DUCKS NOTES: UO more focused, calmer; O-line, receivers improve
EUGENE - Improved play by the offensive line and receivers contributed to Oregon's explosive 69-20 win against Nevada, which, obviously, doesn't quite rate with the Ducks' previous opponent.
But, a win is a win, improvement is improvement.
"Communication was better all the way across the O-line," first-year center Hroniss Grasu said Saturday. "Coach (Chip) Kelly really emphasized that in practice. We got a lot better.
"I'm a lot more confident making my calls and having guys listen to me."
Grasu conceded that Nevada's defensive line wasn't at the level of LSU's, "which had the size." But, for their own part, he felt the offensive line executed the running game and pass protection well.
The Ducks had a balanced 603 yards offense, averaging an Oregon-like 6.3 yards per carry. Quarterback Darron Thomas threw six TD passes to five different receivers, while averaging 22.1 yards per completion - that's big plays personified.
While the offensive line had a new starter (Nick Cody, right guard), junior college transfer Rahsaan Vaughn started at receiver, replacing injured Josh Huff.
Running back/receiver De'Anthony Thomas scored on two TD receptions, running back LaMichael James scored on one, receiver Lavasier Tuinei caught Thomas' first TD pass, and Vaughn and tight end Colt Lyerla got into the end zone for the first time in their careers.
Tuinei, who along with Vaughn had three catches to lead the Ducks, said that the Ducks running the ball and receivers blocking are the most important things to improve on, and Nevada gave UO openings in the passing game. He also thought the receiving corps improved simply by holding on to the ball.
Tuinei also said the big game against LSU last week got into the heads of players.
"We were more focused and calmed down," he said. "Everyone knew their stuff and did well."
Does it boost the receiving corps' confidence, even though it was against Nevada?
"Definitely," he said. "It helps us a lot, especially after losing a big game. We knew we had to come out and put in our work."
• Linebacker Kiko Alonso returned from his suspension, and had two solo tackles and two assists. Cornerback Cliff Harris returned from his suspension, and had one solo tackle. Neither spoke with the media after the game at Autzen Stadium.
"They had ladders to climb, and they climbed them this week," Kelly said. "But just because you are back does not mean we are going to hand you keys to the castle. You've got to earn everything in this football program."
• Nevada coach Chris Ault was not happy.
"We're embarrassed. I'm embarrassed," he said. "To play that way on that stage ... you've got to really look at what you are doing."
On Oregon, he added: "There wasn't anything they did that we have not seen. But, you can't give up big plays like that. You just can't. It's demoralizing. Our offense moved the ball, but we were shut down defensively. (The Ducks) are a fine football team. There's no question about it, but to make it that easy for them ... that's unacceptable."
• John Boyett blocked an Anthony Martinez field-goal attempt in the first quarter. "I could have blocked that thing," Ault said. "There was no penetration at all. It was low enough for me to stand up and block it."
• The Wolf Pack hopes to improve.
"Can't get much worse than we were today," Ault added.
By the way, Ault's 1999 Nevada team gave up 72 points against the Ducks, a school record that Oregon tied last year against New Mexico.
• Count defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti among the believers in Nevada.
"They're very good, they're going to win a lot of football games, trust me," he said. "They'll win seven, eight, nine football games, I'll guarantee you that."
The Wolf Pack plays in the Western Athletic Conference.
• Bryan Bennett took his first snaps as backup quarterback, and his first hits since training camp 2010. During the 2010 season, he wasn't hit in practice, because the Ducks knew that Bennett might have to be forced into action. Then, of course, the Duck defensive guys couldn't put their hands on the backup QB in training camp or practice this year.
"It felt good," he said. "I liked it. Hopefully I'll wake up sore in the morning."
Bennett went 2 of 7 passing for 36 yards, and admitted to making a few mistakes on reads.
"Sticking to my keys, what they've taught us to do, it's not always easy," he said. "Overall, I was happy with how I played."
• Kelly had said that true freshman Marcus Mariota had been challenging Bennett for the backup spot. But the Ducks don't want to play the redshirting Mariotta, unless he's forced into action.
"I have to focus on what I'm doing," Bennett said. "It'll be good to have experience under my belt. I'm playing real football again."
• Darron Thomas said the Ducks didn't want to dwell on the LSU loss, but it was in the back of their minds.
"Hopefully we can continue this," he said, of winning, "and don't need a loss to amp us up."
He had a great game as UO got its swagger back. The team, he added, points to him to lead, meaning "(I) gotta play great for us to go out and do great things."
• De'Anthony Thomas, who had 81 yards rushing and 93 receiving and two TDs, said he thought of holding on to the ball the entire game, after he coughed up two fumbles that LSU turned into touchdowns.
"Keep it high and tight," he said, of his technique holding the ball. "Last week, I was just focused on scoring. Now I just get what I can get."
• Lyerla, from Hillsboro High, got into some offensive action and scored his first career TD on a 20-yard reception.
"It's what we've been practicing all week," he said. "I was prepared. I was happy he was throwing it to me. Happy I was there."
• Not only did Huff and running back Kenjon Barner sit out the game with injuries, but linebacker Michael Clay got hurt in the second half. He led the Ducks with nine tackles (six solo, six assisted). "He's a very good football player," Aliotti said.
• James scored touchdowns on a run, a reception and a punt return, believed to a first by a UO player in history. Last week, he became UO's all-time leading rusher. So, will his season be one of doing more things for the Ducks? If so, James doesn't mind.
"I just want to do whatever the team wants me to do," he said. "I know my role. I play running back. But, if they need me to play punt return, run out on kickoffs, block some field goals - whatever it takes to win."
• The Ducks have won 17 consecutive games at Autzen Stadium, which saw its 75th consecutive sellout; ironically, the last non-sellout was Sept. 18, 1999 against Nevada.
• Thirty-four Ducks were credited with tackles, led by Clay.
• The Ducks have eclipsed the 50-point mark seven times in 28 games under Kelly as head coach.