By SPENCER McLAUGHLIN
Contributor, 750 The Game
Oregon’s first two touchdowns against USC on Saturday had Duck fans wondering how many points they could put up inside Autzen Stadium. Those scores reminded me of playing NCAA 14 on my old Xbox 360 with the difficulty set to Freshman. The Ducks ended the game with 36 points and a 9-point victory — that could have been much more.
The Ducks outgained the Trojans by 173 yards, and Oregon’s prolific offense only faced nine third downs in the entire game. Bo Nix went for over 400 yards and 4 touchdowns with no turnovers. He’s now the betting favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. If Oregon wins its next three games and makes the College Football Playoff, he will have one heck of an opportunity to capture the sport’s most prestigious award.
Saturday night was simultaneously a complete game from the Ducks and left Oregon fans wanting more. In front of almost 60,000 fans, who got a warranted shoutout postgame to begin the press conference, Dan Lanning showed why he’s built a team that can make the CFP. USC is not a bad team, they’re just not a great one and they’re playing in a great conference. And yes, their defense is bad. But Caleb Williams is simply magnificent. His final offensive stats: 19/34 (56%), 291 yards, 2 TDs (1 rush), and 1 fumble. He was also sacked three times.
I thought going into the game containing him (literally) was the biggest key for the Ducks. He’s lethal outside the pocket, and Oregon’s defense did well in making life difficult for him. Three sacks and regular pressure are numbers that should make Duck fans feel confident this defense can play at a high level against elite offenses and elite players. His numbers ended up being decent but not outstanding by his standards, and he was pretty clearly aided by a couple of questionable calls/non-calls in the Oregon secondary.
So Caleb Williams was playing his heart out and having spectacular moments, Oregon had sloppy mistakes including 120 penalty yards and another missed field goal, and still won the game without ever trailing. That’s what great teams are able to do – beat good opponents when things like officiating don’t go your way or when your team is making self-inflicted mistakes.
Lanning is doing a fantastic job in his second season. He needs to win these last two regular season games to give his team the CFP chance they are capable of. But regardless of what happens in the next few weeks, Texas A&M is going to be interested. The Aggies relieved HC Jimbo Fisher of his duties on Sunday in the midst of another disappointing season.
Dan Lanning’s name will get tossed around, and I don’t think Oregon – who extended the 2nd-year head coach and gave him a raise before the season — is going to let him slip away. I also don’t think Lanning should want to leave. He’s got a top 10 recruiting class, a CFP contender for the second straight season, and has had explosive offenses with two different OCs as he’s built up the defense to be an elite unit. He has everything he needs at Oregon to win a national championship, and head coaches that leave the Ducks haven’t found much success once departing Eugene. On an unrelated note, I wonder what Chip Kelly is thinking right now.
I think Lanning wants to stay at Oregon, and it appears to be a great fit. When the only concerns for a team are centered around things that can be fixed in practice (penalties and field goals), the “progrum” is in a good place.
What can Texas A&M provide that Oregon can’t? I’m not really sure now that Oregon is headed to the Big 10.
Hard to not like what Lanning has built and is continuing to build in Eugene right now. I think he will feel the same way.
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.