Ducks finding balance in Pac-12 play

Ducks finding balance in Pac-12 play
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota sees daylight and squeezes into the end zone with his foot barely in, scoring on a 13-yard run to give the Ducks a 13-3 lead over Washington State Saturday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. (AP Photo/Dean Rutz, Seattle Times)

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — With their speedy offense and tireless defense, the ultimate goal for the second-ranked Oregon Ducks is finding balance.

They've recently shown that both sides of the ball are equally capable.

When Washington State mounted a first-half challenge last weekend in Seattle, Oregon's defense stopped the Cougars from taking the lead before the break, making way for the Ducks' offense in the second half.

The Ducks led by a narrow 23-19 margin at the break then pulled away to score 28 straight, including a touchdown by the defense.

Against Arizona in the conference opener, Oregon led 13-0 at the half then won 49-0. In addition to holding the Wildcats scoreless, the defense pitched in with two touchdowns.

"That's what this is, a true team," coach Chip Kelly said after the victory over the Cougars. "I thought our offense went out and responded and did what they had to do, and then when our defense can add a score it makes it difficult for anybody to get back into the game."

The Ducks (5-0, 2-0) host northwest rival Washington on Saturday night. The No. 23 Huskies (3-1, 1-0) are coming off a 17-13 upset of then-No. 8 Stanford.

Kelly was amused this week when asked about Oregon's ability to wear down teams defensively and take over on offense in the second half. He noted that wasn't the case in the first three games of the season.

In the opener against Arkansas State, Oregon led 50-10 in the first half, then allowed the Red Wolves to score 24 points in the second in a 57-34 victory — although the Ducks pulled most of their starters early. In a 42-25 victory over Fresno State, the Ducks led 35-6 at the half but Fresno State outscored them 19-7 in the second.

"We play 60 minutes. I don't get caught up in those things," Kelly said about discrepancies. "We play hard in the first half, we play hard in the second half. As I've said all along, at some point in time I'd like to give the other teams credit. I thought Arizona played really well in the first half against us and Washington State played really well in the first half against us.

"It's an amusing phenomenon to us that we always either play poorly or we play well, we don't get any credit to the opponents that we play."

The caveat in that, of course, is that the attention usually falls on the team that's ranked No. 2 in the country.

The Ducks' offense seems to grab most of the headlines. Led by redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota and running backs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon is the nation's fourth-ranked team in scoring average at 52.4 points, sixth in rushing average with 303 yards, and seventh in total offense with 550.6 yards a game.

What makes Oregon dangerous is its quickness in Kelly's spread offense. Twenty of Oregon's 33 touchdown drives this season took less than two minutes, and 11 took less than one.

But the defense has come on strong, particularly in the last two games. The unit has scored three times off interceptions: cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill had touchdowns against the Wildcats, while safety Avery Patterson returned an interception for a TD against the Cougars. That ranks Oregon second in the nation.

Oregon has allowed its last two Pac-12 opponents just one touchdown in 11 red zone visits. Additionally, the defense held the Wildcats and Cougars to just 81 yards rushing.

And yes, it's true that Oregon's plan is to outlast its opponents with a speedy offense combined with a well-conditioned defense, Kelly said. That's essentially the Ducks' balance.

"I think it's how we practice and how we prepare each week," Kelly said. "Our kids are in great condition coming into camp. They know we pride ourselves on doing things fast and playing hard here ... We practice at such a rate and get so many reps in that the games are a lot slower than practices are."