A coach whose team played Oregon this year sizes up the Ducks leading into Monday's national championship game against Ohio State.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota is obviously the key. The good players make plays when they’re there. The great players make plays when they’re there and when they’re not there. Sometimes with Mariota, when everybody is covered or things break down a little bit, that’s what scares you the most because you’ve got nobody faster than him. And he’s a big kid at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. If you let him get his speed up and get through the second level of the defense, you’ve got very few guys that are going to catch him before he’s 30, 40 yards down the field.
You’ve got to get to him before he gets going, not necessarily always by pressure because that hangs you out there if a guy misses or gets beat in one-on-one coverage. It’s just kind of getting to him with some defensive line stunt and trying to get some pressure on him before he starts to really scramble. When Mariota sees pressure, he’s fine because he’ll run away from it. But it’s getting the pressure when he’s not seeing it because he keeps his eyes downfield. Those are your chances for a turnover that you’ve got to take. You’ve got to swipe at the ball.
Oregon’s receivers are good, but I don’t think they’ve got anyone that really scares you. Now, freshman running back Royce Freeman, he’s a freak. He’s a big, physical guy. I think he’s a difference because he’s so big and powerful. If you’re trying to play nickelbacks and smaller defensive backs, he’s got the ability to run over people. But it remains all about Mariota. They do a good job scheme-wise and he’s quick and decisive, but when he breaks containment or when things break down, that’s when the greatness shows up. Because of the offense’s pace, your guys are obviously going to play a lot of plays and have to be in shape. You’ve got to have depth in your front seven because you need to provide fresh pressure.
You’ve got to attack their defense. They’re not a big pressure team. They’re not going to scare you with a whole bunch of blitzes and get you in negative situations. It’s not like they’re really going to trick you with their defensive front and coverages. They’re in an odd front and that in itself can lead to some disguises. It’s not like you’re going to line up and say, ‘Dang, I never saw that before.’ They’re athletic enough up front that they don’t have to blitz all the time to get pressure, but you don’t watch them on film and say, ‘Oh boy, we better put two guys on this guy or that guy.’ They do a good job of recognizing things and getting to the ball. The key is being OK with getting three or four yards at a time.
As crazy as it sounds, you’ve got to be OK being patient and not forcing the issue. I think that’s what happens when they score and you feel you have to keep up with them, when in reality the biggest piece is keeping possession of the ball and getting first downs. They’re going to do a good job getting off blocks and limiting big plays, but you can get first downs on them.
The way Oregon plays, I think their mantra is kind of like, ‘It’s all about us anyway.’ They don’t worry about their opponents. Them getting down or things not going well early isn’t going to affect them that much because of Mariota’s experience.