Last year at this time, we were discussing how Mark Helfrich had replaced Chip Kelly without skipping much of a beat. Chip Kelly jumped ship in Eugene to take the reins in Philadelphia, and his former offensive coordinator became the man in charge in Eugene. Under Helfrich's watch, the Ducks have picked up right where they left off, scoring tons of points and posting jaw-dropping offensive numbers.
Helfrich, a native to Oregon, has an impressive resume as a QB coach, having developed Bart Hendricks at Boise State, Andrew Walter at Arizona State, and Jeremiah Masoli, Darron Thomas, and Marcus Mariota at Oregon. He served as offensive coordinator under Chip Kelly, and runs essentially the same offense. The Ducks have emphasized the passing game a bit more than Kelly did during his tenure, but part of that is probably due to the fact that the Ducks currently have a legit quarterback rather than a running back that can throw the ball. Looking at the numbers, the Ducks are averaging a gaudy 533.4 yards of offense per game, with 324.4 ypg coming through the air, and 209 ypg on the ground. In Kelly's final season, those numbers were essentially flipped, with the running game gaining more yards.
Oregon has uniquely retained the majority of the staff through the Belotti-Kelly-Helfrich head coaching changes, but they had a major shake up this past offseason when Nick Aliotti retired after serving as defensive coordinator for 17 seasons. In his place, the Ducks elevated Don Pellum, who has a 30 year association with Oregon as a player, administrator, and coach. Due to the pace the offense runs, Oregon's defense will always give up a big number in yards. The yards per play and scoring are really the numbers that count, and so far, Pellum has essentially picked up where Aliotti left off. Opponents are averaging 23.2 ppg, which is essentially where Oregon has been for the past 4 seasons, and while yards per play is 5.73 this season rather than the 4.6-5.0 range that the defense has allowed for the past 4 seasons, the number is not that far out of line. Like the offense, expect to see the same Oregon defense that we are used to seeing. They'll bend, but they are very opportunistic.
Turning to the special teams for the Ducks, they've had some changes in their kicking game. All purpose kicker/punter Alejandro Maldonado graduated, leaving So. Matt Wogan as place kicker and Fr. Ian Wheeler as the placekicker. Thus far, they've been fine, but Oregon does not lean on their kicking game much.
As for the return game, Oregon always has enough athletes to field an explosive unit. Whether it has been Cliff Harris, Lamichael James, Kenjon Barner, D'Anthony Thomas, or Bralon Addison, the Ducks have consistently had a weapon in the return game. This year, So. Thomas Tyner and Fr. Charles Nelson serve as the primary return men. Nelson has already returned a punt for a touchdown and is averaging 15 yards per return, and he looks like the next guy in line. The Ducks average roughly 20 yards per kick return.
Fire away with any additional thoughts and comments, and be sure to check in tomorrow where we will take a closer look at the Oregon offense in part 2 of our Oregon preview.