There are wins. There are blowouts. And then there are games where you so thoroughly destroy the opponent that you take every ounce of dignity and self respect that the opponent has and tear them to shreds. This was one of those games. Jared remarked after the game that it was the best all-around game he'd ever seen the Ducks play. Ever. And in my fifteen years of being a Duck fan, I'd have to agree with him. I watched it at Autzen and was amazed. Then I watched the replay and it looked even better. No team has ever played a perfect game, but this was as close as I have ever seen. By anyone. We haven't written a lot about the Ducks' wins this season because we didn't know what to make of them. We aren't going to be this good every week. But even if we are half this good, then we've fixed most of the problems that plagued us during the first three games of the season. My thoughts after the jump.
First off, fantastic tailgate before the game, and thanks to Jeremy for having us. It was the first time I had met anyone from the blog in "real" life, and it was just like hanging out with old friends. Jeremy, Jared, and Dominic were just the nicest people you could meet. Many readers stopped by, too, and it was a pleasure meeting Quinn, TrumpetDuck, Takimoto, and Arcadian Traverse, who flew in all the way from Calgary for his first Duck game. And, of course, Jshufelt, who did NOT forget the beer. Awesome, awesome experience meeting many fine people. A big thanks to my good friend Cody who hooked me up with tickets for this game. Also thanks to Boiler T-Mill for the fine Indiana brew. The Juju obviously approved.
As for the game itself, I have to admit, a little part of me thought that we were screwed after we fumbled the opening kickoff. Obviously, the Juju still had it out for us. But the defense responded magnificently, sending Cal backward eight yards in three plays. They pitched a shutout Saturday, Cal didn't earn the only score they got.
Keep in mind that Walter Thurmond didn't play after the first return. The defense did this without its two most prolific players in Thurmond and TJ Ward. But John Boyett has been nothing short of spectacular in Ward's absence, to the point where you wonder if TJ automatically gets his job back when he's healthy. We are going to have two outstanding players at that safety position this year. We were talking if Boyett should remain at safety and Ward, who plays the run well and hits a ton, though isn't particularly great in coverage should move to rover when he get back, though Javes Lewis has been fantastic there as well. And that's not to mention the job that Talmadge Jackson and Marvin Johnson did in place of Thurmond, albeit against terrible Cal receivers. The gameplan put these guys on an island all day, and they produced. I can't tell you how many deflections I saw, but it was a lot.
Of course, we were most worried about the Best running back in the nation. He got 55 yards. A tremendous job by our line, linebackers, and safeties on that one. And, as Jeremy noted at the tailgate, how fantastic it is to have good linebackers for a change. There was nowhere to go at all in the middle, and Best was forced on several occasions to cut back and try to get outside. He got a couple of decent runs but, for the most part, guys were able to close before he got a chance to turn the corner. It doesn't matter how fast you are if there are no holes, and if you have to cut back, the linebackers are then a step ahead of you. Other than the first wildcat play that I think caught us a bit off guard, he had no other runs of significant yardage.
And, of course, Riley was on the run all game, and got sacked five times. The pass rush was relentless. I've gotten on Aliotti a lot over the last few years, including a regrettable time last year where I openly called for his firing. But when the personnel is in place, his plans are very good, and this performance as perfect. The depth of the defense also stood out to me, are we finally getting the talent on that side of the ball to match our offense? The most amazing thing, though? Cal never even came close to scoring. Not a single possession in the red zone. It was a beautiful, beautiful sight.
Offensively, I thought the strategy was brilliant. We came out with a lot of short, west coast style passing stuff that made for easy completions and seemed to give Masoli confidence. The first potential deep ball was when Embry was wide open and Masoli got excited and overthrew it. However, the next deep ball to Dickson was money. After that, no problems with the passing game. Masoli was going through his reads well, though all he really needed to do was lock in on Dickson and get hm the ball (and he did that 11 times). Dickson was open on pretty much every play, as he has been all season, but we finally found him. They'll catch it on film and have a safety or linebacker spy him in the future, which will just serve to leave Maehl, Davis, and Holland open for big chunks of yardage. And speaking of Drew Davis--a wideout that can catch! Woohoo!
The offensive line really seems to be coming together well. Masoli was sacked once, didn't really face a whole lot of pressure other than that. Also opened up a lot of big holes for LMJ. Second straight hundred yard game for him, and you can see both his speed and his shiftyness. He is basically a carbon copy of Jacquizz Rodgers. And he will be our running back for a long, long time. However, I was equally excited about Remene Alston. He looked really good on his first runs of the season--hit the hole hard and was tough to bring down. He's not as big as Blount or Stewart, but he's much more of a power back than Barner and, if he can run like he did today, could be the thunder to LMJ's lightning.
Finally, I have to point out that, when backed up inside the five, we ran a couple of plays under center to give us some breathing room. Loved this. I think it was just two plays, and they weren't huge, but they moved us from our four to about our ten, and opened up the room needed for the spread to be successful. No more safeties on a sweep in the end zone. Just get one of those backs going full steam ahead.
Look , we're not going to look this good every game, and Cal basically gave up halfway through the second quarter. But our defense has been outstanding all season, and just keeps getting better. The offensive line is gelling. We've found our running back. And now Masoi has learned how to throw the ball again. We're not a perfect team, but all the Pac-10 contenders are flawed, and we already find ourselves with a one game lead on both. This could shape up to be a special year yet.
Lets hope we get some good news on WT3 tomorrow.