The college football season has officially begun, but everything really gets moving on Saturday... and especially here in the Northwest, where the third-ranked Oregon Ducks will take on a really high quality opponent in Nicholls State. Nicholls State? Oh, brother. Well, at least there are some other interesting things to watch for in Oregon's first game of the year aside from the outcome.
Lots of people think that there will be a drop-off in the offense because Mark Helfrich took over as head coach when Chip Kelly skipped out for Philly. Lots of people think the Ducks offense will suffer because Chip's not around. Lots of people are wrong. Remember when Mike Bellotti left and people wondered how Oregon would do with an untested guy at head coach.... that was Chip five seasons ago. And aside from that opening game debacle at Boise State, (remember this?) I think things worked out pretty well.
Clearly Oregon will not be tested this week. As it happens, Nicholls State played their last game in the state of Oregon as well- it was the hurricane-delayed game at Oregon State last December 1st.... and OSU scored 77 points, the most in their history. Even with a whole year to prepare for the Ducks, I don't see it being very different- and for the record, the most points Oregon has ever scored in modern-day history is 72, which they did twice, most recently against New Mexico during the undefeated regular season of 2010. (They did score 115 one game, but that was 1910. Admittedly, against Nicholls State, even that record is in jeopardy.)
The other day I was talking to someone who thought the Ducks would go undefeated, and I said “yeah, until De'Anthony Thomas goes down with a season ending injury in the first game.” Repeating this story has gotten me several punches on the shoulder. Truth is, DAT is small. He's probably all muscle, but let's be honest, what good is 180 pounds of muscle if a 300 pound lineman sits on you? Yeah, you're right.... DAT will never be caught by a 300 pound lineman. But a fellow who runs DAT fast is in danger of leg injuries- remember Bo Jackson was never the same after his leg injury. Getting caught and dragged down is bad news for everyone, but I've seen really fast guys get one drag-down tackle and never be the same. Let's hope it doesn't happen to DAT man. I don't expect him or any of the starters to play after midway through the second quarter, when it will already be a five-touchdown advantage for the home green.
The thing I'm most looking forward to is the game differences between Chip and Helfrich. No matter how much they say “everything is the same,” the truth is everybody organizes things a little different. You may do some things exactly the same as your parents, but often, you will add your own little notch to something that you've seen them do a thousand times. So as similar things will be between Chip and Helfrich, there will be differences, from game management to the sideline setup and everything in between.
And I'm looking forward to Helfrich taking some steps to making this team his own. He's obviously done that behind the scenes, now he does it in full view of the Oregon faithful. How does he react to a bad call? How does he react to any call? What does he do when it's fourth and short? What does he do if it's fourth and.... anything?
Any way you look at it, the Helfrich era hits the ground running Saturday at one, and I'm looking forward to it. Lots of people will be watching.
Photo courtesy: Gamedayr.com