What to worry about:
Fourth and what?
2012 fourth down conversion rate: 20 of 31 (64%)
2013 fourth down conversion rate: 1 of 5 (20%)
Yeah, it's been bad. How bad? In order to find 4 failures to convert 4th down from starting 2012, I had to go to 5 games. And some of those failures aren't even really scary. The first one was Ayele Ford not converting well into the 4th quarter against Arkansas State. The second was against Tennessee Tech where Mariota got eaten up in the backfield. The third happened against Arizona (another failed Mariota run). The last was a Bryan Bennett special against Washington State early in that game. In that same time period there were 9 successful 4th down conversions, at least two for TDs.
Furthermore, we're boring on 4th down so far this season. While a number of conversions in 2012 were passes, all of our 4th down conversions have been run attempts. At least 3 of the 5 this year were inside runs which at this point do not appear to be super successful.
Seriously, you're thinking - Kalon's complaining about how well we're running the ball? Well, kinda sorta. I'm mostly complaining about who is running the ball.
Our leading rusher is DAT. Not a big surprise. In second place by less than 20 yards is Marcus Mariota. Most of those runs were huge, huge plays; that's not sustainable for success. Mariota's on pace to eclipse 1000 yards. He won't do that, but I'm concerned with our need for him to succeed so well at it so far. That being said, he's only rushed 9 times this season, so the balance isn't so bad.
What's more concerning is the lack of production from other players. While Marshall's ypc isn't too bad (6.74) it's a full 2 points lower than anyone with at least 5 touches, and given the competition that's a cause for concern. I have very high hopes for Thomas Tyner, but I may need to do more than hope; Marshall is not succeeding at a high rate. That being said, given how well Virginia did against BYU and how BYU appears to be a very good running team this may not be a huge issue; Virginia may simply end up having a fairly good defense.
Here are the lines from Mariota's two worst games last year:
21/37 (56.8%), 207 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT (107.27)
12/24 (50%), 166 yards, 2 TDs, (135.6)
Here are his lines from this year:
15/26 (57.7%), 272 yards, 2 TDs (170.95)
15/29 (51.7%), 207 yards, 2 TDs (134.44)
His two completion % games so far this year would have been comparable to Stanford and Kansas State. That's a really poor sign. Now, some of that may be that Virginia's defense was actually not too bad (compare what they did to BYU vs. what BYU did to Texas as an example) - but watching the game, some of it is just unforced errors. Colt Lyerla has 2 receptions so far - and 4 more drops. There were at least a few screen passes that just skipped into the dirt or went sailing. The poise that Mariota had last season is not quite as evident. He still throws a great deep ball, has been nicely accurate otherwise and hasn't made a lot of boneheaded mistakes - but it's disheartening to see the inaccuracy so early.
What to not worry about:
In 2013 we are averaging 80 yards of penalties a game. That's not good.
In 2012 we were averaging 70 yards of penalties a game.
One game (Nicholls State) was not too bad - 45 yards. Virginia was really bad - 112 yards. Compared to last year though, we're doing pretty decent. We had 105 yards of penalties against Tennessee Tech last year, and 75 against Arkansas State and 65 against Fresno State. I don't like the mental errors or the unforced errors, but it's not something that is atypical for Oregon. One game isn't a trend.
Three and out? Seriously?
2013 three and outs: 4
2012 three and outs in the first two games: 4
This one surprised me. Even if you take out the play of backups, it's still 4 and 4 in the first two games. That said, it's a bit of a concern because of context; last year Mariota was making his starting debut and we were replacing LMJ, so it was expected things wouldn't click so well right off the bat. That his completion % is so much lower, that we aren't as efficient as we'd like to be against inferior opponents - those concern me. But it's not so earthshatteringly bad as I feared. It's just not great.
Normally when you get 770 yards of offense in a game you're pretty happy about it. That's a ton of yards! But it also means something bad is happening: really bad field position. And that field position happens usually because your defense is giving up yards (if not points) to the other team. While our punt return average is a bit down (17 yards per punt last year, 12 this year) our kickoff return value is up, so it's not really just special teams being poor.
NIcholls State was our worst starting field position in the last two years. We averaged starting at the 25, with two drives starting at the 1. This is because of the third quarter, basically: Nicholls State had drives of 47, 46, 55 and 26 yards starting the fourth quarter and 4 drives that went 40 or more yards. Ouch. That, however, doesn't seem to be an existing trend; the Virginia game had two drives that went over 40 yards; one scored on a big play, the other was an interception.
However, Virginia had great field position by comparison, mostly because of some really nice turnovers and returns - the average starting field position was the ORE 44. That's significantly better than almost any game last year (one exception: Arizona State). It's also a big reason why our yardage was down so much compared to Nicholls State. We played at almost the same efficiency in both games, but had almost 200 yards of field position between the two games.
Another concerning trend is the boom and bust of plays, but that's sort of a Nick Aliotti signature at this point. Either teams get a bunch of yards or they get nothing. There's very little middle ground. But there's nothing in our defensive stats so far that would indicate any failings about our defense that haven't already been there.
What's way more awesome than it was last year:
The backup offense
Remember last year how we'd dread the third and fourth quarters of games because it would mean super slow games and not a lot of success?
Boy, is that not the case this year.
Our backups have scored TDs on 5 of 7 chances this season. The other two? End of game drives that we weren't really trying. They've not punted yet. They've not kicked a field goal yet. The drives have been 75, 61, 76, 3 and 52 yards. That's pretty amazing as far as success goes. Tyner looks amazing, Jeff Lockie looks quite good at running and passing and the team looks very solid and well-coached. Even Colt Lyerla looked good running the ball. Depth at offense is great.