By JUSTIN BURR, oregonsports writer
It's been a long 242 days since the Ducks were last in action but the wait is finally over.
This Saturday the men in green and yellow will storm out of the tunnel in front of a electrified Autzen stadium in their season opener against Arkansas State.
Fans might see a few open seats on Saturday evening as Oregon’s 82 home game sellout streak will most likely come to an end due to high ticket prices and an unworthy opponent. Rest assured that the Autzen crowd will be fired up and louder than ever.
Encased in the stunning new uniforms will be a bounty of new talent. Most notably will be redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota in the starting quarterback role.
This QB race was so closely fought that it gives the Duck faithful much comfort in the depth at the position. If something were to happen to Mariota it would seem that the Ducks wouldn’t miss a beat with Bennett behind center. Experience will be the biggest limiting factor in the young quarterback's success but luckily he will have a few games to break in his skills.
Oregon opens the season with a four-game homestand against less-than-intimidating opponents, which is perfect for a quarterback with zero in-game experience. Depending on how teams defend Oregon, Mariota might bring a more dynamic running game to the offense.
Last season, Darron Thomas saw a significant decrease in rushing having only attempted 56 plays as opposed to the previous season in which he took off running 93 times. Mariota is likely to run more.
Filling the shoes of David Paulson at tight end might be the most daunting task that the Oregon offense faced this offseason. Sophomore Colt Lyerla will be getting a majority of the reps but veteran Jennings Stewart could bring some maturity to the position. Being a fifth-year senior and having played on both sides of the ball, Stewart has a great football IQ, which will come in handy while he assists his younger teammates. This mentoring role he will play to the younger tight ends might cost him his starting spot on the roster, but his attitude is geared toward team success not individual glory.
Defense will stand out on Saturday as this fierce squad is finally getting the recognition they deserve. Head Coach Chip Kelly attributes their BCS three-peat to the defense, and, although he won’t say it’s the best group he’s coached, he will admit they are good.
Oregon’s defense ranked fifth in the conference in pass defense last season and the young secondary unit looks to improve upon that this season.
Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will be the starting corners and with a year of experience under their belts, opposing quarterbacks better think twice before heaving the rock into coverage. Last year Mitchell broke up 10 passes and took 2 the other way, he’s a threat anytime the ball is near.
Oregon should put a mark in the win column with ease come Saturday, but this game will provide much needed growth to the young starting squad.
Chip Kelly and company pride themselves on preparation and one can only assume they have prepared for this game just as they have prepared for every other game which is a recipe for success.