Jalen Jelks

Oregon reveals true self in loss at ASU, and it's not all bad

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USA Today

Oregon reveals true self in loss at ASU, and it's not all bad

TEMPE, Ariz. - Oregon's zany and quite entertaining 37-35 loss at Arizona State Saturday night might best be defined by one sequence of events involving a spectacular play followed by a selfish moment and a butt chewin' to end all butt chewins. 

UO running back Tony Brooks-James caught a 22-yard touchdown pass near the right sideline of the end zone to draw Oregon to within 31-28 with 4:33 remaining in the third quarter after Oregon had fallen behind 31-14. For whatever reason, the redshirt junior decided to spike the ball, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and the ire of UO coach Willie Taggart. 

The television cameras at Sun Devil's Stadium caught Taggart ripping into Brooks-James on the sideline as if he were his son who had broken curfew and shown up at home with a speeding ticket from another state. 

"I was trying to teach him a lesson," Taggart said. "You've got to understand, we're down in the football game, you make a hell of a play, you just can't do that. That's selfish."

In that one moment you saw where these Oregon Ducks truly are as a team. They are inconsistent and undisciplined enough to fall behind in a game they were favored to win by 14 yet talented enough to fight back on the road to eventually take the lead. In the end, however, costly mistakes prevented the Ducks from pulling this one out revealing that they clearly remain a work in progress. 

And all of that is okay and should have been expected. Oregon is 3-1 after going 4-8 last season. Clear progress has been made. But for anyone who had been seduced by the team's 3-0 start, Saturday night was a wakeup call. Keep expectations in check or prepare for some maddening disappointment mixed among flashes of potential greatness.  

We can expect more games like Saturday's during the season. Oregon, for the first time this season, on Saturday faced a solid offense with a dual-threat quarterback who had some very impressive athletes to get the ball to. Quarterback Manny Wilkins threw for 347 yards with no interceptions and rushed for 56 gross yards (35 net) and two touchdowns. Oregon sacked him four times, three defensive end Jalen Jelks delivering three. But Wilkins managed to overcome adversity much of the night and create big plays. 

"I think they had a hell of a lot more explosive plays than anyone had on us all season," Taggart said. 

ASU's much-maligned defense used its aggressive style to take advantage of Oregon's mistakes. Senior running back Royce Freeman, who entered the game with 460 yards rushing, managed just 81 on a season-low 15 carries. Sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert was a bit off with his touch on some deep passes and several drops by a young receiving corps minus senior Charles Nelson hurt his completion percentage (19 of 35 for 54 percent). Herbert still passed for 281 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions. 

"Penalties and dropped balls," Taggart said of his team's struggles. "It's hard to get into a rhythm... It's hard to go faster like we want to do when you're off schedule."

Oregon committed 14 penalties to bring the season total to a whopping 42 infour games. 

The greatest positive is that Oregon battled back on the road in a Pac-12 Conference game. Consider that the Ducks trailed 31-14 in the third quarter with one of their touchdowns coming courtesy of a muffed punt at the ASU 11. It was a vast departure from the huge leads gained against Wyoming and Nebraska. To that point in Saturday's game, however, little evidence existed to suggest that Oregon would mount a comeback. Yet, the Ducks did just that. Oregon led 35-34 following a four-yard scoring run by Herbert with 6:41 remaining in the game.

"I thought we responded well," Taggart said. "We got ourselves back in it and took the lead in the fourth quarter. I was impressed with out football team by doing that and not giving up and not quitting."

But the Ducks couldn't close. After ASU took the lead with a field goal, Oregon did next to nothing on its final two desperation drives drives. 

"We just didn't do enough to finish it," Taggart said. 

That's because these Ducks weren't ready to win a game like this, just yet. They were used to playing from ahead and didn't have the experience and discipline to win in this situation on the road. 

After the game, players took accountability for their performance. Brooks-James said he had to learn from his selfish mistakes. Redshirt sophomore center Jake Hanson blamed himself and the entire offensive line for not clearing the way for Freeman and better protecting Herbert, sacked late during one of the final drives. Sophomore inside linebacker Troy Dye blamed his play and the defense. 

These are all good signs of great things to come. But the road to get there is going to be a bumpy one with the heart of the Ducks schedule kicking into gear real soon. 

 

DE Scott Pagano out of walking boot, no timetable for return

DE Scott Pagano out of walking boot, no timetable for return

EUGENE - It appears that Oregon will have to wait beyond this weekend for the debut of senior graduate transfer defensive end Scott Pagano. 

The former Clemson part-time starter has been down and out with an injured foot and is not listed on the Ducks' depth chart for Saturday's season opener against Southern Utah at Autzen Stadium. 

“He’s getting better," UO coach Willie Taggart said Monday. "He’s healing. He’s out of the (walking) boot now and he’s getting better every day.”

Taggart, during an interview for Wednesday night's season premiere of Talkin' Ducks on CSN, said that the redshirt senior would undergo more tests later in the day and that he had been running on a tredmill under water. 

"Hopefully he gets back sooner rather than later," Taggart said. "When he's ready to roll, he will be ready to roll."

Senior Henry Mondeaux and redshirt junior Jalen Jelks are listed as the starting defensive ends this week with redshirt senior Elijah George and redshirt sophomore Drayton Carlberg as the backups. 

Pagano will likely start opposite Mondeaux once he is ready to play. 

Ducks beef up DL with addition of transfer Malik Young

Ducks beef up DL with addition of transfer Malik Young

The Oregon Ducks added some depth to the defensive line with the addition of junior college transfer Malik Young, a source has confirmed. 

The 6-foot-2, 301-pound young will compete for playing time at nose tackle. Young, a former three-star recruit out of Eastern Arizona Junior College, singed with Missouri in February but was later ruled ineligible because of an SEC transfer rule, according to DuckTerritory.

If Young pans out and senior Scott Pagano, a transfer from Clemson, returns soon from a foot injury, the Ducks could have added two solid tranfers to a defensive line much in need of veteran help. Oregon is set to start true freshman Jordon Scott at nose tackle with redshirt sophomore Gary Baker as a backup. Adding Young gives the Ducks more insurance inside of Jim Leavitt's 3-4 defense. 

 

Oregon Football now a family after Taggart's courses in team chemistry

Oregon Football now a family after Taggart's courses in team chemistry

EUGENE - Oregon coach Willie Taggart relishes team unity. Watching players who at one time barely knew one another talking, sharing and laughing it up while eating in the team cafeteria brings a smile to his face. 

So does venturing into the weight room to see players encouraging and competing with one another while working to improve. And, noticing players who in the past would leave the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex all alone now strolling off in groups.

“To sit back and watch that I get goose bumps,” Taggart said. “This is how it’s supposed to be.”

The Ducks, who began fall camp on Monday, having seemingly erased the issue of team fracturing that impacted last year's 4-8 season. Team chemistry and bonding have returned to the 2014 levels when the Ducks last won the Pac-12 championship and advance to the national title game. 

Two years of erosion in those departments certainly contributed to the program's downfall. Taggart, when hired last December, set out to fix the fragile mess with a cocktail of team bonding endeavors he hoped would create an atmosphere that encouraged togetherness away from the field that would translate into better play on game days. Players and coaches hang out together more often, engage in the same leisurely activities and enjoy spirited yet playful ribbing. 

“It’s so important that our guys come together, and enjoy being around each other, and love each other,” Taggart said. “I think training camp is a time where we continue to build that so once we get to the fall guys go out and play for one another.”

-- Friends first -- 

Taggart's energy inspires and influences. He seeks out his players. Welcomes them into his office. He wants to be in their presence. He wants them to seek him out, not fear him. The result is that players feel more comfortable about their place on the team beyond executing the Xs and Os of football. 

“He’s always around us,” Oregon sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert said. “When we’re weightlifting at six in the morning, he’s there. He’s fired up. He’s cheering guys on. When were running outside he’s out there. All of the coaches are around. Everyone is just super excited to be around him.”

The team responds to his inviting personality. 

“He radiates energy,” redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Shane Lemieux said. “The whole coaching staff does that.”

The team, including the coaching staff, will spend the first week of fall camp living in dorms in order to further their bond. Team activities away from football are rarely ever limited to players only. 

“Coach Taggart says that everywhere we have to be, the coaches have to be as well,” sophomore linebacker Troy Dye said. "“One of the things he has preached is team chemistry and buying in to being a family."

One of Taggart's mottos is to "have a great day if you want to." He implores his players to have fun. He wants football to be enjoyable. Not feel like a job. So he attempts to structure team activities around enjoying life and one another. He sought men with similar personalities while building his coaching staff. 

“I think this staff is just so excited to be here and they have done a good job of being around us and taking care of us," Herbert said. "I’m really excited to play for them.”

Players feeling comfortable around the staff allows for greater levity and, consequently, a better opportunity for team bonding. Plus, Taggart's lust for life can be infectious. 

“He’s a really enthusiastic person,” senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby said of Taggart. “Young coach. Brings that southern vibe. That Florida vibe. Has a lot of energy.”

-- Like uncles at a barbecue -- 

The coaching staff is relatively young, especially compared to the previous staff. It's not surprising then that they relate well to the modern athlete. So much so that there plenty of teasing and joking around that flows from coaches to players and players to coaches.    

“It’s like having your uncle at a barbecue,” Dye said. “You respect them like hell but at the end of the day you can have fun, joke with them and crack jokes and have fun with them.”

Nobody is safe. Players say that Taggart and the other coaches will crack jokes about players without warning. Shoes. Clothes. Hair. Video game prowess. Not much is off limits. Many players battle back. 

“You can’t just let him get on top of you, or take advantage of you," Dye said. "You’ve got to get a couple back here or there.”

Dye said Taggart has few glaring flaws to attack. 

“You can’t really talk about his swag,” Dye said. “He has the best swag in the nation. He has a new pair of shoes on every day.”

But Taggart has some weaknesses. 

“It’s kind of hard to find things to get on him about but at times we can find something if he’s slacking with his shirt or his shorts, or something,” Dye said. “If he is ashy.”

Taggart's periodic failures to apply lotion on his dry legs aside adds to the banter. 

“It’s fun to have coaches like that that you can joke around with,” redshirt junior defensive end Jalen Jelks said.

But there is a line. 

“You can’t go too crazy," Dye said. "It is the head man. You’ve got to know your limitations.”

Nelson said the give and take creates a better coach-player bond. 

“It's built more of a connection,” Nelson said. “You don’t want a coach who just tells you what you can and can’t do. You want a coach that’s going to laugh with you, joke with you. Just build more of a friendship.”

The team soundtrack that blares in the weight room and during practices has changed, as well. 

“He’s just young and he can relate to us,” senior cornerback Arrion Springs said. “He likes rap music. We don’t have to listen to 80s rock music during practice anymore."

-- Players know where lines are drawn -- 

The player's coach approach only works when discipline has taken hold. Taggart, when hired, spelled out what he expected: Be good students. Good citizens. And, of course, good football players. Failing in two of those areas could lead to dismissal from the football team. 

Taggart sent a message to the team by letting go of senior wide receiver Darren Carrington Jr. following his DUII arrest July 1. 

“He’s going to tell you the truth,” senior wide receiver Charles Nelson said. “He’s going to tell you straight up, ‘this is what I want. This is how we’re going to do it.' And if you don’t like it then you don’t have to be on this team.”

Said Crosby: “When it’s business time, they are all business. When it’s not business time, they know how to have fun. They really allow us to enjoy our time here."

The sense of accountability, respect and trust - all missing at times last season - have created better team leaders. That has led to a greater team connection, according to Lemieux. 

Taggart said he noticed while watching game video from last season that it didn't appear like players were playing for the man next to them. That, the team hopes, will change with greater team bonding. 

“He has taught our team to be more accountable and more accountable for each other," Lemieux said. "There’s stronger leadership roles within our football team now. We’ve all taken it upon us to be a better individual to make the team stronger."

-- HDC is the place to be -- 

Vibrant coaches. Team camaraderie. Renewed energy following a 4-8 season. Each has helped make the team's facility the hot spot for the Ducks.  

Taggart encourages the players to spend as much time at the HDC as possible. Working. Bonding. 

“People love to come to the facility now,” Dye said. “You can just feel the energy.”

Said Jelks: "He just makes us feel like we’re at home."

At times in the recent past, going to the HDC felt like a job for some players. Now, the $68 million facility feels like the team hub. 

“You don’t want to feel like you’re a prisoner in the building,” sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell said. “You don’t want to feel like you’re made to come to the HDC everyday. Taggart and the rest of the coaches make you want to show your face around the building to see them.”

The Ducks appear to have become a closer-knit group and the staff has helped create that. But soon it will be time to perform on the field. Team unity is easier to achieve when winning. How the Ducks react to adversity will be the real test. But for now, the Ducks believe they have at least formed a bond they hope will help them overcome any obstacles on the field. 

“If you can trust a guy off the field," Dye said, "and really get to know him as a person, as an individual, you can really trust him and know that he’s going to be there for you on the field."

Oregon 2017 Outlook - DL: The area most in need of improvement

Oregon 2017 Outlook - DL: The area most in need of improvement

Oregon's worst season (4-8) since 1991 (3-8) led to a coaching change. Yet, the Ducks' cupboard is hardly bare for new coach Willie Taggart. We will take a position-by-position look at what the new coaching staff will have to work with while trying to turn things around in 2017.

Other entries: QuarterbacksRunning backsTight ends, Wide receivers, Offensive line, Linebackers, Defensive backs

Today: Defensive line.

Key losses: Defensive end T.J. Daniel.   

Projected starters: Defensive ends Henry Mondeaux, Sr., (6-5, 280) and Drayton Carlberg, RSo., (6-5, 290), and nose guard Rex Manu, Jr., (6-3, 300).

Key backups: Defensive ends - Jalen Jelks, RJr., (6-6, 260), Elijah George, RSr., (6-5, 290), Gus Cumberlander, RSo., (6-6, 260), Hunter Kampmoyer, RFr., (6-4, 245), and Bryson Young, So.,  (6-5, 245).  Nose guard - Gary Baker, RSo., (6-4, 305), 

What we know: Oregon played 15 defensive lineman last year out of necessity because of injuries and poor play. The results were ugly. The defensive line contributed greatly to the Ducks allowing 246.6 rushing yards per game.

Mondeaux, expected to be a rising star, did little all season, finishing with just one sack and four tackles for loss in UO's 4-3 defense. He might be better suited for the 3-4 defense, to be brought back under new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, where he can eat up space and make plays when they present themselves rather than be asked to force the issue in a one-gap scheme.

Manu proved to be solid during his first year as a starter but he and the rest of the interior linemen failed to make much of an impact as pass rushers or against the run. The experience he gained, however, should pay off in 2017.

What we don't know: Plenty. After Mondeaux the Ducks have a lot of mysteries at defensive end. Carlberg won a starting job early in the season before being lost for the year. Cumberlander saw some time. So did George. Jelks looked like a strong pass rusher in the 4-3, but will need to add bulk in order to function as a two-gap end in the 3-4.

At nose guard, Baker has promise and is the front-runner to backup Manu. But the loss of Wayne Tei-Kirby, who transferred to BYU, hurts what was already a thin group.

The team's move to a 3-4 defense will likely mean that redshirt sophomore Justin Hollins moves from defensive end, where he was woefully undersized at 235 pounds, to outside linebacker where he could become a heck of a pass rusher in the mold of former Ducks, Christian French, Tony Washington and Dion Jordan. Hollins had 9 1/2 tackles for loss, including 3 1/2 sacks in 2016.

The scheme shift could also force senior Jonah Moi (245 pounds) to return to linebacker where he could compete for a starting job as an inside linebacker.

Final word:  Had the defensive line just played average football last season the Ducks would likely have won games at Nebraska, at home against Colorado, at California and at Oregon State. That said, too much was asked of such a young and inexperienced group that also faced more than its share of injuries. A year of getting their teeth kicked in should pay dividends.

Position grade: D. This group could easily reach 'C' status, or better, with growth. New defensive line coach Joe Salave'a will have his work cut out for him, that's for sure.

Next up: Linebackers.

Oregon's injuries not an excuse, but a serious reality

Oregon's injuries not an excuse, but a serious reality

When a player goes down for Oregon the team emits the battle cry of "next man up."

It's a valuable mindset that means the following: Nobody is going to feel sorry for you because of injuries. Don't allow injuries to be an excuse. Someone must fill the void. 

That's all well and good but every team has its breaking point and Oregon's rash of injuries cannot be ignored as having played a factor in the Ducks' 2-3 start that could easily move to 2-4 after UO faces No. 5 Washington at home on Saturday.

The loss of left tackle Tyrell Crosby for the season hurt the offensive line. The speed of wide receiver Devon Allen, out for the year with a knee injury, is also missed. 

The pass rush has been decimated by the five missed starts from freshman linebacker Troy Dye and redshirt sophomore defensive end Jalen Jelks (knee). They share the lead for sacks with two each in just five combined starts. Let that sink in for a moment. Both missed the loss at Washington State and its quarterback Luke Falk had all night in the pocket. 

Super star running back Royce Freeman missed seven quarters of action between the Nebraska and Colorado losses. 

And so on, and so on. 

To Oregon's credit, nobody on the team has blamed injuries for the team's poor start. Nevertheless, this is one of the more injury-plagued seasons the Ducks have experienced in recent memory.

Here is a look at some of the key injuries Oregon has suffered this season:

Tyrell Crosby, junior left tackle: Out for the season with a foot injury and being replaced by promising redshirt freshman Brady Aiello. The Ducks are starting four redshirt freshmen along the offensive line. 

Devon Allen, redshirt junior wide receiver: The Olympian and team's fastest receiver had a breakthrough game against Virginia (141 yards and a touchdown) only to suffer a season-ending knee injury the following week at Nebraska. 

Johnny Ragin III, senior linebacker: He was lost for the season when he suffered a leg injury at Washington State. He leads the team with 29 tackles. 

Royce Freeman, junior running back: Injured his right leg during the first quarter at Nebraska then missed the following week's loss at home to Colorado. The Ducks likely wouldn't have called a fade pass to Darren Carrington II from the seven-yard line that was intercepted in the final minute against the Buffaloes had Freeman been in the backfield. 

Troy Dye, freshman linebacker: Already the team's best defensive playmaker, Dye was limited to special teams play at Nebraska due to an illness and missed the team's trip to Washington State because of a concussion. He is expected to return this week against Washington. Despite missing so much time, Dye is tied for third on the team with 27 tackles and is tied for the team lead with two sacks. 

Jalen Jelks, redshirt sophomore defensive end: Jelks had two sacks in the teams' win over Virginia but has not seen the field since due to a knee injury. He is likely out again this week against Washington.

Johnny Mundt, senior tight end: Injured his leg in season opener and hasn't played since. Could return this week.  

Jake Pisarcik, offensive lineman: The backup lineman has missed four games because of injury.

A.J. Hotchkins, junior middle linebacker: He missed the Nebraska loss with a lower leg or foot injury (undisclosed) after being seen wearing a walking boot and limping days before the game. 

Pharaoh Brown, senior tight end: He missed the team's loss against Colorado with a leg injury. 

Drayton Carlberg, redshirt freshman defensive tackle: Carlberg became a starter at Nebraska, got injured and has missed the last two games.  

Dwayne Stanford, senior wide receiver: He left the WSU game after getting injured and fumbling in the third quarter. He is likely out this week against Washington. 

Kani Benoit, redshirt junior running back: Injured his right shoulder when being hit after catching the first ever completion for freshman quarterback Justin Herbert. Benoit is likely out this week against Washington, according to sources. 

-----

Oregon entered the season with holes that have been magnified by youth and injuries. Yes, all teams suffer from injuries, but not many teams could survive this list of afflictions and still remain a contender. 

 

Oregon linebacker Troy Dye expected to play vs. No. 5 Washington

Oregon linebacker Troy Dye expected to play vs. No. 5 Washington

Oregon freshman linebacker Troy Dye is expected to return to action this week when the Ducks host No. 5 Washington, according to sources. 

Dye missed last week's loss at Washington State with a concussion. Two weeks ago at Nebraska, Dye was limited to special teams while dealing with being ill. 

Dye is already the team's best and most reliable playmaker, and the benefits of his will be magnified by the loss of senior linebacker Johnny Ragin III for the season. 

Despite missing so much time, Dye is tied for third on the team with 27 tackles and leads the team with 5 1/2 tackles for loss. His two sacks are tied for the team lead with redshirt sophomore defensive end Jalen Jelks, who has missed the team's last three games with an injury. Jelks is doubtful for this week. 

When Dye missed the team's trip to WSU on Saturday, some outside of the program seeking controversy wondered if he had been disciplined for committing a transgression. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich addressed that rumor on Tuesday.

"There's no discipline of any kind," Helfrich said. "I don't know how this got out there. If a guy is disciplined we'll announce it and make a note. By the same token, we don't talk about injuries and availability, so you can probably put two and two together on that one." 

Translation: Dye was injured. 

Oregon LB Troy Dye lives up to the hype

Oregon LB Troy Dye lives up to the hype

EUGENE - It took all of about three minutes into Oregon's 53-28 win Saturday over UC Davis for Ducks freshman linebacker Troy Dye to live up to the hype that surrounded him during fall camp. 

Two plays into his first college game Dye already had two tackles, including one for a three-yard loss in which he flew into the backfield off the edge to run down his prey. 

By the end of the first quarter, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Dye already had six tackles with three for losses. He finished the day with 11 tackles, seven solo, with 4 1/2 tackles for loss. 

Keep in mind that last season Tyson Coleman led the team's linebackers with 12 tackles for loss. DeForest Buckner had 17. Dye is on pace for roughly 58 in 13 games. 

Certainly, that won't happen, but it does put Dye's performance in perspective. For those watching, the site of the ultra fast Dye tracking down ball-carriers was something to behold. To those on the team, it was just Dye being Dye. 

"How he played is how he's practiced every single day that he's been here," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "He's just been one of those guys that's electric."

"He's been doing this since the first day of fall camp," redshirt sophomore defensive end Jalen Jelks said. "It's nothing new to us."

The college game is new to Dye but it certainly didn't seem like it. 

Dye, whose older brother played in the NFL and coached him in high school, said knowledge of the game helps him play fast. He enjoys studying the playbook and game film so he can go out and play fast and physical. 

"Sometimes I was out there and I knew what was coming. We watched a lot of film this past week and we dissected their offense really well. There were a lot of indicators and keys that they had so I just read 'em and went." 

Where does Dye go from here?

"He set a great benchmark for how he is going to play in the future," Helfrich said. 

Chances are he lives up to it. Dye is the type of linebacker Oregon has been craving, do-everything playmaker that opposing offenses will have to account for. 

That said, much tougher competition looms. UC Davis isn't exactly Washington or Stanford. But nobody on the team doubts Dye is only scratching the surface of his talents. 

"He's a very, very good athlete," UO defensive coordinator Brady Hoke said. "I think his football instinct IQ is pretty good. I don't know if that absolutely surprised anybody But there's a ton of stuff that he can do better, too." 

That's a frightening thought. 

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 depth chart: Prukop No. 1 QB, Herbert No. 2

Ducks depth chart: Prukop No. 1 QB, Herbert No. 2

Oregon released its first 2016 depth chart today and the most surprising revelation is that freshman quarterback Justin Herbert out of Sheldon is listed as the No. 2 quarterback

Senior transfer Dakota Prukop being named the starter was pretty much a forgone conclusion. But the rise of Herbert is a surprise given that he had to beat out redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen, who entered camp being touted as a threat to win the No. 1 job, and freshman Terry Wilson Jr., who had the advantage of arriving to Oregon in time to participate in spring drills. 

Earlier this week, word out of fall camp made it clear that not only could Herbert be named No. 2 but he had already taken the reigns with the second team during practice.

According to coaches, Herbert has exceeded all expectations for a freshman quarterback. According to sources, Herbert has that "IT" factor that former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota possessed. 

Of course it's premature to compare Herbert to Mariota as a player, but according to sources the 6-foot-6 freshman is very much like the former Heisman Trophy winner in terms of having a natural feel for the game and an aura of confidence. He's unflappable, according to some, and he processes information quickly, coaches have said. 

- OTHER DEPTH CHART NOTES - 

  • WR: Promising freshman Dillon Mitchell is not listed on the two-deep depth chart but seven other receivers are, including walk-on redshirt sophomore Casey Eugenio.  Redshirt junior Devon Allen, fresh off his fifth-place finish in the 110-meter hurdles at the Rio Summer Olympics, is listed as a co-starter with redshirt senior Dwayne Stanford at one wide receiver position. 
  • TE: Senior Pharaoh Brown, who missed all of last season with a serious leg injury, is listed as the starting tight end with senior Johnny Mundt as the backup. 
  • RT: Redshirt freshman Calvin Throckmorton is the starter with senior transfer Zac Morgan listed as the backup. 
  • DT: Former offensive lineman, redshirt junior Elijah George, who switched to defensive line during spring, is the backup defensive tackle behind sophomore Rex Manu
  • DE: Redshirt sophomore Justin Hollins is listed as a starting defensive end ahead of redshirt sophomore Jalen Jelks after a fierce battle during camp. Look for both to play a lot. 
  • MLB: As expected, junior A.J. Hotchkins, a junior college transfer, won the staring job over redshirt junior Danny Mattingly Jr. They should make a good one-two punch this season. 
  • OLB: While senior Johnny Ragin III being named one of the two starting outside linebackers is no surprise, the other side has always been up for grabs. That job has been won by true freshman Troy Dye.  He had been a three-star recruit as a safety by Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal. Backing up Dye is redshirt junior Jonah Moi
  • CB: The transferring of Chris Seisay opened the door for freshman Brendan Schooler to slide in at No. 2 behind junior Arrion Springs. Schooler was a two-star recruit who didn't sign with Oregon until late June. He is a big corner at 6-2, 190.