By SPENCER McLAUGHLIN
Contributor, 750 The Game
Sometimes stats can be misleading.
The phrases “it wasn’t as close as the score indicated” or “it was closer than it seems” get tossed around with enough regularity to be accurate from time to time. I’d like to add one to the mix: “The blowout didn’t always feel like a blowout.”
Oregon took care of Stanford 42-6 on Saturday with the Ducks scoring 42 unanswered points to win in Palo Alto. Oregon’s defense did not allow a touchdown, just a pair of early field goals. Those 6 points for Stanford came amidst the Cardinal controlling the ball for over 13 minutes in the first quarter. Oregon’s first two offensive drives went 3 and out and gave Duck fans flashbacks to a 2021 upset in that very stadium. Then, Dan Lanning’s team woke up, found its groove, and proved they were the better team. The offense cruised in the second half and the defense put up another impressive stat line, including 5 sacks and 11 total tackles for loss.
This isn’t an article of doom and gloom about the Ducks – quite the contrary.
2021 was, in many ways, a frustrating season for Oregon fans. The Ducks had the big win against Ohio State, only to get blown out by Utah late in the year. Those big losses to the Utes were preceded by a loss to a 3-9 Stanford team and a continued inability to put away inferior opponents with slow starts.
Dan Lanning’s team was sluggish in a dormant environment on The Farm. It can be hard to play inspired football in front of a crowd that makes less noise than a well-attended high school game. Once Oregon got into the groove, it reminded fans why hopes are so high around the program heading into the bye with No. 7 Washington looming on October 14.
The Ducks played an uninspiring first half of football against a team they are much more talented than, leading by just 8 points at the break. A 42-6 score prediction is one that could have reasonably been made prior to kickoff. To have only played one good half of football to cruise to a victory is demonstrative of what Oregon is capable of.
No, the Ducks haven’t played the toughest games on their schedule yet so we don’t know the ceiling of Lanning’s team in year two. But we know the floor. They had 124 penalty yards and found a way to win against Texas Tech in Week 2. They blew out Stanford the way many expected – covering a 27.5 point spread – while only playing one complete half of football. Good teams are able to win without playing their best football and the Ducks have done that twice this season.
Is Oregon a great team? We are going to find out after the bye. A trio of top 25 opponents await the Ducks and two of them will be on the road. Washington looks legit. Washington State is a good team with a very underrated QB in Cam Ward. Utah is tough in Salt Lake City even without Cam Rising throwing the ball, though one would think (maybe?) he will be back by then.
Aside from sloppy penalty yards against Texas Tech, it’s hard to see how much better Oregon’s defense could have played so far. Their starters haven’t allowed a touchdown since the 3rd quarter in Lubbock against Texas Tech. The Ducks lead the Pac-12 in total yards and passing yards allowed per game. After USC surrendered 41 points to Colorado last week, the Ducks’ dominant effort shined through even more as they head into their bye week.
The defense has looked faster, more physical, and is generating vastly more pressure on opposing quarterbacks this year. They’ve already racked up 18 sacks through 5 weeks, matching their total from the entire 2022 season.
We won’t know the ceiling until the next three games play out, but one thing is for sure: The floor on Dan Lanning’s team in year two is higher than it was a season ago, and the defensive improvement is to thank for that.
Is it October 14th yet?
Spencer McLaughlin is an Oregon Ducks football contributor to 750 The Game. He also hosts the “Locked On Oregon Ducks” and “Locked On Pac-12” podcasts and has work featured throughout the season here.