EUGENE — Oregon State ended the 2012 regular season with a 77-3 romp over Nicholls State.
Oregon opens the 2013 season on Saturday against those very same Colonels.
“Nicholls is going to have its hands full,” predicted OSU coach Mike Riley, before suggesting “maybe they’ve gotten a little better.”
There is always that possibility, though the Southland Conference coaches were unanimous in predicting another last-place finish for Nicholls State.
There’s reason to argue that Saturday’s mismatch of the Ducks and Colonels has the potential to be one of the most-lopsided games ever played at Autzen Stadium. In the past two seasons, Nicholls State has won two games, each season beating Evangel, an NAIA school. In addition to OSU putting up 77 points on the Colonels last season, Tulsa scored 66 points on Nicholls State.
It’s not simply that Nicholls State is a level down from Oregon, because there are teams in FCS that can compete with the major schools.There is the famous Appalachian State win over Michigan. North Dakota State knocked off Minnesota. Colorado and Oregon State lost to Sacramento State.
But no one will confuse Nicholls State with one of the better FCS teams. In one rating of FCS teams last season, Nicholls State came in at No. 95.
And to open this season, the Colonels are going to take on the third-ranked Ducks?
“They could score in the hundreds,” OSU offensive lineman Josh Andrews said, though quickly realizing what that would mean and adding “nah, they wouldn’t do that.”
True, but what are the limits?
Asked about his “philosophy” on managing games where the score becomes lopsided, UO coach Mark Helfrich said “that’s a good philosophy to need” but that he doesn’t have a firm one as he prepares for his first season as Oregon’s head coach.
“We’re not trying to embarrass anybody,” Helfrich said. “At the same time, you want to get your young guys in there playing because we’ve got a ton of guys who have worked really hard to show themselves.”
Riley agreed with that sentiment, and showed it against Nicholls State last season.
“We don’t have that luxury too often so I don’t have a perfect game plan for it,” Riley said. “My feeling is once we get to a certain point, you have to substitute all the way through like we did.”
As far as running his offense, Riley said he didn’t want the Beavers “to be stupid about it ... running reverses or doing gimmicky stuff but it’s perfectly fine to let the (reserves) run plays” designed to gain yardage.
“Play the game realistically and let those kids play,” Riley added.
While Oregon doesn’t drop off significantly at many positions when the reserves come in, a desire to see backup quarterbacks Jake Rodrigues and Jeff Lockie in their first game action could somewhat stem the Oregon offense. With a game at Virginia and a visit by Tennessee to Autzen Stadium in the next two weeks, it seems likely that this will be the best opportunity for UO coaches to see what they have for a backup to Marcus Mariota.
Not that Oregon is saying it plans on using the reserves early or extensively, of course.
“You just never know how that’s all going to shake out,” Helfrich said. “We never talk about that kind of thing.”
The Beavers went into their contest against Nicholls State last season with a normal game plan, though coaches had to know it was likely the reserves would see extensive action.
“We just played our game,” said Andrews, adding that OSU coaches “told us that the entire week, just play our game and do what we do ... no matter what the scoreboard (showed), just keep doing what we do and honestly that’s what it was.”
OSU never punted in the game. The offense scored on every possession until the last one, when the Beavers let the clock run out.
“We didn’t throw the ball down the field much,” Riley said, describing his offense as “methodical. We were pretty efficient.”
The Ducks can be that, and who thinks of Oregon’s offense as methodical?
While this is Helfrich’s first game as Oregon’s head coach, he was the offensive coordinator for the four previous seasons, when Oregon recorded four of its 10 highest point totals in program history. There were certainly occasions when Helfrich altered Oregon’s offense, in an attempt to avoid running up the score any more than it was already.
When does that point arrive? Helfrich could be tested on that matter Saturday.
“Some guys say when you get to the fourth quarter, some guys say when you get to the second half,” Helfrich said of limiting the offense.
His sense of the timing for that?
“When it feels right and hopefully that’s a problem,” Helfrich said. “If that’s a problem, we’ll be in good shape.”