Oregon got a much-needed win against Michigan State on Saturday. But even more, it grew up in a way that wouldn’t have happened against a subpar team.
In so many regards -- which will be of importance to the College Football Playoff committee -- a W is a W. And so, the Week 1 win against South Dakota and the Week 2 win against Michigan State are both wins, both positive things for the Ducks’ playoff resume.
But what Oregon took away from MSU is something so different than what it took away from South Dakota. The Spartans were able to put pressure in different ways on a young squad in Week 2 of a crucial season for the Ducks. They sent Oregon into the locker room at halftime with a deficit, with all the momentum turning green and white.
Many young teams -- even at home -- could have shrunk under that pressure. And yes, even with a Heisman-leading quarterback in Marcus Mariota, the game could have turned out differently considering the youth at wide receiver and the reliance on freshman at running back, right tackle and on defense.
"The biggest thing I think we can take away from this is that our team really grew up in the second half," offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. "We’ve got a lot of young players and a lot of them haven’t been in a game like that before. I think it really showed their character that they were able to respond the way they did."
"We thought we had a pretty mature group of young players," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich added. "I think that was very evident in the second half."
Helfrich said that at halftime he noticed the young players were composed, which could have been tough given the moment, the stage, the opponent.
"There was no panic," Helfrich said. "There was no element of fear."
But the fact that it was coming from players like wide receivers Devon Allen and Darren Carrington, running back Royce Freeman and defensive back Tyree Robinson, who were playing in just their second collegiate football game ever, says way more than a 40-point blowout win over an FCS school.
This experience is going to pay dividends going forward. Allen, Freeman and Robinson are going to be huge contributors for the Ducks this season and thanks to Michigan State, they really aren’t freshmen anymore. They are top targets in the run and pass game who proved themselves worthy of Mariota’s attention in tight situations. They are top tacklers on the team. They are guys who went from untested youth to valuable experience in about 30 minutes.
And that could be the difference between later W’s and L’s this season.
The Ducks have talent and experience, high power and big names. Now, they just need consistency, and a lot of it is going to come from guys whose age wouldn’t necessarily dictate that kind of play.
But age is just a number, and the Ducks don’t care about numbers, just W’s.