Fresno St.-Oregon Preview
Oregon doesn't face a particularly difficult schedule in the first few weeks, so the biggest challenge early on for coach Chip Kelly could be how to manage his starters' minutes and avoid injuries.
New Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter faces a much tougher challenge this weekend.
The fourth-ranked Ducks go for a seventh straight victory over the Bulldogs on Saturday night at Autzen Stadium, where they haven't lost to an unranked team in nearly four years.
With home games versus Arkansas State, Fresno State (1-0) and Tennessee Tech to begin the season, the Ducks (1-0) are expected to jump out to a quick start in 2012 before opening Pac-12 play. But with redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota taking over an offense that ranked fourth in the FBS last season, the defending Rose Bowl champions are by no means a finished product.
However, it was hard to tell last Saturday when Mariota, the Ducks' first freshman starting quarterback since Danny O'Neil in 1991, threw for 200 yards and three touchdowns in one half of a 57-34 victory over Arkansas State.
Many of Oregon's first-teamers were watching from the sidelines by midway through the second quarter as the team built a 50-10 halftime lead. Among that group were the Ducks' top two returning rushers - Kenjon Barner had 66 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries while De'Anthony Thomas totaled 125 all-purpose yards with three TDs.
"It's that fine line of making sure we're getting better and starting to grow," Kelly said after his team racked up 605 yards of total offense. "And you don't want to get guys hurt."
Ducks redshirt freshman left tackle Tyler Johnstone is expected to line up Saturday after leaving early in the season opener with an Achilles' injury. If Johnstone and the offensive line can give Mariota time and open running lanes for Barner and Thomas, the Bulldogs' defense could be in for a long night.
"They present tremendous issues offensively with their speed, with their tempo, with their athletes and with their schemes," said DeRuyter, the former Texas A&M defensive coordinator and interim head coach.
This game being in Eugene certainly doesn't make things easier on DeRuyter's squad. The Ducks have won 17 consecutive home games against unranked foes since falling 37-32 to Boise State on Sept. 20, 2008 - also their last home loss in non-conference play.
Since being hired in December to take over for the fired Pat Hill, DeRuyter has installed a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Nick Toth and a spread offense in lieu of a pro-style attack. The results were overwhelmingly positive in last Saturday's 37-10 season-opening win over Weber State as the Bulldogs outgained the Wildcats 515-274, but the excitement was tempered because the Ducks present a far greater test than an FCS team.
"I'm just really excited to go out there and compete against Oregon," said junior quarterback Derek Carr, the brother of former Fresno State signal-caller David Carr. "Not a lot of people have faith in us. I love it that way. And I hope it stays that way all year."
Derek Carr threw for 298 yards in the opener and both of his TD passes went to redshirt freshman Davante Adams, who finished with 118 receiving yards.
Bulldogs senior running back Robbie Rouse, who ran for 123 yards and two scores in Week 1, is 10 carries shy of setting the program record with 648, and 194 yards from setting the team mark with 3,474.
Oregon has won all six matchups with Fresno State, most recently 52-21 in 2007 at Autzen Stadium, after losing the first two meetings in 1981 and '82.