The Ducks’ win against the Buckeyes last Saturday was an iconic moment for the program. It feels like the significance of the game is understood, but maybe not in its total capacity just yet. A victory in “The Shoe” could indicate Oregon’s rise to the elite ranks of college football. Obviously, the rest of the season needs to be played. But this is a tick in time that shouldn’t be overlooked. Here are three takeaways from the Ducks victory over Ohio State.
The Offensive Line
The biggest surprise of the game was that UO controlled the line of scrimmage. It is widely believed that Big Ten teams are more physical than their Pac-12 counterparts. Ha, Oregon dispelled that myth.
Halfback CJ Verdell led the way with 20 carries for 161 yards and two touchdowns. That’s a little over eight yards per touch. Quarterback Anthony Brown also chipped in 65 yards on ten carries, while halfback Travis Dye rounded out the trio with eight carries, 43 yards, and one touchdown.
In total, UO doubled Ohio State’s production on the ground. The Ducks rushed for 269 total yards while the Buckeyes only tallied 128.
If Oregon can continue to dominate up-front at this magnitude, they should cruise through most of their Pac-12 schedule. It appears that Mario Cristobal’s background in MMA may be rubbing off on the team or the fact that he was a former offensive lineman himself.
It also helps that the Ducks returned all five starting linemen for the 2021 season; in the weird COVID year, they had the youngest group in the nation.
Associate Head Coach – Offensive/Offensive Line Coach Alex Mirabal may have had an inkling about this group; in fall camp, he was asked about his line and noted his group had demonstrated
“An Increase in Physicality.”
When he was asked how his group had grown, he gave a quick summary in response.
“Their eyes are a year older. Their understanding of what we do and how we do it is a year older.”
That year certainly paid dividends. They made Ohio State look like a little brother.
Flipping the field, Oregon also held their own against Ohio State’s rushing attack. They limited OSU halfback Miyan Williams to 77 yards on 14 carries. In the opener, Williams rushed for 125 yards on nine touches.
And while 14 carries for 77 yards still equates to 5.5 yards per attempt, the lack of explosive plays on the ground probably proved a huge confidence boost for a defensive line that was expected to get dominated upfront.
To be fair, Oregon didn’t completely deter the Buckeyes rushing attack, but it did feel they were getting the better of OSU’s d-line. At the minimum, they held their own. And all of this without their best defensive player in Kayvon Thibodeaux.
When Thibodeaux returns, this group could prove one of the best in the nation. And he is expected to return sooner rather than later. Before the Ohio State matchup, Cristobal stated:
“We thought there might’ve been a chance but felt that it just wasn’t time quite yet.”
And make no mistake about it, Thibodeaux’s presence was missed against the Buckeyes. The Ducks didn’t record a sack until the fourth quarter.
Verone McKinley III
The third takeaway from Oregon’s win against Ohio State was the dominant play of Verone McKinley III.
McKinley made pivotal plays at key spots throughout the contest before ultimately grabbing what proved to be the game-winning interception in the fourth quarter.
He landed two whopping hits in the first half, knocking the ball out of Ohio State’s receivers’ hands, forcing incompletions.
His final stats were impressive, tallying six tackles, one forced fumble, two pass deflections, and the aforementioned pic.
It felt like he was the spark that gave the team confidence to compete in a matchup of this magnitude.
And while football is usually won in the trenches, safety is arguably the most important defensive position on the field.
Just think back to last season. The Ducks lost two NFL safeties due to COVID opt-outs in Jevon Holland and Brady Breeze.
That same season Oregon allowed 28.3 points per game, which is their worst mark during the Cristobal era.
And while McKinley may not be Holland, he could prove the anchor of a National Championship-winning defense.