Chip Kelly may have left Oregon to try his breakneck offense in
the NFL, but he left the program in great shape.
The third-ranked Ducks shouldn’t stagnate under new coach Mark
Helfrich, especially against overmatched Nicholls State in
Saturday’s opener at Autzen Stadium.
Oregon went 12-1 last season and defeated Kansas State 35-17 in
the Fiesta Bowl to finish ranked No. 2. Kelly left two weeks after
the season ended to become coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, and
the 40-year-old Helfrich took over after four seasons as the team’s
With Kelly and Helfrich directing the speedy spread-option
offense, the Ducks went 46-7 and played in BCS bowl games in each
of the last four years, including an appearance in the national
championship game against Auburn in 2011.
Helfrich has said he’s not going to mess with success, but is
putting his own spin on the offense.
“The most important thing is all of our guys believe in our
program and we don’t look at it as someone replacing someone, we
look at it as the ‘next guy up,”’ Helfrich said. “And as I’ve
said, if the guy that followed John Wooden quoted him every once in
a while, would that have been that bad?”
The Ducks’ flashy offense averaged 49.5 points per game last
season, second in the nation, and was among the top five in rushing
at 315.2 yards per game and total yards at 537.4. Oregon was adroit
on defense, too, allowing 21.6 points a game and topping the nation
with 40 takeaways.
While stars Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso, John Boyett and Kenjon
Barner have moved on to the NFL, Oregon is still rich with talent,
including quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back De’Anthony
Mariota set the team’s single-season record with 38 touchdowns
(32 passing, five rushing, one receiving), surpassing the previous
mark of 36 held by Darron Thomas (2011) and Akili Smith (1998). The
first freshman named to the Pac-12 all-conference first team in 23
years, Mariota threw for 2,677 yards while completing a
school-record 68.5 percent of his passes. He had 3,429 yards of
offense, second to Smith’s 3,947 in 1998.
“As far as ratio and numbers, this guy is the best quarterback
in the country,” Helfrich said. “But he doesn’t care how many
passing yards he has. He cares what it says before and after the
hyphen in the team record, and that’s how we operate.”
There has been talk that Mariota will take to the air a little
bit more under Scott Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback who was
promoted to offensive coordinator when Helfrich became head
Joining Mariota on the offense is Thomas, an explosive playmaker
at both receiver and running back who scored every 9.2 times he
touched the ball.
Thomas ran for 701 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 45 passes
for 445 yards and five more scores. He also scored on a kickoff
return and a punt return, becoming the first Oregon player in 47
years with a touchdown four different ways.
Thomas hinted there may be a few tweaks of offense, or a “little
more flavor,” as he put it.
The most anticipated newcomer to the Ducks is home-state
standout Thomas Tyner, who rushed for 3,415 yards for Aloha (Ore.)
High School as a senior, setting a single-season rushing record for
the state. On his 18th birthday last September, Tyner set a state
record with 643 yards rushing and scored 10 touchdowns in an 84-63
victory over Lakeridge High School. It was the third-most ever for
a prep player.
All of this seems like too much for Nicholls State to overcome
in its first meeting with Oregon. The Colonels went 1-10 last year
and concluded the season with a 77-3 loss to then-No. 16 Oregon
State. Their only wins over the past two seasons came over Evangel,
an NAIA school.
“The thing about the first game is you’re going to find out a
whole lot about your team,” Nicholls State coach Charlie Stubbs
said. “You’re going to find some things are a bit better than you
thought and some things, wow, you’ve got to work on a bit
Beaux Hebert, the son of former NFL quarterback Bobby Hebert,
will start under center after passing for 315 yards in three games
The Colonels had one of the worst defenses in the FCS last
season, allowing an average of 38.7 points, and Oregon’s Autzen
Stadium record of 72 points could be in danger.