107-0 every time, with no issues of any kind. I thought our guys did a great job of responding to moderate issues, and kept playing.”
On the one hand, it’s understandable the Ducks might be exasperated by such criticism, after improving to 3-0 by an aggregate score of 184-27. On the other hand, Oregon is No. 2 in the nation, and being assessed for its potential as a national championship contender, not just any old Pac-12 team.
“We don’t get frustrated,” UO quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “We understand that sometimes we’ll get slowed up a little bit. But once we find a rhythm, we’re pretty good.”
This week the Ducks have a bye. They’ll practice on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, looking to tighten up certain issues but also to get their regulars some much-deserved rest, and to get young players more practice reps.
Among the ongoing factors to watch, Helfrich said, is the kicking game. Alejandro Maldonado missed an early 37-yard attempt Saturday, while freshman Matt Wogan connected from 38, and also had three touchbacks on his six kickoffs.
There are issues to address, yes. But the Ducks won’t be consumed by them, after showing far more to be encouraged by than disappointed with through three games.
“We’re going to make a few mistakes,” Helfrich said. “It’s how you react to those mistakes that’s going to define you in the long term.”