It's been an up-and-down year for the surging Oregon Ducks, to say the least. Quarterback Vernon Adams was supposed to become Marcus Mariota 2.0 and keep Oregon in the Pac-12 drivers' seat -- but we all forgot about the defense. The Ducks' "D" gave up 42 points to Eastern Washington and 62 to Utah, and suddenly they fell off the map. But after a dominant win over Cal, it looks like Oregon is close to being back.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Rusty Ryan, Addicted to Quack's Oregon insider, about the Ducks. Go check out ATQ -- they've got great content!
In their big win over Cal on Saturday, the Ducks scored 28 points in the second quarter. What was the difference in the second, and do you think this return to prominence for Oregon's offense is sustainable, especially given the fact that they've averaged 573 yards of offense these last three weeks?
Oregon used tempo really well and didn't have negative plays. When Oregon gets into long second and third downs it's almost the kiss of death on the drive. When there are negative plays or plays for no gain then Oregon doesn't use tempo, which is one of the better things it does to gain an edge. Cal was also forced into three, three-and-outs on the huge run of points Oregon went on. Cal started deep in their own territory and even if they got a couple first downs they were still on their own side of the field. When Oregon works with a short field and quick tempo, quarters can get really out of hand.
I think over the rest of the season the 573 is sustainable but probably not likely in the game against Stanford. Stanford shortens the game so well that there won't be that many possessions to go around. Having Adams back, a very good quarterback, is a huge upgrade over mediocre, at best, quarterback play. Darren Carrington is also back at wide receiver and he is a game-changer. I'm blown away by how well he's done and how often he gets open. With a quarterback who can throw it deep and a WR who can have ten big catches a game it makes it easier to run.
The Ducks' secondary took a big step up against Cal, holding Jared Goff to 18 completions on 41 attempts. What was the Ducks' game plan to shut down Goff last week?
The secondary has actually been the strongest unit on the field most of the season at this point. The biggest difference was that the front seven made Cal one-dimensional. Even though Cal's strength is passing, the lack of any running threat allows play calls and players to focus on the passing attack. Cal had shown in their losses that when they exclusively had to pass that they were extremely prone to mistakes and turnovers. Oregon's pass rush applied pressure and whether it was the rain, or nerves, or close coverage, Goff and the receivers really struggled to connect.
Which offensive playmakers do Stanford's secondary have to keep a close eye on? Who might we not know about on offense or defense that we should?
Darren Carrington. He is a deep threat and so good with the ball in his hands. I don't know how he gets open so often. Maybe defenses lose track of him? Bralon Addison is exceptional in short routes too. On defense, outside of Buckner because that's obvious, the players to watch are Coleman and Springs. Coleman plays outside linebacker, #33, and is the best player by far in an underwhelming unit. He can play zone in the flats and will cover receivers and running backs, going step for step, thirty yards downfield, although that might not apply to guarding McCaffrey. Arrion Springs has turned into a superstar. He made the interception in 3OT against Arizona State and even though Cal went after him in every way he was amazing.
What has surprised you about Oregon this season?
How disappointing the front seven and backup quarterback play was. The backup and Vernon were supposedly in a close competition but they are lightyears apart. The front seven in the entire two-deep is full of seniors and they are the weakest unit on defense. How that is possible I don't know. Buckner has been great, Coleman is maybe the best player along with Coleman, Hardrick plays really smart, and players like Prevot and Balducci are making plays but this was supposed to be one of the best defenses in the PAC-12 and country coming into the season.
In years past, a lot has been made of Oregon having a "Stanford problem." Do you think Oregon has the personnel and the physicality to keep up with Stanford's big, bruising offensive line?
I don't think Oregon has a Stanford problem nor do I think Stanford has an Oregon problem. One team likes to fight in a phone booth and the other likes to fight in a big ring. Oregon didn't have a Stanford problem last year and Oregon has won 3 of the last 5 so I don't see how there's a Stanford problem. However, this year I don't see Oregon's front seven keeping pace. The defense is going to have to be very opportunistic because Stanford will march and McCaffrey will break free. I think we could see Springs placed on an island and putting everybody else in the box. Oregon has really struggled to get off blocks this year and got torched by Arizona State. By playing Stanford straight up Oregon's defense will not hold up. On the other hand, Oregon's defense kept the team in the game against Michigan State. So it could go either way but it's more likely for Oregon to struggle on the front seven than have an edge.
Predictions for the game?
Whatever tempo this game is played at will win. Oregon likes playing fast and Stanford likes playing slow. If Stanford goes up quickly we could see a similar game to the one in 2013 where Stanford squeaks out 6 min drives and converts nearly every third down. I have Oregon covering at +7.5, which opens the door for Stanford to win by 7.