How good is No. 24 Oregon?
The Oregon Ducks are 3-0 and ranked No. 24 in the country.
But how good are they?
Or, more to the point, how good might they become?
The answers will come starting on Saturday night, when Oregon opens Pac-12 play at Arizona State. The Sun Devils (1-2) are no juggernaut, so Oregon should be favored to win its conference opener on the road.
Then again, we aren't yet sure how the Ducks will respond if things are tight in the second half.
In steamrolling outmanned Wyoming 49-13 last week, Oregon did what a superior team should do. The Ducks put up 42 first-half points for the third time in as many games, then managed one TD in the second half.
It was the second consecutive week that the offense fell flat in the second half — managing only one touchdown on six possessions.
Coach Willie Taggart points to execution and concentration as the difference between first-half thrills and second-half lulls. But game situation should be considered.
Not counting two end-of-game possessions, six of Oregon's 12 second-half possessions over the past two games have started inside the Ducks' 18. With no need to take risks, Oregon started each of those drives with running plays. Managing the clock, the Ducks also did not play at the same attack-oriented tempo in the second half the last two weeks as they did in sprinting to big first-half leads.
For comparison, Oregon had first-half scoring drives at Wyoming start at the Ducks' 45, 49, 25, 30 and the Cowboys 2. The other started at the Ducks' 17 with a 50-yard screen play to Royce Freeman keying that drive.
• Scouting quarterbacks: With more than 20 NFL scouts reportedly in Laramie to look at Wyoming junior QB Josh Allen, it was Oregon sophomore Justin Herbert who thrived — granted with considerably more talent around him than Allen had.
Wyoming safety Andrew Wingard was impressed with Herbert, who completed 18 of 29 passes for 251 yards, one touchdown and one interception and ran for 37 yards (not including sacks).
"The most impressive part was the quarterback. He knew every spot we weren't rolling to so on the third downs he knew where we were soft and they converted," Wingard said. "It was impressive by them, but disappointing on our part. It was a really good test to play against an offense like that."
• Freeman ran for 157 yards and three touchdowns at Wyoming on a career-high 30 carries. He has tied LaMichael James (who played three seasons) with 53 career rushing touchdowns. Freeman's nine rushing TDs leads all of Division I this season (and Kani Benoit's six TDs is tied for second most nationally).
It was his 25th 100-yard rushing game and sixth in a row. Freeman's 460 rushing yards ranks third nationally.
Freeman also had a key 50-yard catch and run on a third-down screen pass in the second quarter. That career-long reception helped him move into third for career all-purpose yards at Oregon (5,365) as he passed Derek Loville and De'Anthony Thomas.
Freeman how has a program-record 785 rushing attempts. His 82 carries through three games ranks second most in the country. The next most carries for Oregon are 25 for Tony Brooks-James. Might Taggart and Co. think about easing Freeman's load some to keep him fresh for the Pac-12 grind? It's not like Oregon is hurting for running backs.
• Defense on the rise. Oregon stymied NFL prospect Allen, who finished with only 64 passing yards. The pass rush on Allen — and keeping him in the pocket — were keys to that success.
"They're having fun," Taggart said about his improving defense. "You see a group of guys out there playing with passion and energy. And when you do that on defense, good things happen for you."
A big part of the story on defense is making stops on third down. Last season, opponents converted almost half of their third downs against Oregon's defense. Through three games, the Ducks have limited opponents to converting only 21 percent of third downs (10 of 47), ninth best in the country.