By Rob Moseley
Freshly 3-0 and still sporting a No. 2 ranking in the polls after Saturday’s 59-14 win over Tennessee, the Oregon football team has a bye on the schedule this week before entering conference play.
The Ducks made a clean sweep of the nonleague slate, knocking off Nicholls, Virginia on the road and then the Volunteers. UO coach Mark Helfrich reiterated Sunday evening that his team will use this week to rest its veterans, get extended practice reps for younger players Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and to brush up on fundamentals.
“We can throw-and-catch better, we can protect better; footwork, angles, just all the fundamentals that go into everything,” Helfrich said in a teleconference with local media.
Oregon’s standings in the national rankings would suggest the Ducks don’t have many major concerns. The UO football team is second nationally in scoring offense with 61.3 points per game, fourth in scoring defense at 9.0 points allowed per game, and also top-five in total offense, rushing offense, turnover margin and sacks allowed.
The big-play UO offense leads the nation in gains of 20-plus yards (34), 30-plus yards (17) and 40-plus yards (11), and quarterback Marcus Mariota is fourth in total offense with 383.7 yards per game.
Once the bye week is passed, the Ducks will take on California at home on Sept. 28. A kickoff time is expected to be announced Monday, though there’s a small possibility it won’t be set until a week later.
The Golden Bears are 1-2, with losses to Northwestern and Ohio State, plus a win over Portland State. They’re starting a true freshman quarterback, Jared Goff, who leads the nation with 433.7 passing yards per game in new coach Sonny Dykes’ “Bear Raid” attack.
“This next game is going to be completely opposite of these last three,” Helfrich said. “Cal has thrown it around probably more than anyone else. … They throw it a ton, and watching some of the game (against Ohio State) last night, it’s just a different set of challenges.”
Oregon’s defense ranks 33rd nationally in passing yards allowed per game, at 198.3, but is 11th in pass efficiency defense, allowing a passer rating of 92.08. Similarly, the Ducks are 30th nationally in total defense, at 319.0 yards allowed per game, but ninth in yards allowed per play, at 3.99. Because Oregon’s offensive pace leads to more plays per game by both teams, averages per play might be a better metric by which to judge the Ducks.
Helfrich said the onset of Pac-12 play won’t change the mindset of his players.
“Our next step for a great game against Cal is to rest, recover (and) rehab between today and tomorrow, get ready for practice Tuesday and go about our business,” Helfrich said. “That’s our formula whether we’re getting ready for Nicholls State or whoever’s considered to be our most talented opponent.”
The Ducks’ overall mindset is also a factor in Helfrich’s decision not to specify reasons why a particular player might not have appeared in a game. Helfrich used the euphemism “circumstances” to explain the absence of receiver Eric Dungy against Nicholls, and again regarding tight end Colt Lyerla against Tennessee.
Helfrich was asked Sunday evening why he didn’t get more specific; some players acknowledged Saturday that Lyerla was dealing with an illness earlier in the week.
“That’s just not what we do,” Helfrich said. “I think it would be a lot easier for me to talk about it, but I don’t think that’s the best way. And I’ve talked about this with our entire team in a team meeting situation, of why we do things the way we do.”
Helfrich said his lack of specifics is due to player privacy concerns; protection of a player from opponents who might try to aggravate an injury; not wanting to put the team at a competitive disadvantage by providing useful injury information to opponents; and not wanting the Ducks’ overall mindset to be distracted.
“When you talk about limitations or excuses or all that kind of stuff, that takes over,” Helfrich said. “And we don’t want to be an operation that’s based on limitations or excuses.”
It’s been suggested that Helfrich’s preferred term, ‘circumstances,’ could lead to speculation that is unfair to players.
“I don’t think there’s any negative connotation to the word ‘circumstances,’” Helfrich said. “(But) going forward, if ‘circumstances’ is considered negative, then I’ll think of another way to say nothing.”