Oregon opens the 2012 season at home against Arkansas State. The Red Wolves bring an accomplished quarterback and an innovative offensive coach into Autzen Stadium looking for an early season upset of the #5 Oregon Ducks.
Oregon enters the game with new starters at several critical offensive positions including the all important quarterback position. In addition to replacing Darron Thomas at quarterback, the Ducks will open the season without the incomparable LaMichael James who has moved on to the NFL San Francisco 49ers.
This early season non-conference match-up will be a chance for the Oregon football team to see where they stand and get a lot of new players into the flow of things.
In this continuing series from Duck Sports Authority we bring you the head-to-head match-ups of the Oregon Ducks and Arkansas State Red Wolves Today the focus is on offense.
Arkansas State: Arkansas State brings back fifth year senior Ryan Aplin from a team that finished 10-3 last season. Aplin is a true dual threat quarterback that can hurt teams through the air and on the ground. Aplin was the most dominant player for the Arkansas State team throwing 340-476 for 3588 yards and 19 touchdowns. Aplin was also the teams leading rusher with 134 carries for 782 yards and an additional 10 touchdowns. He did, however, get sacked 27 times losing 194 yards on the season.
Oregon: Oregon will be breaking in a new starter for the offense at quarterback. Thomas, Oregon's all-time leader in touchdown passes, leaves the keys to Oregon's offense in the hands of redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota. When Thomas' decision was announced many expected Bryan Bennett to step right in and replace him. Mariota, however, won a hard fought battle with Bennett to become the starter. Last season, in mostly mop up duty with a couple of important games thrown in, Bennett played nearly flawless completing 25-46 passes for 369 yards and 6 touchdowns. He also carried the ball 23 times for an even 200 yards. Mariota's only experience was during Oregon's Spring game where he completed 18-26 for 202 yards and one touchdown.
EDGE: Arkansas State
Until Mariota has actual game experience, it is difficult to give Oregon an edge over a fifth year senior coming off of a very good season that saw him throw for over 3500 yards.
Arkansas State: The Red Wolves bring back two very good receivers from last season with the second and third leading receivers returning for another year in Jonesboro. Josh Jarobe ( 6-3, 215) was second on the team in 2011 with 54 receptions for 730 yards and two touchdowns. Taylor Stockemer, (6-4, 210) was close behind with 48 catches, but he turned those into 756 yards and 7 touchdowns. The team lost a stud at wide receiver, though, in departed senior Dwayne Frampton and his 94 catches for 1156 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Oregon: Oregon also lost a very good receiver with the graduation of Lavasier Tuinei. They do return Josh Huff who, despite battling injuries for much of the season last year, still managed 31 receptions for 430 yards and 2 touchdowns. Though he is listed at running back on the depth chart, De'Anthony Thomas saw plenty of action as a receiver last season; expect that trend to continue this season. Thomas caught 46 passes for 605 yards and 9 touchdowns as an electrifying freshman. Beyond those two players, first time starter Daryle Hawkins has the most experience of the receivers at Oregon with 5 receptions for 102 yards. Rashaan Vaughn, a junior college transfer caught 14 passes for 184 yards and one touchdown.
The explosiveness of Huff and Thomas give the Ducks the edge here. While Arkansas State's returning players have very good numbers, they lack the explosiveness of Oregon's top two. Oregon also has more talented depth at the position.
Arkansas State: The Red Wolves leading rusher in 2011 was quarterback Ryan Aplin who managed a net of 588 yards on 161 carries. The leading returning running back is Frankie Jackson (5-9, 185) who carried the ball 88 times for 355 yards. A new addition to the team is former Tennessee Volunteer, David Oku. After spending a year away from football attending community college, Oku looks to be in good shape again and ready to play for Arkansas State.
Oregon: Oregon is not extremely deep at the running back position, but the p[layers they have are extremely talented. It's not often that you can replace your all-time leading rusher with a player of Kenjon Barner's ability. As the back-up last season, Barner still carried the ball 152 times for 939 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. Barner also hauled in 17 passes for 184 yards and 3 more touchdowns. Behind him is only a player many think has a shot at winning a Heisman Trophy. In addition to his incredible success in the passing game, De'Anthony Thomas averaged 10.8 yards per carry in 2011 with 55 carries for 595 yards and 7 touchdowns, including his electrifying Rose Bowl Record 91 yard touchdown run.
Arkansas State was not a good running team last season. Do not expect much to change in 2012. The Ducks, on the other hand, have been a dominant running team from the moment Chip Kelly arrived as offensive coordinator in 2007; expect that to continue.
Arkansas State : Arkansas State lost 3 starters from an offensive line unit that was not very good last season. In the running game, the team managed a lowly 3.9 yards per carry on 515 attempts. They allowed Aplin to get sacked frequently and he was rushed even more than the sack numbers show. The quarterback accounted for over 25% of the teams rushing yards on a pass dominated team. Teh projected starters do have some decent size with Zack McKnight (6'4, 300) and Chris Tolbert (6'5, 275) at the tackle spots. On the inside, it looks like Cliff Mitchell (6'5, 305), with 10 career starts and Jake Campbell (6'6, 320) will get the start at guard for the Red Wolves. At center, with 7 career starts, Eric Allen (6'1, 300) is projected as the starter for the opener. Beyond this, Arkansas State has little experience.
Oregon: The Ducks also lost a couple of starters with the graduation of Mark Asper and Darrion Weems. Further depleting the starting offensive line is the injury to Carson York suffered in the Rose Bowl which has him still recovering. Nonetheless, the Ducks bring a host of very experienced players along the offensive line. After starting every game as a freshman, the Ducks are solid in the middle with Hroniss Grasu (6-3, 294) at center. Next to Grasu will be another season long starter last season with Nick Cody (6-5, 310) manning one spot while Ryan Clanton (6-5, 305) gets the start on the other side. The tackle position gets Jake Fisher (6-6, 294) his first start after appearing in all 13 games as a true freshman. Opposite Fisher is Tyler Johnstone (6-6, 292) also making his first start.
In addition to the starters, Oregon rotates a lot of players and the Ducks will likely rotate several additional linemen throughout the game. Along those lines expect to see Kyle Long (6-7, 311), Everett Benyard (6-7, 305), Mana Greig (5-11, 291) and Hamani Stevens (6-3, 305) all see extensive playing time.
Oregon has considerably more experience along the offensive line and was one of the top offenses int eh nation last season. A team that rushed the ball better than anyone in the Pac-12 and just about everyone in the nation, the Ducks also protected the quarterback as well as anyone in the nation. With a couple of new starters, there will be a few hiccups, but the Ducks simply have more experience and talent on the offensive line.
Arkansas State : Gus Malzahn does not use a traditional tight end, instead using a dual role player as an H-back. The position is a cross between a fullback and tight end. However, for the purpose of ease, we include the H-back in our tight end match-up.
The Red Wolves bring back two players with very little experience and no starts. Kedric Murray (6'3, 265), who caught 9 passes for 38 yards is the likely starter with a slightly more athletic Anthony Kincy (6'0, 232) backing him up. Kincy had 9 receptions for 91 yards and one touchdown as a junior in 2011. A team that through a lot of passes last season, did not use the tight end much
Oregon: Oregon lost David Paulson to graduation and are left with many questions at the position still. The depth chart lists all four tight ends expected to play in alphabetical order. Colt Lyerla is the only returning tight end with any college game experience. Lyerla only caught 7 passes in 2011, but made them count for 147 yards and 5 touchdowns. After some personal issues cost him the first part of fall camp, he looks like he has gotten bigger and stronger. Alongside him on the depth chart are freshmen Pharoah Brown, Terrence Daniel and Koa Ka'ai.
The Ducks get a slight edge due to the overwhelming athleticism of Colt Lyerla. Combined with the talented trio of freshmen projected to play and the Duck tight ends are just a little bit better than the Red Wolves.
Arkansas State: A pass happy team last season, Arkansas State brings back a talented senior signal caller in Ryan Aplin. Aplin is a good passer who threw for over 3500 yards last season. He can also escape the pocket and beat teams with his feet having also led Arkansas State in rushing last season. There are good wide receivers returning from last season that should help make Aplin comfortable in the passing game.
The offense, though, struggled along the line and did not run the ball well nor protect the passer. Arkansas State played just two teams from AQ conferences losing both (Illinois 33-15; Virginia Tech 26-7) and not playing well on offense in either game. Against the two quality opponents, Arkansas State manged to average just 309.5 total yards per game and 62 rushing yards. Ryan Aplin had some success against what turned out to be a very mediocre Illinois football team, but really struggled with the superior defensive athletes from Virginia Tech.
Oregon: Oregon is in a different league on offense. Though the Ducks break in a new starting backfield with Mariota and Barner replacing a couple of all-time greats for Oregon, Barner has a lot of experience as does the offensive line. It doesn't hurt that Oregon has one of the most explosive playmakers in all of college football with De'Anthony Thomas.
Arkansas State will come out looking to test the Oregon defensive backs with their tall, athletic receivers. They will use a quick passing attack to attempt to keep a ferocious pass rush at bay. They will likely even have some early successes with a few short completions and some decent yards gained. But they will not be able to "dink and dunk" for long as the Oregon offense begins to score points in waves.
Arkansas State will have good offensive numbers early, but that will begin to taper as the game wears on and the team's one dimensional approach becomes more predictable for the Oregon defense.
Oregon will look to get Marcus Mariota comfortable in his first start. For many teams that means letting him hand the ball off to Barner and Thomas and letting them do all the early work. Expect something different, though, as Mariota will be put in a prime position with some early quick passes followed by a couple of shots down field. Also expect Mariota to get a couple of early carries to get his feet wet. Once Mariota has been established, Oregon will begin to go to their bread-and-butter, Barner and Thomas.
The Ducks offense should be able to gain yards at will and move the ball up and down the field with little resistance. Oregon should easily eclipse 45 points against Arkansas State while racking up over 500 yards of total offense.