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UO game prediction: Five reasons to watch opener vs. UC Davis

UO game prediction: Five reasons to watch opener vs. UC Davis

No. 24 Oregon will obliterate UC Davis on Saturday. If not, cancel the season right now. 

So why should anyone watch? Well, let's countdown the top five reasons why watching the Ducks when the game kicks off at 2 p.m. won't be a waste of time. 

No. 5 - Don't remember the Alamo: It's opening day, and the last time fans saw the Ducks, well, they were imploding in Texas during the Alamo Bowl. What better way to help erase that horrific memory than watching Oregon look like Oregon again? The opening game for the Ducks is rarely ever about competition. It's usually more about simply celebrating the return of another season. In this case, it's also about finally starting the process of moving forward after one of the worst losses in program history. 

No. 4 - The new front seven under defensive coordinator Brady Hoke: We've heard so much about this attacking 4-3 scheme Oregon has installed and now it's time to see it in action. The Aggies, who averaged 22 points per game last season, shouldn't offer much of a challenge but that only means we should see at least 12 tackles for loss with about six sacks. Exotic blitzes, frenzied speed, mass confusion, quarterbacks fearing their safety, running backs faking injuries to exit the game.  Let's see if the Ducks can strike fear in the hearts of a vastly inferior team. Oregon has six new starters in the front seven including athletic freshman linebacker Troy Dye and maybe the next Dion Jordan in redshirt sophomore defensive end Justin Hollins.  Plus, Oregon supposedly upgraded at the middle linebacker spot with tansfer A.J. Hotchkins.  Finally, they will be turned loose. 

No. 3 - The UO debut of quarterback Dakota Prukop: The senior transfer from Montana State gets his first taste of Autzen. The savior. The next Vernon Adams Jr. The link between the Ducks and possible contention. Prukop has a chance to live up to all of those things if the dual-threat marvel out of the Big Sky Conference can adapt to the Pac-12. In 2014 he lit up the Aggies to the tune of 509 yards of total offense and six touchdowns. He could do the same on Saturday. What would it prove? Not much. However, he had a mediocre spring game and it would be nice to see if he can demonstrate some consistency within the offense that could pay off down the line in much bigger contests. 

[LISTEN: The Ducks Squad Podcast with guest senior right guard Cameron Hunt]

No. 2 - The defensive backs: Has there ever been a more maligned group of Oregon players in recent history? Probably not. They contributed heavily to the team ranking 116th in the nation last season while allowing 35 touchdown passes. All of the key players are back and they determined to make amends, and to prove that they learned from the extreme growing pains experienced last season. Again, UC Davis' offense is not a great measuring stick. But this is a secondary who looked bad last season against Georgia State. Watching them demonstrate some improved ability to play lockdown coverage and tackle consistently would be a good first step.  

No. 1 - Justin freaking Herbert:  Oh yes. Getting a chance to watch the true freshman quarterback in action will be worth the time spent watching this game simply because of the mystery surrounding the 6-foot-6 kid out of Sheldon High School. His performances in practice have had the entire team buzzing about his potential. It took him three weeks to vanquish redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen and true freshman Terry Wilson Jr., who arrived last spring. Now we will get to see Herbert in action once Prukop's work is done in a sure blowout. Figure late third quarter. All signs point to Herbert being a three-year starter after this season, and it is very likely he could see a start or two this season should Prukop go down. On Saturday fans get a sneak peak at the future of Oregon's quarterback position. 

A quick look at the game:

No. 24 Oregon vs. UC Davis. 

When: 2 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium.  

T.V.: Pac-12 Network.   

Betting line: Off

Records: Oregon went 9-4 last season while the Aggies went 2-9.

Coaches: Oregon's Mark Helfrich (33-8); UC Davis' Ron Gould, former Oregon defensive back, (9-25).

Last season: The Aggies went 2-9 for the second consecutive season to finish tied for 8th in the Big Sky Conference. 

Aggies impact players: Oregon should only concern itself with senior running back Manusamoa Luuga. Last season he rushed for 613 yards and had seven total touchdowns. 

Senior quarterback Ben Scott  when healthy is sold. Last season he passed for 1,598 yards and 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions over eight games. 

Fear factor (five-point scale): Zero. 

Prediction: Oregon, 66-13. 

Ducks will rotate up to 10 DBs in the secondary

Ducks will rotate up to 10 DBs in the secondary

EUGENE - Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal said Tuesday to expect to see a heavy rotation of defensive backs this season as he works to develop depth while keeping starters fresh in hopes of improving the overall performance of a secondary that struggled most of last season. 

"I'm going to play a lot more guys from the beginning to the end which gives me a chance to evaluate some critical guys that haven't played as much," Neal said. "If we continue that through the season with the amount of plays we play, having more guys playing is going to really help us, make us faster and better obviously in the fourth quarter."

No. 24 Oregon's season begins Saturday against UC Davis at Autzen Stadium. 

Neal said he has confidence in five cornerbacks and six safeties, which includes starting safety Tyree Robinson spending time at cornerback. 

Starting at cornerback will be sophomores Arrion Springs and Ugo Amadi. They will be backed up by redshirt freshman Malik Lovette and freshman Brenden Schooler. 

Robinson, a redshirt junior, and fellow starting safety, redshirt junior Juwaan Williams, will be backed up by redshirt senior Reggie Daniels, a former two-year starter, and redshirt sophomore Khalil Oliver.  

Also potentially in the mix will be redshirt freshman safety Jhet Janis, redshirt junior corner back Ty Griffin, who played some last season, and sophomore Fotu Leiato II.

Injuries and a lack of depth hurt Oregon's secondary last season when the Ducks allowed 35 touchdown passes and ranked 116th in the nation in total defense. Former No. 1 cornerback Chris Seisay missed eight games due to injury putting more pressure on Amadi and Springs. Injuries also hit the safety position, namely Daniels, leading to wide receiver Charles Nelson moving to free safety as a starter. 

Aside from protecting against injuries, increased depth is expected to help the starters play better game to game. 

"We don't have to play like 85 snaps a game like we did last year," Springs said. "If I get tired I can ask to come out so I'm always fresh and not getting lazy and sloppy how we were last year trying to stay in the game and play a lot of snaps. I feel like if we have more depth we can play faster because we won't be as tired."

Of course, playing young players in order to keep the starters fresher can backfire if the younger players aren't ready to perform at a high level. 

"It's such a long season. to stay healthy we have to play more people," Neal said. "But they have to earn it. We have to be able to trust them to."

Seisay's departure could hurt Oregon's secondary depth

Seisay's departure could hurt Oregon's secondary depth

The departure of Oregon cornerback Chris Seisay from the football program came somewhat as a shock to defensive backs coach John Neal. 

He said Monday that he is unsure why Seisay chose to seek a transfer from the program he joined in 2014. 

"You'd have to ask him," Neal said while also adding that people could piece together the various bits of information Seisay has dropped here and there. 

CSN asked Seisay on Sunday night when he left. He said via text message that the depth chart, where he was listed as backup cornerback, did not compel him to leave. He said it goes much deeper than that but did not elaborate. 

Seisay told The Oregonian that he didn't feel happy or on good terms with Ducks program. 

According to a source, Seisay has walked off the practice field in anger during fall camp. 

Last week, Seisay told CSN that he learned a lot from last season, when he missed eight games after entering the year as the team's No. 1 cornerback, that he needed to work harder and not expect things to be given to him.

He also said: “I’m just ready to prove everybody wrong. Everybody that’s doubted me, our whole group as a DB corps, our whole team.”

Neal last week said the following about Seisay: “Right now, when he plays well, he’s one of those guys. He’s going to play. Is he going to start? I don’t know. But he adds depth. He can play nickel. He can play dime."

Maybe Seisay didn't decide to leave because it appeared he would backup junior Arrion Springs and sophomore Ugo Amadi. But it's extremely rare for a starter to transfer out of Oregon, or any other program for that matter.  

Clearly, whatever the reasons, Seisay wasn't happy at Oregon and has moved on. The talented athlete should find success wherever he lands. 

"It's kind of heartbreaking," Neal said. 

So, what does losing Seisay mean for the Ducks? Tough to say at this point. Had Seisay been at his best and still a backup, Oregon would have been set with three starting-caliber cornerbacks. The Ducks right now can't boast to having one true, proven, big time starter at cornerback given last year's mess that saw Oregon allow 35 touchdown passes. 

Seisay's departure places more pressure on Springs and Amadi to improve dramatically. Behind them are promising redshirt freshman cornerback Malik Lovette and maybe redshirt junior cornerback Ty Griffin

We could also see starting redshirt junior safety Tyree Robinson at cornerback, if needed.  Neal likes his depth at safety with former starter Reggie Daniels backing up Juwaan Williams. 

"In some cases, Tyree is going to move out there," Neal said. 

Seisay wasn't going to make or break Oregon's defensive backfield. But his departure certainly doesn't help. 

 

Oregon DBs: Smarter, better, deeper and hungrier

Oregon DBs: Smarter, better, deeper and hungrier

EUGENE - No Oregon position group - and maybe within the Pac-12 - faces more scrutiny, will be under as much pressure and has more to prove than the Ducks' secondary. 

Last season the secondary made the arts of covering and tackling appear Jedi-like in comparison to the effort it put forth on almost a weekly basis. 

The group has heard the scrutiny. They've felt the scorn.  Negativity has motivated them to respond. They feel confident that they will. But much work remains to be done. 

“I’m hoping, and I have my fingers crossed, that those guys will play at the level that we need to play at to win in this league,” Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal said. 

First, a recap of the mountain they must climb to reach respectability. Oregon last season ranked 95th in the nation in passing efficiency defense (139.14) while allowing a whopping 35 touchdown passes and intercepting 13. UO’s defense ranked 116th in yards allowed per game (485.3) and 115th in scoring defense (37.5 points per game), most attributed to a poor pass defense.

The good news is that Oregon returns virtually its entire defensive secondary. Or, is that the bad news? Depends on how one chooses to view the situation. From Oregon's perspective, last year's debacle will only make a talented group mentally stronger and thus better.  

“We don’t want to look at ourselves as the underdogs anymore because we’re young," Oregon redshirt junior cornerback Chris Seisay said. "Those days are over. We have to become the players that we know we could be.”

Oregon entered last season with a relatively young secondary. Only safety Reggie Daniels was a returning full-time starter. Tyree Robinson and Seisay started a couple of games. Then-sophomore cornerback Arrion Springs made his first career start last year, as did freshman Ugo Amadi. Toss in part-time starter, redshirt freshman Glenn Ihenacho (who has since transferred), and converted receiver Charles Nelson, and you have a group that could have been expected to struggle. Although, maybe not as much as it did. 

Poor fundamentals. Awful communication. Sloppy tackling. All contributed to the secondary's inability to make plays and prevent plays from being made. The group did improve as the season went along, peaking with strong performances during victories over California and USC.

That didn't last long. The secondary's deficiencies  were on full display against TCU in the Alamo Bowl when the Ducks blew a 31-0 halftime lead to fall 47-41 in three overtimes. 

Most of the damage to Oregon's defense was done through the air by a backup quarterback. The season, and that performance, has haunted the defensive backs the past seven months. 

“We know what we have to do," Robinson said. "We have to grind. We know what we did last year, especially as a defensive secondary. We’re just trying to be the leaders out there. We’re just trying to set the tone, especially on defense, and be the playmakers and make big plays.”

First, they must fix all that ailed them in 2015. 

For starters, better communication and trust is being established. Springs said some defensive backs didn't fully understand all of the coverage schemes last season and at times, overplayed things. That has changed. 

“I feel we’ve taken the next step in terms of being smarter,” Springs said.

Also, a lack of trust hurt the secondary because of indecisiveness and lack of communication. 

“The big plays we gave up last year were just communication," Robinson said. "So the little things can make big plays happen, so we’re just trying to limit those mistakes.”

A change in defensive approach could help. New defensive coordinator Brady Hoke promises to be more attacking up front. The Ducks last season produced 38 sacks (ninth in the nation), but at times struggled to apply consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The goal this season is to attack relentlessly in hops of producing more turnovers through forcing quarterbacks into bad throws. 

“The quarterback is going to have to get that ball out,” Amadi said.

Oregon's secondary is excited about those prospects. 

“We know that the ball is going to be in the air," Robinson said. "When the ball is in the air, go up and be that guy. Be that playmaker. Not, when the ball is in the air be panicking.

Hoke, the defensive backs said, has brought a certainly level of authoritarianism to the defense.  He has brought an energy, and demands accountability. 

"You really can’t hide," Springs said. "He will call you out. I've been a victim. He's kind of a bully, but not really."

Finally, in order to improve the secondary simply must perform well. 

Neal said he sees a much stronger unit this fall. A group that he said is virtually three deep across the board. 

“I think this is the most competition we’ve had because we have a lot of depth,” Robinson said.

Neal said five, maybe six safeties could play, along with five cornerbacks. That's counting Robinson doubling as a potential backup corner, something he played last season. 

Having players play multiple positions, something Neal always tries to do, enhances the versatility of the secondary. 

“That creates depth,” Neal said. “I think that’s gonna make us better and more consistent. The ability to play harder.”

A lack of depth last season caused Oregon to move Nelson, a wide receiver, to safety, and it forced starters to play without much rest opposite an Oregon no-huddle offense that doesn't eat clock. 

“That caught up to us in a couple of games, especially our last two games," Neal said. "We got tired.”

Right now, Robinson and redshirt junior Juwaan Williams are the starting safeties with Daniels and Khalil Oliver as the backups. Springs and Umadi are starting at cornerback with Seisay as the third corner. He is also playing some nickel and dime back, as are others. 

All are needed, according to Neal, in order for Oregon to have success against spread teams such as Washington State and California.

“We have a chance to line up with four cover guys on their four receivers, which is something you have to have to try and slow those people down,” Neal said. 

Seisay said Neal took some unnecessary heat for the play of his group, and that the players must keep up their end of the bargain and seize the challenge before them. 

“It’s on us, as well,” Seisay said. “We’re just trying to show the country that coach Neal is a great DB coach, and we listen to him and we’re going to improve.”

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 7 - Defensive backs under fire

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 7 - Defensive backs under fire

College football is back! The Ducks begin fall camp on Monday so we're breaking down each position to determine if the Ducks, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12, and their fans will be smelling roses as Pac-12 champs during a trip to the Rose Bowl, or placing bets at a roulette table prior to watching a sixth-place UO team in the Las Vegas Bowl. Each position is graded using the poker hand scale.  

Today: Defensive backs. 

Projected starters: Redshirt junior cornerback Chris Seisay (6-1, 190), junior cornerback Arrion Springs (5-11, 205), redshirt senior safety Reggie Daniels (6-1, 205) and redshirt junior safety Tyree Robinson (6-4, 205). 

Key backups: Sophomore cornerback Ugo Amadi (5-10, 185), redshirt junior safety Juwaan Williams (6-0, 195), redshirt junior cornerback Ty Griffin (6-0, 200), redshirt sophomore safety Khalil Oliver (6-0, 200) and redshirt freshman cornerback Malik Lovette (5-11, 205).

Smelling like roses: Oregon's secondary has a lot to prove and its development will make or break the defense. The Ducks' defensive backs showed improvement late last season before the second-half collapse against TCU in the Alamo Bowl. The group contributed heavily to the team allowing an alarming 35 touchdown passes.

One could expect that a year of experience coupled with a huge helping of humble pie might lead to a dramatic growth curve. Oregon has six defensive backs competing for starting jobs, and all six have legitimate talent and experience to draw upon. Williams is in the hunt to start over Daniels, and Seisay is in a battle with Springs and Amadi to start at one of the two corner spots. That level of competition should push all involved to be the best version of themselves. 

There's too much talent here for this group to be as bad as it was last season. 

Place your bets: If the secondary does not become at least good, the Ducks' defense could be toast. The front seven is replacing six starters with a group of defensive linemen and linebackers mostly made up of question marks with upside. Couple that with the desire to be more aggressive in new defensive coordinator Brad Hoke's 4-3 defense and Oregon could be in trouble if the back end of the defense can't protect the front seven.

Odds are: The secondary will be better, but likely not good enough to carry the front seven. The good news is that most of the defensive backs will return in 2017.

Poker hand: Two pair with a card to go. That's being generous, but at least this group is comprised of mostly experienced players with elite-level talent. If the Ducks get lucky on the river, this hand could produce a full house. But that's a big if. 

Other posts: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers/Tight ends; Offensive line; Defensive line; Linebackers.

Five musts for Oregon to contend: 4. Secondary must achieve lockdown mode

Five musts for Oregon to contend: 4. Secondary must achieve lockdown mode

The Oregon Ducks will enter the 2016 season with more uncertainty surrounding the program than it has seen since 2009 when former coach Chip Kelly took over for Mike Bellotti. UO went 9-4 last season, the program's worst since 2007 (9-4). This week we will take a look at five things that must go right in order for the Ducks to avoid another 9-win season (or worse), win the Pac-12 championship and contend for a national playoff berth. 

No. 4:  Secondary must achieve lockdown mode.

The situation: Hold up. Someone just scored again on Oregon's secondary and we're five months removed from the season. 

Sure, that's a cheap shot. But it fits. 

For Oregon to win the Pac-12 and contend for a playoff berth the defensive secondary must make a quantum leap in improvement. It would be next to impossible for the group not to improve on last season's swiss cheese impersonation. But simply improving won't be enough. They need to go from bad to very good in order for the Ducks defense to at least return to its 2014 form given that the front seven lost six starters. 

First, let's revisit the horrors of 2015. Oregon ranked 115th in scoring defense (37.5 points per game), 116th in total defense (485.3 yards per game) and 125th in passing yards allowed (306.5 per game). The Ducks (9-4 last season) ranked 95th in passing efficiency defense (139.14) while allowing a whopping 35 touchdown passes with a respectable 13 interceptions.  Only seven other programs allowed 30 or more touchdown passes with Rice leading the way at 36. 

In contrast, the 2014 Ducks allowed just 21 touchdown passes over 15 games. 

That defense included a veteran secondary led by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Erick Dargan and Troy Hill.  Their absence in 2015 contributed mightedly to the team's struggles because the new guard proved mentally incapable of continuing their excellence. 

A year later, Oregon should expect that senior safety Reggie Daniels, redshirt junior safety Tyree Robinson, redshirt junior corner Chris Seisay (who missed much of last season due to injury), junior cornerback Arrion Springs, sophomore cornerback Ugo Amadi and others, will be much better in 2016.

The signs of improving were present during the second half of last season, especially in wins over California and USC, both armed with quarterbacks drafted in April. 

Athletically, the UO's defensive backs are very sound. Several players should end up in NFL camps. If their awareness has caught up to their physical abiliites, the Ducks could have one of the best secondaries in the Pac-12. 

Being able to trust the back end of the defense would allow the front seven to take more risks in new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke's attacking defense. This can be accomplished not only with better overall coverage to avoid allowing big plays over the top, but also with improved tackling to keep short completions as short gains.

Passes are going to be completed in a conference typically loaded with good passing offenses. However, Oregon last season made a bad habit out of allowing short passes to turn into long gains thanks to poor pursuit angles and bad tackling.  

The Ducks simply can't afford to get into many shootouts if they want to go 12-1, which is what it will take to reach the playoffs. That means the defense must do its part, as it did in 2014. 

Next up: Brady Hoke works some magic wiht the front seven.  

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