Oregon Ducks

Oregon's defense faltering in Pac-12 play

Oregon's defense faltering in Pac-12 play

EUGENE - Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt was all smiles when he met with the media on Wednesday outside of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. He was also very anxious to get out to the practice field. About 90 seconds into the interview session, Leavitt moved one foot toward exiting while asking, "Anything else?"

Well, yeah. Can't get away that easily when we get you once a week and the defense is getting lit up as of late. The Ducks (4-3, 1-2 Pac-12) have given up 143 points (35.6 per game) in four Pac-12 games after allowing just 69 in three non-conference games. So, who could blame Leavitt for wanting to get the practice. Like the Ducks' offense - 17 points in the last two games - the defense has plenty of work to do.

But unlike the offense, which is operating without quarterback Justin Herbert, the Ducks' defense doesn't have an obvious excuse to lean on. The main 11 starters have remained mostly the same with a few depth chart changes and a couple of players missing games here and there. Only inside linebacker Kaulana Apelu has been lost for the season. 

What's happened to the defense is simple. It went from playing very average offenses to facing quarterbacks that can put points on the board. UO has allowed 12 touchdown passes in four Pac-12 games and now faces the challenge of contending with UCLA's Josh Rosen, who has thrown for 17 scoring passes this year. UCLA hosts Oregon at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Rose Bowl. 

It's bad enough giving up touchdown passes. But Oregon isn't even intercepting any to balance things out a bit. After intercepting six passes in non-conference play, the Ducks have picked off just one pass in conference. 

"We do it all of the time in practice, we've just got to translate it into the games," Robinson said.

Getting interceptions against scout team quarterbacks is not the same as facing Pac-12 starters. The quarterback foursome of Arizona State's Manny Wilkins, California's Ross Bowers, Washington State's Luke Falk and Stanford's Keller Christ have given the Ducks problems. Even Bowers, sacked seven times, managed to throw for three touchdowns with no interceptions. The one interception for UO in conference came at Stanford on a dropped and tipped slant pass in the end zone that landed in the arms of freshman cornerback Deommodore Lenoir.

Maybe the most concerning problem is that those same quarterbacks have had poor games against other teams. Falk threw five interceptions in last week's 37-3 loss at Cal. Bowers threw four in a loss to USC. Wilkins threw two at Stanford. Chryst had two picked off at San Diego State. So, they've given up the ball. Just not to Oregon. 

Back to Rosen. He threw for three interceptions and zero touchdowns in a 47-30 loss last week at Arizona. He now has eight on the season, tied for the second most among conference starting quarterbacks.

He is a bit of a gunslinger that likes to take chances. So, if Oregon is going to pull off the upset, the Ducks must find a way to pluck a few of his passes out of the air. 

"We're always focused on turnovers whether that's stripping the ball out, punching it our, quarterback throwing it and get it," UO safeties coach Keith Heyward said. "We just haven't made plays."

Leavitt pointed out that the Ducks have had chances at intercepting a few more during conference play, but failed to catch the ball. 

"Those are missed opportunities," he said. 

With the offense struggling so badly, the defense can't afford to not force turnovers. The mediocre play of backup quarterback Braxton Burmeister, a true freshman, has resulted in too many short drives that result in no points. Oregon's defense was on the field for 37 minutes during its 49-7 loss at Stanford. That's too much pressure to put on a young and rebuilding defense. 

"Obvious we feel like we have to stop the opponent no matter whether the offense is playing like it was before or playing like we are now," Heyward said. "We just have to take care of our own side of the ball and get stops."

Part of the problem is some of the youth of the secondary. The Ducks are have started safety Nick Pickett and cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. Lenoir has seen his playing time increase. They represent the future of the Ducks' secondary. Sometimes growing pains can be tough. 

"They're trying," Leavitt said. "They're doing the best they can. They are going to be great players. I'm really excited about them."

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Oregon at UCLA

When: 1 p.m., Saturday, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif. 

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: UCLA minus 6 1/2.

Records: Ducks (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12), Bruins (3-3, 1-2).

Last week: UCLA lost 47-30 to Arizona (4-2, 2-1). Oregon lost 49-7 at No. 22 Stanford (5-2, 4-1).

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (44-48, 4-3 at Oregon); UCLA's Jim Mora (44-27).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Oregon should run wild but unless the Ducks get some big plays from Burmeister they won't have much of a chance of keeping pace with Rosen and his fleet of receivers.

Redshirt sophomore tight end Caleb Wilson leads the Pac-12 with 7.6 receptions per game over five games. He has caught 38 passes for 489 yards and one touchdown. Redshirt senior wide receiver Darren Andrews is second at 7.3 receptions per game. He has made 44 receptions for 591 yards and seven touchdowns. Redshirt junior Jordan Lasley leads the conference in receiving yards per game (108.4) over five games while catching 54 passes for 543 yards and three touchdowns. 

Final pick: UCLA 44, Oregon 30.  Burmeister will improve enough to help the offense break 20 for the first time in three weeks but it won't be nearly enough. 

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 3)... They find a compliment for WR Dillon Mitchell

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USA Today

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 3)... They find a compliment for WR Dillon Mitchell

Oregon's promising 2017 season ended with a wild two weeks that saw Willie Taggart depart for Florida State, coach Mario Cristobal take over the program, recruits decommit left and right and then the Ducks fall flat during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Still, the 2018 season could see Oregon return to Pac-12 prominence. That is, if a lot of variables play out in the Ducks' favor. We will take a position-by-position look at the team to discuss what must happen in order for Oregon to rise again in 2018. 

Other position entries: QuarterbackRunning back

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Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 3)...: They find WR Mitchell some help.

Key departures: Charles Nelson moves on after a disappointing season that saw him hindered by an ankle injury and gaining just 404 yards on 32 receptions with one touchdown. 

Projected 2017 starting WRs: Dillon Mitchell, Jr. (6-1, 185); Johnny Johnson III, So., (6-0, 205); Brenden Schooler, Jr., (6-2, 195).

Key backup WRs: Jaylon Redd, So., (5-8, 181), Taj Griffin, Sr., (5-11, 178);  Alex Ofodile, RJr., (6-2, 205); Darrian McNeal, So., (5-9, 163); Malik Lovette, RSo., (5-10, 200);

Projected 2017 TE starter: Jacob Breeland, RJr. (6-5, 241).

Key backup TEs: Cam McCormick, RSo., (6-5, 248); Ryan Bay, RJr., (6-3, 231). 

What we know: Mitchell could become a true No. 1 receiver. The type of target that requires extra attention in coverage. Mitchell showed flashes of being that guys last season when he led Oregon with 42 receptions and 517 receiving yards, and he should be expected to take the next step in 2018. 

Breeland has also shown similar flashes. He led the team with five touchdowns on just 18 receptions for 320 yards. 

The statistics for both were hurt by quarterback Justin Herbert's five-game absence.  

What we don't know: Who is going to provide adequate help to keep defenses from ganging up on Mitchell and Breeland?

Johnson demonstrated a gift for making spectacular catches but also at times played like the freshman that he was. Schooler made a few big plays here and there but didn't really strike fear into opposing defenses. McCormick also showed promise. 

Right now, Oregon has a group of largely adequate but hardly spectacular receivers. This group has a long ways to go to match the corps that helped Marcus Mariota and Vernon Adams Jr. torch the Pac-12 in 2014 and 2015, respectively. 

What must happen for Oregon to contend: Aside from Mitchell and Breeland reaching the levels of Darren Carrington II and Colt Lyerla (minus the off-the-field troubles), the Ducks need two additional receivers to become strong targets along the lines of a Dwayne Stanford. 

Schooler, after a full season and offseason under his belt since moving to receiver, has the tools to become a consistent threat if he can start to master the nuances of the position that largely escaped him in 2017.

Johnson has probably the highest ceiling on the roster next to Mitchell. How he performed as a true freshman with should offer encouragement that he is just scratching the surface of his potential. In a perfect world, he would have redshirted last season. But Johnson had to play because of a lack of proven targets on the roster. That year of experience could result in Johnson taking off next season. 

McCormick should at least be solid enough as the backup tight end and Oregon typically has just one on the field.

So there keys here are Schooler and Johnson. If they don't deliver, the Ducks could hope that Ofodile finally blossoms, and/or that someone else surprises. 

But the most likely scenario is that either Schooler or Johnson emerges or the Ducks will remain limited at receiver. 

Next up: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 4)...: LT Tyrell Crosby isn't missed. 

No. 7 Oregon takes ROUND TWO of the CIVIL WAR

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No. 7 Oregon takes ROUND TWO of the CIVIL WAR

How Oregon won: A beautifully designed and executed game plan by Oregon coach Kelly Graves and his team. The Ducks showed that they learned their lesson from Friday night’s Civil War round one 85-79 loss in Corvallis, OR. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to that game. Beavers’ guard Kat Tudor goes off from three-point range and finishes with 34 points. Oregon State shot a perfect 7-for-7 from three-point land before finally missing one. And Beavers’ center Marie Gulich was just a force down low getting second-chance points and finishing with 28 points that night. 

But tonight, in front of 7,249 screaming fans at Matthew Knight Arena, was a different story. 

The Ducks shut down the Beavers by trapping their guards in the corners as the ball crossed mid court doing anything to make their offense uncomfortable. As Gulich got the ball down low, she was immediately met by a double team of Ducks forcing the ball out of her hands. And Tudor, who still finished with 17 points, definitely had a more hands in her face and less open looks thanks to glue defense from freshman Anneli Maley. 

The No. 7 Oregon Ducks (18-3, 7-1 Pac-12) took round two of the Civil War series 75-63 over in-state rival the No. 18 Oregon State Beavers (14-5, 5-3 Pac-12).

“We were just so focused and I think that’s what it just comes down to,” said Oregon sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu. “Physically I know we are able to defend them, and any team, but I think mentally we have lapses here and there. We are still young but it’s not an excuse. I think mentally we came in focused, we were ready, we were dialed in, and we came out and competed. I think it showed. We really stopped what they are really good at: we didn’t give them any three’s and we didn’t let them get inside…”

What it means: Freshman forward Satou Sabally was tonight’s player of the game. Sabally finished with 21 points and five rebounds, but overall it was her confidence that took a giant step forward. In the second period alone, Sabally hit 3-of-5 from three-point range that sparked the Ducks into a 40-18 lead at halftime.

Sabally said, “After the game on Friday, I was a little upset, actually very upset. They [Oregon State] also recruited me very highly, so it meant a little more to me to beat them to show ‘ok I made the right decision’. But it means a lot, I just care a lot about the team too because Lexi Bando is out, that’s her last game against Oregon State probably, and Justine [Justine Hall, senior guard]. So this is just a great win for them too.”

With Bando out indefinitely with a foot injury, it is still unclear what her timetable for return is. As on Friday, the Ducks went with sophomore forward Mallory McGwire once again and she did not disappoint. McGwire finished with 14 points and six rebounds, and the task of guarding Gulich down low.

“I thought Mallory set the tone, not just on the offensive end, but she was on-point on her mid-range game, but I thought defensively did a great job with Gulich,” said Graves. “I think Gulich is the best post in the conference, and we just kind of had her off her game a little bit and I really credit Mallory.”

High flying Ducks: Along with McWire and Sabally’s performance, sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu was just four rebounds shy of her ninth triple-double. She finished with 15 points, 11 assists, and six rebounds. Junior guard Maite Cazorla finished with 16 points going 6-for-11 from the field. Both Ionescu and Cazorla played the entire game.

Foul play: McWire fouled out of the game. Freshman Anneli Maley finished with three fouls and received a technical.

Up next: Oregon hits the road to face the Colorado Buffaloes (11-8, 2-6 Pac-12) at 7 PM this Friday.

The one that ALMOST got away...Ducks edge Bruins

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The one that ALMOST got away...Ducks edge Bruins

How Oregon won: A win is a win no matter how ugly. The Oregon Ducks got it done tonight. But it didn't come easy and at times, fearful. Oregon had the lead up by 18 points early in the second half. Slowly but surely, the UCLA Bruins began to chip away. Could this happen once again? Would it be the third game in a row where the Ducks have a lead coming down the stretch and gave it away? It was beginning to feel like deja vu for the staff, players, and 12,364 fans at Matthew Knight Arena. With just under five minutes remaining, UCLA went on a 10-0 run to bring the score to 88-87, Oregon lead, 1:09 to go. UCLA calls a timeout with :12 seconds to go, Oregon coach Dana Altman gathers his team and decides to foul the Bruins so they would have to earn their points and the Ducks can regain control of the tempo Risky that it may be, but a risk that paid off. The Ducks (13-7, 3-4 Pac-12) rode their three point lead off perfect 4-of-4 free throw shooting from sophomore guard Payton Pritchard to a 94-91 win over UCLA (13-7, 4-4 Pac-12) in Matthew Knight Arena.

"They [UCLA] were shooting it so well from three," said Altman. "They had so many guys out there that can hit three's. It wasn't like we could shift our defense to one guy. You go right down their roster, the guys they had in there were all shooters. So I just felt like it was our best chance hoping we could get the ball to Payton or Elijah [Brown] who are extremely good free throw shooters and just felt this was the best way for us to finish it out."

What it means: Oregon started this game probably the best so far this season and entered halftime up 52-38. Three Oregon players scored in double figures in just the first half: Pritchard with 10 points, senior Miklye McIntosh with 12 points, and freshman Victor Bailey Jr., coming off the bench and creating some energy, shot 5-of-6 from the field scoring 15 points. If the Ducks can figure out how to start every game like that, with high intensive defensive pressure and swift offensive ball movement, and somehow carry that momentum over into the second half, maybe just maybe they can develop a comfortable lead and keep it to the end.

McIntosh said, "We understood the last four minutes of the last few games were not our best. But we understood that if we trust in our abilities and trust our coaches and understand that we can go out there and just play and not really worry about things, then we'll get the job done. As ugly as it may be, a win is a win. As long as we go out there and play hard and try not to make too many mistakes, then we'll be fine."

Two battles were additionally won tonight: the Ducks scored 18 second chance points, which shows hustle and offensively crashing boards. And 19 assists with only eight turnovers, demonstrating the improving ball movement and making plays for one another.

High flying Ducks: Pritchard lead all scored with 25 points off 5-for-8 from three-point range. McIntosh and Bailey Jr. finished with 18 points. Freshman Troy Brown Jr., who seemed to find his groove again, finished with 17 points, five assists, and crucial rebounds down the stretch. 

Foul play: Oregon committed 25 team fouls collectively. Junior Paul White fouled out.

Up next: The Ducks host Oregon State in the second chapter of the Civil War at 5 PM (PT) this Saturday, January 27th, at Matthew Knight Arena.

Could you ask for anything more from a Civil War?

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Could you ask for anything more from a Civil War?

How Oregon lost: If the Civil War taught us one thing, it's that Sunday is going to be fun. Because that is exactly when these two teams will meet again. This match up was a thrill from start to finish that had 6,704 screaming fans on their feet. The Ducks had no answer early when the Beavers hit their first 7-for-7 shots from three-point range and quickly had to dig out of a 10-point hole. Helping Oregon climb out was sophomore guard Sabrina Ionescu who finished and lead all scores with 35 points and six assists. With time windind down and a three point Oregon State lead, the Ducks found their sure-handed Ionescu, not afraid to take the big shot, absolutely drilled a three-pointer to bring this game into overtime. The crowd stunned, the Ducks bench going wild, and five more glorious minutes were to be played at Gill Coliseum Friday night. 

In the end, Oregon looked like it ran out of gas. It's five starters each played over 35 minutes, with Ionescu and junior guard Maite Cazorla playing the full game and all of overtime. Oregon State controlled the ball and got good looks to finish off the Ducks 85-79 and keep their win streak over Oregon alive to 14 games in a row.

"It was a good basketball game, both teams played with a lot of intensity and a lot of heart," said Oregon coach Kelly Graves. "God dang one of these days, I'd like to beat the Beavers for crying out loud. They got a good team, no doubt about it. Gulich [Marie] was great, Tudor [Kat] tonight, I mean come on that kid was unconscious. The good thing is we get them in two days, I guess. And that's also the bad thing..."

What it means: Before tipoff, it was announced that senior guard Lexi Bando is out indefinitely with a leg injury. Graves said he doens't know anything about her diagnosis or timetable of return and chooses to leave that up to the doctors. So Oregon decided to go with a bigger lineup with 6'-5" sophomore forward Mallory McGwire. McGwire had to shake some nerves in the first quarter, but really stepped up in the second half finishing with a near double-double 10 points and nine rebounds. 

Oregon will face Oregon State again in just about 40 hours. How much change to the game plan can there be in just that short amount of time?

Graves said, "I think I did a poor job tonight in we became too predictable down the stretch. Well, so did they, we both go to our bread and butter late. I thought we were going to get them in overtime, had the momentum obviously and just didn't make the plays."

These teams are so evenly matched that it is just a recipe for a good game. 6' 5" Marie Gulich vs. 6' 4" Ruthy Hebard on the inside. Hot shooters Kat Tudor vs. Sabrina Ionescu on the outside. Tudor lead all Beavers' scores with 34 points off 10-for-14 from the field and 7-of-10 from three-point range. Tough guard play from Mikayla Pivec vs. Maite Cazorla. Match ups everywhere.

High flying Ducks: Only three Ducks to score in double figures tonight: Ionescu with 35, Hebard finished with 24 points and seven rebounds, and McGwire with 10. Ionescu and Hebard were the only Oregon players who shot free throws tonight.

Foul play: Oregon committed 19 total teams fouls. McGwire fouled out of the game in overtime.

Up next: Another Civil War in about 40 hours. Oregon hosts Oregon State at 5 PM (PT) on Sunday at Matthew Knight Arena.  

 

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 2)...: RB Tony Brooks-James emerges

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 2)...: RB Tony Brooks-James emerges

Oregon's promising 2017 season ended with a wild two weeks that saw Willie Taggart depart for Florida State, coach Mario Cristobal take over the program, recruits decommit left and right and then the Ducks fall flat during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Still, the 2018 season could see Oregon return to Pac-12 prominence. That is, if a lot of variables play out in the Ducks' favor. We will take a position-by-position look at the team to discuss what must happen in order for Oregon to rise again in 2018. 

Other position entries: Quarterback; Receivers/Tight ends

Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 2)...: RB Tony Brooks-James emerges. 

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Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 2)...: RB Tony Brooks-James emerges. 

Key departures: Senior Royce Freeman moved on to the NFL after breaking nearly every school record imaginable.  Versatile senior backup Kani Benoit is also gone.  

Projected 2017 starter: Tony Brooks-James, RSr., (5-9, 175),

Key backups: Darrian Felix, Soph., (5-11, 178); C.J. Verdell, RFr., (5-8, 192); Taj Griffin, Sr., (5-11, 178); Cyrus Habibi-Likio, RFr., (6-0, 208). 

What we know: Freeman is gone. Let's all take a moment to reflect on his greatness.

Now, let's take a moment to reflect on what his absence could mean for Oregon.

Yikes!

Then toss in the loss of Benoit. 

Double yikes!

Oregon hasn't lost this much running back talent in one offseason since maybe ever. But, in typical Oregon tradition, there is a potentially great running back waiting in the wings. 

Brooks-James has rushed for 1,557 yards in his career on 226 carries (5.9 per carry) and has scored 14 rushing touchdowns. If he managed to put up those same numbers in one season, the Ducks will be in business. 

Essentially, Oregon needs Brooks-James to become the next Kenjon Barner, who after backing up LaMichael James for three seasons, rushed for 1,767 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior in 2012. 

What we don't know: Can Brooks-James be that guy? And, will he truly need to?

At a listed 178 pounds, it might be a lot to ask of James to carry the ball 20 times per game and survive the season. If he isn't up to the task, the Ducks do have options, albeit of the unproven variety. 

Felix saw minimal time as a freshman and gained 182 yards. The real wild card is Verdell, who by all accounts is the next great UO running back in waiting. He redshirted in 2017 due to injuries and ample depth already in place. 

We can't ignore Griffin, who was moved to wide receiver last season but still received some carries. He has 848 career rushing yards in his career on 6.1 yards per carry. 

Habibi-Likio has a lot of ground to make up on the depth chart in order to crash the rotation next season. But he does offer more bulk at 208 pounds than every other running back, except maybe Verdell, who packs 192 pounds on his 5-8 frame.  

What must happen for Oregon to contend: Clearly, Oregon must be able to run the ball well in order to succeed. Ideally, the Ducks will have a clear No. 1 back, and that man should be Brooks-James. But he doesn't have to match the level of play displayed in the past by the likes of Jonathan Stewart, James, Barner or Freeman. Brooks-James could simply be what Byron Marshall was in 2013 when he rushed for 1,068 yards and 14 touchdowns while Thomas Tyner chipped in 711 rushing yards and De'Anthony Thomas went for 594. 

If Oregon gets that type of production out of its top three running backs in 2018, the Ducks will be just fine. 

Next up: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 3)...: Someone compliments WR Dillon Mitchell. 

Deja vu for the young Ducks; let another slip away late

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Deja vu for the young Ducks; let another slip away late

How Oregon lost: This was a battle from start to finish. Oregon fell into a 16-6 hole early due to not blocking out and USC getting offensive rebounds. But the Ducks fought their way back to a 36-35 Trojan lead at halftime. From then on it was back-and-forth. With five minutes to go in the game, it started to feel like deja vu from Arizona. Could the Ducks finally finish strong and pull out a win with just a small four-point lead as time winded down? Alas, it did not happen. The chemistry and leadership of a much older, more mature USC team outlasted the Ducks. Oregon (12-7, 2-4 Pac-12) ends its 14-game win streak against USC and falls at home to the Trojans (14-6, 5-2 Pac-12) 75-70 in Matthew Knight Arena.

"They [the losses] are all frustrating. I just think we are a better team," Oregon coach Dana Altman siad. "I'm disappointed in myself because we are not performing at the level that I think we should be performing at. For whatever reason, we haven't been able to get our guys to buy into the things that we think are really important. So, it's frustrating for everybody. We had a long streak over these guys and we should have continued it. And we've lost three ball games at home. I think that's the highest since we've opened up the building. So it's frustrating, but we just have to fight through it. Everybody is judged by how you handle adversity. We are going to have to do a better job of handling some adversity."

Oregon sophomore guard Payton Pritchard led all Oregon scores with 18 points and seven assists, but in the closing minutes, he missed his final four shots. "Last two games we are up with four minutes left and we are not finishing," Pritchard said. "We are not getting the rebounds we need to, we are not... we are just doing the little things wrong."

What it means: This is the second game that Altman has mentioned the team not "buying in" to what the coaches think is important. Could one of these things be rebounding? USC beat Oregon badly on the boards, 36-26 with 13 of those coming at the offensive end. Another point is finishing games. Is not being able to finish against Arizona and USC solely derived from inexperience or is it the result of ignoring Altman, or a little bit of both? The last possessions for Oregon did not look good: falling down on drives, bad passes, bad fouls, and not making plays for one another.

"Right now we are only playing 36 minutes," Pritchard said. "We got to play 40 minutes."

Oregon has another huge test this upcoming Saturday against UCLA at home.

High flying Ducks: Four Oregon players scored in double figures tonight. Led by Pritchard's 18, junior forward Paul White scored 14 points off the bench, freshman Troy Brown Jr., finished with 12 points and five assists, and senior Mikyle McIntosh finished with a double-double 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Foul play: The Ducks committed 24 total team fouls compared to USC's 11. Pritchard fouled out with under a mintue to go, McIntosh and senior guard Elijah Brown finished with four foul each.

Up next: The Ducks host the UCLA Bruins (13-5, 4-2 Pac-12) at 7:15 PM (PT) on Saturday, January 20th, at Matthew Knight Arena.

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 1)...: They find a backup quarterback

The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 1)...: They find a backup quarterback

Oregon's promising 2017 season ended with a wild two weeks that saw Willie Taggart depart for Florida State, coach Mario Cristobal take over the program, recruits decommit left and right and then the Ducks fall flat during a 38-28 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Still, the 2018 season could see Oregon return to Pac-12 prominence. That is, if a lot of variables play out in the Ducks' favor. We will take a position-by-position look at the team to discuss what must happen in order for Oregon to rise again in 2018. 

Other position entries: Running backReceivers/Tight ends

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Today: The 2018 Ducks will contend if (Part 1)...: They find a backup quarterback.

Key departure: Senior Taylor Alie.

Projected 2018 starter: Justin Herbert, Jr., (6-6, 225). 

Key backups: Braxton Burmeister, Soph., (6-1, 204); Tyler Shough, Fr., (6-4, 190).

What we know: Oregon, other than during the Las Vegas Bowl, had one of the best offenses in the nation when Herbert was healthy. He will be the unchallenged starter again in 2018 and could find himself in Heisman Trophy contention should he remain in the lineup and the Ducks improve on last year's 7-6 record. 

What we don't know: Can the Ducks survive any length of time without Herbert in 2018? Unless Oregon brings in a transfer quarterback, the backup will either be Burmeister, who struggled greatly during the five games Herbert missed last season (57 percent completions, two touchdown passes and six interceptions), or Shough, a four-star recruit who plans to enroll in time for spring drills.

What must happen for Oregon to contend: Herbert must avoid injury or one of the two youngsters had better become serviceable enough to prevent the offense from imploding upon their insertion into the lineup. 

Oregon went 1-4 minus Herbert last year while scoring about 15 points per game. Herbert missed the toughest part of the team's schedule last season. If he were to miss a weaker stretch of games next year, maybe the Ducks survive his absence in the short term. If he misses any stretch that includes key games against the likes of Washington, UCLA, Stanford or Arizona, the Ducks could be cooked.   

That is, unless Burmeister grows up in a hurry or Shough turns out to be the next Herbert. 

Next up: The 2018 Ducks will contend if...: Tony Brooks-James is ready dominate. 

Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens named next CFP Selection Committee Chair

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Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens named next CFP Selection Committee Chair

In the first year of the College Football Playoff existence, UO director of athletics Rob Mullens got to experience the selection process as a participant, before Oregon's run to the national championship game to cap the 2014 season.

For the last two years, Mullens had an insider's view, as a member of the 13-person selection committee. And for the next two years, Mullens will gain yet another perspective, after being announced Wednesday as chair of the selection committee for a two-year term beginning with the 2018 season.

"This is an incredible honor," Mullens said. "It's the opportunity to be involved in an extremely important, intense element of college athletics, with the added bonus of working alongside a group of accomplished professionals. I was obviously a firm believer in the process already, but stepping into it and having a chance to be part of the committee, it reaffirmed everything."

Mullens, who has been director of athletics at Oregon since 2010, will be the third CFP selection committee chair since its inception. He follows former Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long and, for the past two seasons, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt.

Hocutt was chair for the first two years of Mullens' term on the committee. Mullens is being appointed to a two-year term as chairman – which will include being spokesman for the committee following the weekly rankings that are released beginning midway through the season.

"Kirby's done a fantastic job," Mullens said. "Having the opportunity to serve under his leadership for two years was a great experience. Although the chair serves as spokesperson, you're really there to represent the voice of the committee. Every member is extremely involved; they arrive incredibly prepared and ready to get it right. The chairman is just the voice of the committee, a role Kirby handled extremely well."

The selection committee meets over two days at the beginning of each week in Dallas, beginning at midseason. It ranks a weekly top 25 and then, after the regular season, chooses the four playoff semifinal participants as well as the matchups for the other New Year's Six bowl games.

Individual committee members are assigned as "point person" for individual conferences; in 2017, Mullens was responsible for providing research on the Big Ten and Mountain West. The chair is not tasked with that responsibility, instead setting the agenda and facilitating discussion in the meetings, then serving as spokesman along with CFP executive director Bill Hancock.

"We are delighted that Rob will be stepping into this role," Hancock said. "He is an experienced committee member, extremely passionate about college football, detail-oriented and brings a high level of energy that is perfectly suited to chairing the committee."

Hancock originally contacted Mullens about his possible appointment as chair. The CFP management committee, made up of 10 conference commissioners and the athletic director from Notre Dame, officially appoints the chair.

"The system works," Mullens said. "You're in there with 12 other outstanding people who understand the enormity of the task, who have great integrity and value the importance of integrity to the process.

"When you have 13 different voices, there's a lot of conversation. But I always left knowing that everybody in there had integrity at the top of their mind, everyone was well-prepared, and the conversation was incredibly thorough."

No. 8 Oregon remains PERFECT in Pac-12 play with win over No. 18 ASU

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No. 8 Oregon remains PERFECT in Pac-12 play with win over No. 18 ASU

How Oregon won: After an ugly win at home last Friday over unranked Arizona, the Ducks welcomed in the Arizona State Sun Devils in another top-25 matchup this season. Oregon must have done nothing but shoot the ball all day yesterday because the shooting slump Oregon found itself in on Friday was no more. Lead by sophomores Sabrina Ionescu and Ruthy Hebard combined 46 points, the No. 8 Oregon Ducks remain undefeated at 6-0 in Pac-12 play with a 74-64 win over No. 18 Arizona State at Matthew Knight Arena.

"We shot it so well tonight," said Oregon coach Kelly Graves. "Arizona State is typically among the best in the conference and sometimes in the nation in field goal percentage defense. I just thought we were getting really good opportunities tonight. We concentrated on getting the ball inside more and were able to hit a few from three. We didn't shoot many of them I don't think but that was a good all-around game."

What it means: Two major points to highlight in this game. One: the Ducks had a 38-34 lead going into halftime and came out with an energetic, intense defensive effort holding Arizona State to a mere five points in the entire quarter. 

"We come out in every third quarter really well," said Ionescu. "I think we need to do that from the start and do that all four quarters. But I have faith. We come in at halftime and we regroup, we talk it out, our coaches get on us and it's kind of a time to just relax. The nerves are out and then we come back in that second half really dialed in and focused and do whatever we need to in order to win."

Two: Oregon let Arizona State back into the game in the fourth quarter. At the end of the third quarter, Oregon had a 59-39 lead. A comfortable 20-point lead that coach Graves warned his team that the Sun Devils would fight until the clock striked 0:00. A possible, minor area of concern seeing as the Ducks would get outscored 25-15 in the fourth quarter.

"We built a nice lead, we were playing so well, and then we jsut kind of slowly let them back in," said Graves. "You can't do that against a good team. Arizona State is really good and I remember at the 5:30 timeout... I said 'You guys, they will play hard until the buzzard', and the did."

High flying Ducks: Four Ducks finished with double-digit points: Ionescu with 26 points and Hebard's 20 points came from a perfect 9-of-9 from the field. Junior guard Maite Cazorla had a nice game finishing with 15 points (3-for-6 from three-point range) and five assists. The fourth Duck player was freshman forward Satou Sabally who finished with 10 points and two steals.

Foul Play: Both Hebard and junior forward Oti Gildon finished with three fouls each.

Up next: Oregon hits the road to face in-state rival Oregon State (13-4, 4-2 Pac-12) at 8 PM (PT) on Friday in Corvallis, OR.