Mike Riley

Ducks staring a 3-0 start right in the face

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USA Today

Ducks staring a 3-0 start right in the face

Two weeks from today the Oregon Ducks should be preparing to enter Pac-12 play at Arizona State on Sept. 23 with a 3-0 record. 

Oregon (1-0) hosts Nebraska (1-0) at 1:30 p.m. today before traveling to Wyoming (0-1) next week. Both the Cornhuskers and the Cowboys should have trouble standing up to Oregon's firepower, which will overcome any mysteries that still surround the Ducks' defense. 

Nebraska struggled to handle Arkansas State, 43-36, last week at home, while Wyoming, once thought to have a high-powered offense, got trounced, 24-3 at Iowa.

Nebraska coach Mike Riley will be looking for his first win at Autzen since 2007 and that one only came about because UO quarterback Dennis Dixon was lost for the season with a knee injury. Riley told reporters Thursday that he expects his team to be able to handle the noise generated by fans in Autzen.  

"I really, really hope that we're ready because I've seen teams in that stadium not function for the first quarter," Riley said. "You can see it on film when you're watching the video.  I feel confident in the preparation that we've had."

Riley mostly lost past games at Autzen because he simply had inferior teams. He has a much stronger team now than he had during most of his tenure at Oregon State. But his roster shouldn't be enough to defeat this Ducks' team, which is going to be an offensive force all season long. 

"Defensively we have to stop the run, or control it, as best we can," Riley said.

Good luck with that.

We will all have a much greater idea of what Oregon is all about after today. We saw glimpses of a very good team during last week's 77-21 win over Southern Utah. But such performances against FCS programs can be deceiving.

While a win over Nebraska wouldn't signal that the Ducks are Pac-12 contenders, a victory would at least give reason to beleive that Oregon is capable of an eight-win season. And after UO went 4-8 last year, doubling up the win total would be a huge step in the right direction under new coach Willie Taggart. 

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Oregon vs. Nebraska

When: 1:30 p.m., today, Autzen Stadium.  

T.V.: FOX. 

Betting line: 14.

2016 records: Oregon (1-0, 4-8 last season), Nebraska (1-0, 9-4 last season).

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (41-45, 1-0 at Oregon); Cornhuskers' Mike Riley (109-91, 9-8 at Nebraska).

Cornhuskers' impact players: Nebraska junior quarterback Tanner Lee is a far better passer than last year's quarterback, Tommy Armstrong Jr., but not nearly as good of a runner.  Lee completed 19 of 32 passes against Arkansas State for 238 yards and two touchdowns. 

The Cornhuskers remain mostly about the running game. Nebraska rushed for 225 yards against Arkansas State with sophomore Tre Bryant going for 192 and a touchdown on 31 carries. 

Fear factor (five-point scale): 3.5 (downgraded from a 4 earlier this week). There's no reason to believe that Nebraska has any shot at slowing down Oregon's offense. 

Final pick: Oregon, 44-34.  

Nebraska coach Mike Riley recalls getting "Marioted" at Autzen

Nebraska coach Mike Riley recalls getting "Marioted" at Autzen

Nebraska coach Mike Riley could be making his final trip to Autzen Stadium as a coach when the Cornhuskers face Oregon on Saturday afternoon. 

His previous three visits didn't go so well, especially his most recent for the 2013 Civil War. 

The Beavers took a 35-30 lead with 1:38 remaining and then:

"We got Marioted," Riley said Thursday. 

Former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota drove the Ducks 83 yards in nine plays and hit Josh Huff on a 12-yard touchdown pass with 29 seconds remaining to give UO a 36-35 win. 

"That brings back bad memories," Riley said. 

It was the sixth year in a row Oregon had defeated Riley and OSU. The Ducks won the following year at Reser to run the streak to seven. Riley then moved on to Nebraska in 2015 and Oregon again defeated the Beavers under Gary Andersen.

Last season, however, Riley's and OSU's losing streaks both came to an end. Riley got his first win over Oregon since 2007 when Nebraska defeated the Ducks, 35-32 in Lincoln, Neb.  That same season, the Beavers snapped their eight-game losing streak against the Ducks with a 34-24 win at home.

Now Riley gets a chance to earn another win at Autzen, where he hasn't won since in 10 years. 

"It was a good football game," Riley said of the 2013 Civil War. "It was really, really disappointing to lose it."

Mistake-prone Ducks cannot overcome Huskers -- or basic math problem

Mistake-prone Ducks cannot overcome Huskers -- or basic math problem

Yes, there were problems all day with basic mathematics. One times five is always greater than two times one. Everytime you do that little exercise it comes out the same.

Oregon scored five touchdowns and chose to go for two-point conversions every time. And only once did it get the two. Had it merely kicked the PAT for one point after each touchdown, it would have scored 35 points, which would have looked better than the 35-32 loss it suffered to Nebraska Saturday afternoon. And forget about what the score would have been had the Ducks just taken the two points it got on the first TD of the day, called it good and just settled for one after that. I wasn't a math major but I think there's a possibility Oregon could have then finished with 36 points.

Discussion about that will go on for years. So let's focus on what happened at a critical juncture of the game -- near the end of the first half when the Ducks had a 20-7 lead and the ball with a little more than a minute to play. At their own 17, the Ducks called two running plays and an incomplete pass even though it appeared it might be a time to continue to put the pressure on a discombobulated Nebraska defense. Or just call three running plays, keep the ball in bounds and run the clock out.

But Oregon did neither and punted with 50 seconds to go and the roof caved in. First, Oregon's Charles Nelson rammed De'Mornay Pierson-El before he caught the ball, but didn't seem to affect Pierson-El at all, who returned the kick 45 yards to the Duck 19. If you are going to interfere with a punt reception, at least tackle the man so he can't return it down your throat. The Cornhuskers went on to score a late touchdown and had all the momentum at halftime. By the time Oregon got the ball back in the third quarter, it trailed by a point.

After dominating most of the first half.

All in all this game was a dumpster fire for Oregon, which was penalized 13 times for 126 yards. Many of those penalties kept drives alive for Nebraska or killed Oregon drives. This was a mess, including an early leg injury to Royce Freeman and a possible serious knee injury to Devon Allen, who for some reason was covering a punt on special teams. An Olympic hurdler on the punt team? Why? I don't know.

And please, at some point for my own sanity, could we please not run play-action passes on fourth-and-whatever with the game on the line? Drives me crazy to see everything slow down for a run fake that nobody is buying. But don't worry about it, I'm sure it doesn't bother anyone but me.

Oregon, at some point, is going to have to realize it can't rely on its defense to win against good teams. It is going to have to focus on staying aggressive on offense and not squandering scoring chances or even possessions. This very likely could be the most difficult environment the Ducks will face all season, but I'm not sure it's the toughest team they will face. The offense is going to have to carry this team, like it or not.

And at some point, some homework will have to be done on basic math: 1x5=5, but 1x2=2 and 5>2.

Expect a lot of points in Nebraska with Ducks coming out on top

Expect a lot of points in Nebraska with Ducks coming out on top

After watching much of Nebraska's game last week against Wyoming, I'm pretty convinced the Cornhuskers are going to run and pass the ball up and down the field with relative ease against Oregon in their big matchup Saturday afternoon.

Nebraska can run and it can pass and the offensive approach is familiar. Former Oregon State Coach Mike Riley is going to want to throw downfield and from what we've seen of the Ducks so far, that approach will probably meet with success. I expect Nebraska to move the ball in chunks however it wants to do it.

But I also expect Nebraska to make just enough mistakes on offense to allow Oregon to win the game. It's going to be a track meet and you don't want to get into a track meet with the Ducks -- they win those. It's going to be the kind of game where fumbles and interceptions are critical not because of field position but because your team is going to need to score on most of its possessions.

I don't expect a lot of defensive stops in this one -- or in many of the Ducks' games this season.

Oregon should score a bundle against Nebraska, too. Mark Banker, still Riley's defensive coordinator, has not had a lot of success stopping the Ducks over the years -- even when he had some pretty good talent. The Duck quickness is going to give the Cornhuskers some trouble -- I just don't see Nebraska being able to run the field with Oregon, whose balance will hurt the Huskers.

The Ducks usually win games like this and the listed over/under of 74 seems a bit low for these teams. I would expect Nebraska to score in the 40s and still lose the game. Oregon is going to put up enough to win the game, even though it is a three-point underdog. The Ducks are 7-1 straight up and 8-0 against the spread in their last eight road games and have won the last three road games as the underdog. I never tell anybody to bet on sports because it's a good way to lose the rent money -- this info is used only to provide some prospective for my pick.

I expect Oregon to win by about 52-44.

Mike Riley, Nebraska relish matchup with No. 22 Oregon

Mike Riley, Nebraska relish matchup with No. 22 Oregon

Nebraska coach Mike Riley must be licking his chops. 

After seven consecutive years of watching his former Oregon State teams fall to the monster that has become the Oregon Ducks program, Riley might have the upper hand this time around when his Cornhuskers (2-0) host No. 22 UO Saturday in Lincoln, Neb. 

Nebraska (2-0) is favored by two points over the Ducks after dismantling the likes of Fresno State and Wyoming to set up this early-season battle of undefeated teams in a game that the Cornhuskers believe could put them back on the proverbial map. 

"I think it's great to be 2-0 for sure to go into this game," Riley told reporters following his team's 52-17 win over Wyoming on Saturday. "I think it's an exciting time. The one thing about it, as you all know from being around here, the more you win the more exciting the next game gets as. And of course this one being who they are and what they mean nationally and where we want to go, this is exciting."

Riley spent 14 years at Oregon State over two stints. He split with the Ducks during his first two seasons, winning the Civil War in 1997 but losing in 1998. He returned to the Beavers in 2003 and promptly won three of the next five Civil War contests. 

Then, the bottom fell out. The Ducks' spread-offense found it's groove, Oregon became a perennial national power and the Beavers became a mere regular season-ending stepping stone to a big bowl game. 

Oregon has won eight consecutive Civil War matchups with the first seven coming under Riley's watch. He left for Nebraska following the 2014 season. Last season, Riley suffered through a frustrating 6-7 season that saw his Cornhuskers lose five games by five points or less before ending the year on a high note with a 37-29 win over UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl. 

Two blowout victories have raised hopes that Nebraska is ready to return to national prominence. The team has avoided questions about Oregon all season instead training their focus on Fresno State then Wyoming. But Riley admitted that late in the win over Wyoming when the game was out of hand, he allowed his mind to wander toward thinking about the Ducks. 

"The neat thing is that the players even said it right after the game in the locker room," Riley said. "We've got to put it all together. We're going to play a good team. Great game. Big game for us."

It's also one Nebraska could easily win. Oregon took care of UC Davis and Virginia by counts of 53-28 and 44-26, respectively. But the fact that the Ducks' defense, 116th in the nation last season, has allowed 54 points to two very mediocre offensive teams is a great sign for Riley and the Cornhuskers. 

Their running game is strong. Plus, they are led by senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who threw his 57th career touchdown pass on Saturday to set a new program record. 

"This is a big week for us coming up. It's going to be hectic," Armstrong said. "There's going to be a lot of eyes on us, definitely how we handle the situation." 

And how they handle Oregon's speed. 

"That challenge will be exciting," Riley said. "They are going to be one of the faster teams that we will play all year. They are going to be talented."

Riley said his team must improve over its first two games to win. Nebraska led Wyoming 24-17 heading into the fourth quarter before erupting for 28.

Penalties hurt Nebraska. The Cornhuskers committed seven for 93 yards against Wyoming. 

"I'm going to pull back now," Riley said regarding talking too much about his team versus. Oregon. "We'd better clean some stuff up or we're not going to have a chance to beat Oregon. But if we do, we will."

For both teams, this is the first pivotal moment of the season. The winner will be ranked and riding high. The loser will have a lot of questions to answer about itself before it begins conference play the following week. 

Certainly, the Cornhuskers are relishing the opportunity to jump back into the national spotlight with a victory. 

"Oregon is no joke," senior receiver Jordan Westerkamp said. "They're a top-program in the entire nation. This will be our first big test. We have to take them extremely seriously and have a great week of practice because they're going to come ready to play. If we can get a win against Oregon that would be huge for our program." 

A quick look at Nebraska:

No. 22 Oregon at Nebraska

When: 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Memorial Stadium.   

T.V.: ABC

Betting line: Nebraska minus 2.

Records: Oregon (2-0, 9-4 last season), Cornhuskers (2-0, 6-7 last season). 

Coaches: Oregon's Mark Helfrich (35-8); Nebraska's Mike Riley (101-87 lifetime, 8-7 at Nebraska. Went 93-80 at Oregon State). 

Last week: Oregon took care of Virginia at home with a 44-26 win. Nebraska defeated Wyoming, 52-17 after leading just 24-10 at the end of the third quarter. 

Cornhuskers' impact players: Armstrong is off to a hot start. So far this season he has completed 25-of-44 passes for four 485 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. His passer rating is 174.86. He's also rushed for three touchdowns.

The lead running back is sophomore Devine Ozigbo. He leads the team with 147 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Alonzo Moore leads the team with 201 receiving yards on six receptions with two touchdowns. 

Defensively, senior defensive end Ross Dzuris already has five tackles for loss and 2 1/2 sacks. Junior safety Kieron Williams leads the team with 15 tackles and two interceptions.  

Despite solid statistics, Nebraska's offense has been inconsistent. It gained 550 yards on Saturday but didn't pull away until the fourth quarter. 

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. This is the game that will set the tone for the Ducks' season. If Oregon were at home, the Ducks would be the wise pick. But on the road with a questionable defense, young offensive line and new quarterback (although Dakota Prukop looked fabulous on Saturday), this is a tough situation for Oregon, especially playing in a place like Nebraska.

While Prukop showed flashes of being special against Virginia, the Ducks' defense continues to be an issue. Virginia rushed for 193 yards (220 for three running backs on 31 carries) on the Ducks a week after gaining just 38 against the Richmond Spiders.

"Mike Riley is a great offensive football coach," Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal said. "And if they are running the ball well it's going to be a tough game. One of the toughest we've had in awhile."

If the Ducks can't stop the run on Saturday, they will be dead in the water. Virginia ran a no-huddle spread system while gashing the Ducks. Unwise. Nebraska will seek to control the clock and the game. If it accomplishes that, the Cornhuskers win. 

Preliminary pick: Nebraska 38, Oregon 30.  This should be a fun game to watch, but one that Riley and the Cornhuskers win by simply taking advantage of the Ducks' weaknesses.