Don't ask Kelly if Oregon can hang with SEC

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SEATTLE — In retrospect, it might have been more effective if I had just asked Chip Kelly: “Can your team beat Alabama?”

As it was, I couched the question, on Tuesday’s Pac-12 coaches conference call, in terms of a general assessment of the Ducks at the halfway point of the season.

You know, No. 2-ranked Oregon, still playing the world’s longest exhibition season. They’re facing a steady series of tomato cans until they meet USC on Nov. 3. At least, that’s been the public perception (with which Arizona State might have a bone to pick when they meet Oct. 18).

Anyway, Kelly, the Oregon coach, doesn’t do general very well.

“We don’t really think of it that way,” he said. “We don’t really look at the totality of anything. We’re on a one-week mission here.”

The mission, as always in Eugene, is to win the day. How you do that Saturday when you have a bye, I’m not sure.

But, to the field: While the waters around college football’s elite roil and swell and recede — LSU falling back, other Southeastern Conference teams bobbing up behind them — the Ducks (6-0) just keep schooling people.

Midway through the season, their sternest tests have come against Arizona and Washington State. They led the Wildcats 13-0 in the third quarter. They won that one 49-0.

WSU looped and blitzed and created some losses from scrimmage, and trailed by only four at half. Oregon won, 51-26.

Washington got another 100-yard rushing game from Bishop Sankey. Oregon won, 52-21.

It’s as if the Ducks have been playing virtual football. How good are they? Good enough to fend off, say, an unbeaten West Virginia team (No. 5) in the BCS rankings? Good enough to survive an unbeaten Notre Dame (No. 7) team playing a tough schedule?

And, ultimately, good enough to do away with an old rap that says they aren’t stout enough to hang with the SEC?

“They’re real well-coached; they’re quick,” said WSU coach Mike Leach. “I don’t know that they’re as physical as some other teams that might be in the conversation.”

Some observers of Oregon question whether the Ducks run inside well enough, having lost a 5,000-yard back in LaMichael James (and thus, the unveiling of erstwhile tight end Colt Lyerla recently in the backfield).

But nobody doubts the footwork of first-year quarterback Marcus Mariota, who scrambled for 20 yards once against UW and beat a fast linebacker to the edge to sustain drives against WSU.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian reviewed the recent Oregon quarterbacks — Darron Thomas, Jeremiah Masoli, Dennis Dixon — and said, “None of them had the speed Marcus has. His ability to create with his feet is so much different from the last guys.”

On the defensive front, Oregon routinely puts a second wave in sometime in the first quarter, by which time it’s usually a couple of touchdowns in the distance. Two subs getting major snaps are true freshmen, 6-foot-7 DeForest Buckner and 6-8 Arik Armstead.

Whether length might help trump girth against the SEC, only time will tell. In the meantime, you know Kelly won’t.

And what’s more ...

• The Oregon State-Brigham Young game is an odd match of teams that just lost starting quarterbacks to long-term knee injuries. “I really think the guy’s a good player,” OSU’s Mike Riley says of 6-1, 198-pound replacement Cody Vaz. “He’s got a great release, sees things well and understands what you’re doing.” BYU is third nationally in scoring defense and hasn’t allowed a TD in 13 quarters.

• Stanford coach David Shaw on Arizona QB Matt Scott, who had a league-record 45 completions in a 54-48 overtime loss: “It was a thing of beauty to watch this kid perform. He was on fire.”

• Weird stat I: Utah leads the nation in fumbles forced with 13, but is last in the Pac-12 in interceptions with two.

• Weird stat II: Oregon State throws for 339 yards per game, second in the league, but it’s tops nationally in time of possession at 36:32.

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