Most games are won in the trenches and even though LSU and Oregon boast a ton of speed, bet on the team that controls the line of scrimmage to win.
EUGENE – The veterans on Oregon’s offensive line have had eight months to think about their last game, and it’s not been pleasant.
Auburn’s defensive front seven clobbered them like Hurricane Irene hitting the Jersey shore.
The Ducks’ spread offense, which rushed for 388 yards against Stanford, 311 against USC and 346 in the Civil War against Oregon State, ran for exactly 75 yards on 32 carries against the Tigers.
That computes to 2.3 yards per carry, and goes a long way toward explaining the 22-19 loss in the BCS National Championship Game.
The third-ranked Ducks need to do better Saturday night against No. 4 LSU, another big, fast, physical Southeastern Conference defense, when the two teams collide in Arlington, Texas in the Cowboys Classic.
“We made mistakes,” UO tackle Darrion Weems said, reviewing the Auburn game “We turned a couple guys loose. We made some people look good. A lot of times, it was just them coming in unblocked. We’re not going to do that again this year.”
The guts of the UO offense is the spread option, run behind a zone blocking scheme in which the Ducks leave one defender unblocked. Quarterback Darron Thomas puts the ball in the belly of running back LaMichael James and forces the unblocked defender to commit. Then Thomas either pulls the ball and keeps it, or completes the handoff.
When there are two or more unblocked defenders, it doesn’t work so well.
“We had 70 yards rushing or whatever it was,” guard Carson York said. “That didn’t get it done.”
Of course, Auburn lined up Lombardi Award winner Nick Fairley at defensive tackle. He made a long list of people look bad in 2010.
Among the good news, Fairley now is a pro, Oregon is playing LSU instead of Auburn, and UO offensive line coach Steve Greatwood said the mistakes the Ducks made last January are correctable.
“To take nothing away from Auburn, we messed some things up in that game that cost us big-time,” Greatwood said. “It wasn’t as much physical as it was some mental things, which there are no excuses for.”
If the guys up-front needed any more motivation for a game that will played in front of the ESPN College GameDay crew, in the palace that is Cowboys Stadium, and for a jump start into the national title picture, well, here it is.
Except, the comparisons with Auburn only go so far.
“Everyone wants to paint with that brush because they’re both from the SEC,” UO coach Chip Kelly said. “But that’s like saying Oregon and Washington are the same because we’re both in the Pac-12. … Auburn and LSU are not similar scheme-wise. LSU does some things Auburn didn’t do very well and Auburn did some things LSU couldn’t do very well.”
The Tigers return starting defensive ends Kendrick Adams and Sam Montgomery to the front four, but have new starters at the tackles. It should be an interesting match-up.
On paper, the Ducks lost three starters on the interior line – Bo Thran (12 starts last year), Jordan Holmes (13), and C.E. Kaiser (12). But Weems was in the playing rotation all season, starting seven times.
Ramsen Golpashin, the redshirt senior penciled in as this year’s starting right guard, saw action in 12 of 13 games.
“Really, when you talk about kids in the mix who haven’t been on the field, you’re really just talking about the center position,” Greatwood said.
There, redshirt freshman Hroniss Grasu has won a three-way battle with sophomore Karrington Armstrong, and Hamani Stevens, freshly back from his two-year church mission.
Grasu has beefed up to 6 feet 3, 291 pounds from 278 in the spring, squats 485 pounds and shows remarkable athleticism for his bulk.
“Physically, he’s ready,” Weems said. “Mentally, he’s been getting in so we can get after the film with each other. At this point, it’s just kind of putting him out there and seeing how it happens.”
Even with Grasu’s rookie status, the Ducks appear to be in better shape than they were in the 2009 season-opener at Boise State, when their rebuilt interior line struggled all night.
The Ducks carried 17 times for 31 yards in that one, and lost 19-8.
“Let’s hope we don’t have a repeat,” Greatwood said. “It’s going to be a stern test right off the bat, so we’ll find out. We’ll have a pretty good litmus test of where we’re at coming out of this first game.”