Penalties Still A Concern As 3-0 Oregon Ducks Begin Pac-12 Gauntlet


Contributor, 750 The Game

Oregon was a big favorite on Saturday for the second time this year at Autzen Stadium against an inferior opponent in Hawaii. Portland State lost 81-7, while the Rainbow Warriors fell 55-10 on Saturday. Can we really learn anything from these matchups?

The answer is yes, we just can’t learn everything. Not yet.

The eye test in sports is, often, a valuable tool to assess how a team or player is performing (or has the potential to). Oregon’s defense, which faced many questions coming into the season, certainly passed the eye test on Saturday. They created pressure, more than just their two sacks would indicate.

What about the secondary? That Hawaii passing attack is good–at the G5 level. I think they can be a mid-tier Mountain West team this year with what their offense showed in the first couple of weeks. Holding them to under 150 passing yards with an interception (which was a poor throw because of pressure) is what a good defense should do.

Does it mean they’ve improved enough to hold in check a prolific lineup of quarterbacks in the Pac-12? Not automatically. The offenses they’ll face in Pac-12 play will have better QBs and especially better wideouts. 

But this performance with the backdrop of last week’s heart-stopping win against Texas Tech should leave Duck fans feeling encouraged. Both weeks saw performances from the defensive line that were fleeting in 2022. Both weeks featured takeaways that were as much caused by the defense as they were mistakes by the offense. However, both weeks featured one trend that has to be corrected going forward.

For the 2nd straight week, Dan Lanning was answering questions about the penalties. Some weren’t consequential, but several of them were. Pass interference and roughing the passer penalties will extend drives and shorten the field for an offense. Oregon scraped by Texas Tech 38-30 with 14 penalties, and they could have committed 20 against Hawaii and still probably won the game. 

Colorado is up this week, off a game in which their opponent committed 17 penalties for 182 yards–and should have won the game. I wouldn’t advise that Oregon operate in such a callous fashion this Saturday and expect to coast to victory, lest we forget what happened to TCU. 

I’m thinking ahead to the biggest games in the Pac-12 slate beyond Colorado, who will be without their standout all-purpose man Travis Hunter. Nine or more penalties in Seattle against Washington? That would be hard to overcome. Do that against Utah in Salt Lake City? Good luck. Give Caleb Williams and USC extra chances to move the ball? Unlikely to end well. 

Colorado will be the best barometer to date to see how Oregon’s defense can hold up against a high level QB. Shedeur Sanders is really impressive. Travis Hunter or not, the passing attack is prolific and the secondary will be challenged in several areas. The Buffs’ OL has been inconsistent this year, so pressure should be expected for Tosh Lupoi’s unit. 

I haven’t mentioned the offense yet because, well…what more do you want? It was far from perfect against Texas Tech, but on the road they came through in the 4th quarter when they needed to. Bo Nix has a plethora of weapons at his disposal at all 3 position groups (RB, WR, TE). The offensive line’s pass protection has been superb. I’ll be curious to see how well they run the ball against the Buffs next week.

Bigger tests will come, but this is how good teams look against opponents like Hawaii. Now the nine-game gauntlet that is the Ducks’ Pac-12 schedule begins in the wildest (and last) year of the Pac-12 in recent memory.

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.