Trisha Helms didn’t watch a minute of Oregon’s 57-34 football blowout over Arkansas State, but even she could tell this game was ugly.
“Wow, I’ve heard the foghorn go off a lot already," Helms, who worked crowd control inside the hallways of the press box at Autzen Stadium on Saturday night, said early in the first quarter after the Ducks had gone up 29-0. “Not good."
No, it wasn’t good for the visiting Red Wolves.
Oregon dominated the reigning Sun Belt Conference champions from the start, compiling 605 yards of total offense — 417 of which came in the first half — on a staggering 96 plays in what was both teams’ 2012 season opener.
Arkansas State, playing its first game under new head coach Gus Malzahn, the former Auburn offensive coordinator, trailed 50-3 midway through the second quarter before making the final score somewhat respectable, recording 24 second-half points against Oregon backups in front of a handful of fans who stayed past 11 p.m. to watch the entire game.
Duck redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota shined in his first start, passing for 200 yards and three touchdowns on 18 of 22 passing in a little more than a quarter and a half of action before the subs came in.
Mariota, who had not seen live game competition since his senior year of high school at Saint Louis School in Honolulu, Hawaii, looked like a natural in Chip Kelly’s spread-option offense as he guided Oregon to a 50-10 halftime lead after leading the reigning Rose Bowl champions to touchdown drives on their first seven possessions.
“He’s got good command of our offense," Kelly said about Mariota. “To see how he performed today is what we hoped and wished for, but you don’t know until he gets out there. ... He’s a laid-back dude, but he can make plays."
As expected, Oregon had little trouble with the second-best team in last year’s GoDaddy.com bowl game. De’Anthony Thomas posted 119 yards of offense and three touchdowns on seven touches — three rushes for 64 yards and one TD and four catches for 55 yards receiving and two scores — all in the first half. Kenjon Barner, in his first game as the Ducks’ featured back, ran for 66 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries. Backup quarterback Bryan Bennett, who entered the game in the second quarter, passed for 108 yards and a touchdown. And third-string running back Byron Marshall had 64 yards rushing and a score on a team-high 24 carries.
“A lot of guys got a lot of reps," Kelly said. “When you have a game like this, your young kids can learn. You have to make a few mistakes to learn and grow. ... A lot of the kids that played in the second half, we know they’re going to have key roles for us."
While the postgame stats are fun to digest — 14 different Oregon players caught a pass Saturday night — they could go to even more absurd heights in the next two weeks against Fresno State (4-9 in 2011) and Tennessee Tech, an FCS school which has arguably the fifth-best football team in the Volunteer State. The $950,000 question (the amount Arkansas State received for being thrashed on national television) for the Ducks is: Do any of these games help prepare them for Pac-12 play? Does beating up on a team that plays in the same league as South Alabama as opposed to the boys in Tuscaloosa help ready Oregon for a Nov. 3 showdown with Southern California that could have not only conference championship but national title implications?
“This was a good day overall for us," Kelly said. “We have a lot to work on, but we’re moving in the right direction."