Oregon's 42-35 win over Nebraska raised more questions than it answered

Oregon's 42-35 win over Nebraska raised more questions than it answered

EUGENE - If you're confused about what to make of Oregon's 42-35 win over Nebraska Saturday at Autzen Stadium, don't be alarmed. You're not alone.  

The Ducks' Jekyll and Hyde performance included them leading 42-14 at halftime only to find themselves clinging to a 42-35 lead with under three minutes remaining and the Cornhuskers in possession of the ball.   

Of course, Oregon coach Willie Taggart put a bow on this game that the Ducks pulled out with a game-clinching interception by referring to what it was: a win. The reality, however, is that it was a win that raised more questions about this team than it answered. Even Taggart was left stuck in the middle about what to make of his wildly inconsistent Ducks.

“We were good the first half," he said. "Second half, not so good. But it was great that our guys found a way. To me, that’s what’s more important than anything. Not necessarily how we played. Our guys found a way to win a ball game.”

Nevertheless, how the Ducks (2-0) play from here on out will ultimately decide their fate. A team can't survive for long giving away big leads. Yes, Oregon did gut this one out and deserves credit for doing so. Then again, the Ducks put themselves in position to have to worry about the outcome at all. 

Thoughts of Oregon possibly making things interesting this season in the Pac-12 North Division were warranted by halftime when the Ducks made a solid Nebraska (1-1) team appear to be out of its league. 

Maybe, it seemed, that these Ducks were for real, having scored 119 points in six quarters this season, counting the 77-21 win last week over Southern Utah.  Sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert looked like a future Heisman Trophy contender. Senior running back Royce Freeman ran as if he should already be in the NFL. UO's defense, although penetrable, displayed enough speed and talent to create turnovers and tackles for losses when needed. 

Then, the second half started. 

Oregon's offense looked awful. Like, Toilet Bowl awful. The defense, which deserves praise for holding on to this win for dear life, still gave up 21 points. Suddenly, flashbacks of Oregon's Alamo Bowl loss two seasons ago when it blew a 31-0 lead in the second half to lose had to be running through the minds of many UO fans.

Taggart himself admitted to thinking about Texas A&M blowing a 34-point lead at UCLA last week to lose 45-44. 

Herbert, who threw for 313 yards in the first half, managed just 52 in the second half. Freeman, who ran well in the second half, fumbled at UO's 22 with 4:56 remaining to set up Nebraska's final score.

It appeared that Oregon became more conservative on offense following an interception in the third quarter on a pass over the middle to receiver Dillon Mitchell that was first tipped. Taggart disagreed that his play-calling lost its pop and instead pointed to the loss of tempo because of a lack of execution on first down and penalties. Oregon earned 12 flags for 103 penalty yards on the day. 

“Second half, we kind of slacked on (tempo) and weren’t going as fast as we should be,” senior receiver Charles Nelson said.

Lack of overall execution, Taggart said, allowed Nebraska to adjust on defense, both in personnel and scheme, and make life tougher on Oregon. 

If so, isn't that an indication that Oregon's offense might not be good enough to produce big numbers without the element of surprise as an advantage? If so, that could be a problem moving forward.

From the coach's standpoint, he could point to how despite all of the issues the defense made a big play to seal the deal with an interception by cornerback Ugochukwu Amadi off of a poor throw from Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee forced by pressure from Jonah Moi. 

“That’s what you call a team,” Taggart said. “And it was great to see.”

However one chooses to shake and twist this game, the bottom line is that we didn't get out of it what should have been expected. A win over Nebraska should have provided clear answers regarding what Oregon is about? Instead, the win left things where they were before kickoff, wondering just who exactly these Taggart-led Ducks will be this season. 

One thing for sure, they won't be boring. 

Ducks tried so hard not to lose that they almost did

Ducks tried so hard not to lose that they almost did

Some thoughts on Oregon's harrowing win over Nebraska Saturday:

  • Why is it that every fan in America can see when his or her team is playing too conservatively while trying to hold onto a lead, but the coach of said team just doesn't seem to get it? Willie Taggart got so worried about losing that game that he almost lost it. Justin Herbert was passing the Cornhuskers silly in the first half but the Ducks pretty much shut down the vertical passing game and tightened their shirt collars. It was a classic example of getting away from what got you a big lead and just trying to run out the clock.
  • The Ducks are an offensive juggernaut and should not idle that machine until very late in a game.
  • I do not blame the second-half Nebraska comeback on the Oregon defense. The offense put too much pressure on the defense.
  • To me, this game reinforced every reason the Ducks' athletic administration had for bringing in a new coaching staff. Coaching matters and coordinators matter. Oregon's defense is much more sound. It tackles much more reliably. Night and day. If nobody else but me says it -- good job, Rob Mullens. You made the right move when you cleaned house.
  • And speaking of that, when people talk about Taggart "rebuilding" the Oregon program, I smile. Folks, this team wasn't down and out. It was just unmotivated last season. I'm not saying they were bad coaches, but I am saying it was time for a change.
  • With a little better quarterbacking, Nebraska would have won that game. There were a lot of open receivers to hit and a lot of the time, they weren't hit.
  • The Ducks won't get shut out in a half the rest of the season. Unless they decide to go into their conservative mode again.

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."

Taggart has seen Nebraska before, and it wasn't pretty

Taggart has seen Nebraska before, and it wasn't pretty

Oregon coach Willie Taggart won his first game as the Ducks coach on Saturday during a 77-21 win overt Southern Utah at Autzen Stadium but his first season in Eugene truly begins this week at home against Nebraska.

Taggart has faced the Cornhuskers before. His first game as a head coach came in 2010 when he guided Western Kentucky into Lincoln, Neb., and lost 49-10. 

At the time, the Hilltoppers were embroiled in what would be a 27-game losing streak. Taggart lost five more games that season before ending the streak and then eventually finishing the season at 2-10. WKU went 7-5 the following year and by 2013 Taggart was in South Florida where he rebuilt the Bulls. 

When asked Monday about that Nebraska meeting seven years ago, Taggart grinned then said: "Ahhh, you brought that up." 

Had to. That night in 2010 certainly crossed Taggart's mind. 

"I thought about it," Taggart said. "Actaully, I saw a picture of me and my son, Willie Jr., (from that day) and he was so small then and now he's taller than I am. But that's about it. It was my first game as a head coach. It was in Nebraska. In Lincoln. It was a great environment. But that's about it. Now it's about this year's Nebraska team. New coach. New players. And then, they come to Autzen and we don't go to Lincoln."

Oregon went to Lincoln last year and lost 35-32 in the infamous "two-point conversion game." Oregon went for two following all five touchdowns scored and converted just once before losing by the amount of points it wasted by not kicking extra points all five times. 

That loss began a stretch that saw the Ducks lose eight of their final 10 games to finish  4-8 after having started the season 2-0. The Cornhuskers, coached by former Oregon State coach Mike Riley, went 9-4 that season. 

However, Nebraska is coming off of an unimpressive 43-36 win over Arkansas State at home on Saturday. 

"They are big and strong and they won the ball game," Taggart said of the Cornhuskers. 

Maybe so, but defensively the Cornhuskers surrendered 497 yards of total offense with 415 coming through the air. Riley told reporters that he wasn't concerned with the defense. 

“They’re going to get some yardage with a style like that,” Riley told reporters regarding Arkansas' no-huddle passing offense. “It doesn’t mean that they’re going to necessarily get the points they need to win. That is where football, in this era with spread offenses, I think all that is real. It’s not going to be necessarily so much about yardage, it’s really about points.”

Nebraska's offense gained 463 yards on the day. Riley's group will give new Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt his first real tests with the Ducks. 

For Oregon, Taggart said they must cut down on the 12 penalties it committed on Saturday and not get in the habit of turning over the ball. The Ducks lost two fumbles. 

"We're not good enough as a football team, yet, to have all of those penalties and turn the ball over and think we're just going to go out and beat a quality opponent," Taggart said.

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Oregon vs. Nebraska

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

T.V.: FOX. 

Betting line: 14 (and rising? Opened at 7 1/2).

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): 4. One must not allow last week's scores to have too much influence on assessing this week's matchup. Nebraska would have whipped Southern Utah, although likely not by 56 points. The big question is whether the Ducks' defense will play like it did in the first half against Southern Utah when it allowed 21 points and 256 yards. If so, this could be a shootout. 

Preliminary pick: Oregon, 44-34. It will be a big night for UO sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert. The Ducks' defense will do just enough to survive. 

 

Extra points doom No. 22 Ducks who can't hold off Nebraska, lose 35-32

Extra points doom No. 22 Ducks who can't hold off Nebraska, lose 35-32

Nebraska 35, No. 22 Oregon 32

How Oregon lost: The Ducks fought hard but were unable to overcome the loss of running back Royce Freeman in the first quarter and lost a back-and-forth affair in front of 90,414 at Memorial Stadium. Backup running backs Tony Brooks-James, Kani Benoit and Taj Griffin helped Oregon rushed for 336 yards but the Ducks failed on four out of five two-point conversion attempts which cost the team three points.

Oregon led 32-28 with little time remaining before the Cornhuskers drove 80 yards in 11 plays to take the lead on a 34-yard run up the middle on a quarterback draw from Tommy Armstrong Jr. with 2:29 remaining in the game. 

The Ducks mounted a drive that almost resulted in a touchdown when quarterback Dakota Prukop had Charles Nelson open deep down the field. But Prukop overthrew Nelson and the result of the play was a deflected pass. 

Oregon later faced a fourth down with 19 yards to go. Prukop got immediately pressured, tried to run and got tackled for a three-yard loss. 

What it means: A win not only would have lifted the Ducks in the polls, but also would have elevated their perception nationally. Now, the Ducks are 2-1 with Pac-12 play set to begin next week. However, Oregon played well in a hostile environment. Prukop looked very good both as a runner and as a passer. The offensive line, which lost left tackle Tyrell Crosby, did a solid job with four redshirt freshmen in the lineup. Despite being disappointed, Oregon leaves Lincoln, Neb., confident it can build upon this defeat. 

Key sequence: Oregon led 14-7 but Nebraska was driving before Armstrong floated a pass behind a running back swinging out of the backfield from the Oregon 12. The backward pass became a fumble that UO cornerback Arrion Springs alertly scooped it up and ran 34 yards to the 50.  On the next play Griffin raced 50 yards through a huge hole to score his first touchdown of the season and give UO a 20-7 lead with just over two minutes remaining in the half after the missed two-point attempt. 

Oregon's defense held tough again and forced a punt, taking over with 1:05 on the clock. The Ducks were forced to punt after three plays, and that led to a 45-yard punt return from De'Mornay Pierson-El to the Ducks 19. 

Several plays later, Armstrong hit wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp for a three-yard touchdown (his second) to make the score 20-14 at halftime. 

Play of the game: The Ducks trailed 28-26 in the fourth quarter before going on a 97-yard scoring drive highlighted by a 46-yard run from Benoit. He ran right, cut through a hole and then put on the accelerators before being tracked down at the Nebraska 13. Four plays later Brooks-James scored from one yard out to give the Ducks a 32-28 lead with 10:35 remaining in the game. 

High flying Ducks: Prukop had a solid game with his feet, rushing for 97 yards on 20 carries. He threw for just 146 yards on the day as Nebraska did a great job in coverage. 

Brooks-James rushed for 37 yards and three short touchdowns, Griffin had 68 and a score and Benoit gained 100 with a touchdown.

Fowl play: Oregon committed 13 penalties for 126 yards. 

The Ducks attempted five two-point conversions and converted on only the first one.  

The rushing defense began the game well, allowing just 18 yards on seven carries in the first quarter. But Nebraska got things going from the second quarter on and finished with 228 yards on 47 carries. 

Next up: Oregon hosts Colorado (2-1) on Saturday. The Buffaloes today lost 45-28 at No. 4 Michigan. 

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.

Oregon's true self will be revealed at Nebraska

Oregon's true self will be revealed at Nebraska

Oregon is going to get smacked in the mouth on Saturday. 

Nebraska is going to come out like Mike Tyson circa 1986 and try to drop the No. 22 Ducks where they stand when the two teams meet at Memorial Stadium, sure to be filled with nearly 90,000 Cornhuskers fans

The question is, can Oregon take a punch? Can they rise from the canvas after being knocked down, which they most certainly will be?

We don't know. Oregon (2-0) might not even know. But we will find out on Saturday, and what we learn will have reverberations throughout the rest of the season.

"They're a physical football team, they've been known to be a physical football team for a lot of years," Oregon defensive coordinator Brady Hoke said of Nebraska. 

Oregon has prided itself on being physical despite holding the label of being a finesse team because of its use of the no-huddle spread offense. Of course, there's nothing "finesse" about 235-pound running back Royce Freeman pounding through a hole. With that said, there is mystery surrounding the Ducks' offensive line and front seven in terms of their abilities to hold up against a physical team. 

Nebraska will put that to the test Saturday. Can three redshirt freshmen offensive linemen handle Nebraska's aggressiveness on defense? Will the front-seven, gashed for 220 yards rushing by Virginia's running backs last week, stand up to the Cornhuskers rushing attack?

"When you look at what they've had success doing, and what we haven't necessarily had success stopping, it sure would make sense to just pound it," UO coach Mark Helfrich said. 

And pound it and pound it and pound it. 

"I like games like this because it's more physical," Oregon junior defensive end Henry Mondeaux said. "You kind of don't have to think as much. It's more of just one-on-one matchups."

That's where the game will be decided. Nebraska (2-0), coached by former Oregon State coach Mike Riley, will certainly attack Oregon with the run to find matchups that can be exposed. If the Ducks stand up to it, they could win. If not, it will be a long day for the Ducks, and quite possibly a long season.  

The rest of the Pac-12 will be watching. There is no more vulnerable Ducks team than one that loses at the line of scrimmage. No. 7 Stanford and No. 8 Washington will surely take apart the Ducks if they cannot handle Nebraska. 

However, if Oregon stands strong, even in defeat, that would bode well for their chances to make noise in the tough Pac-12 North Division. 

Oregon could lose a close game while still proving its toughness, not just against Nebraska's physicality but also against a rabid fan base that will make life difficult for the Ducks. 

Nebraska is out for blood. Riley most certainly wants some measure of revenge for all the times the Beavers got blasted by Oregon. Nebraska is out to return to national prominence and views a win over the Ducks as a gateway toward respect and the Top 25 after a 6-7 season in 2015. 

"We're going into a hostile environment," Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood said. "And how we prepare and how we react in that kind of environment will really kind of set the tone for the rest of the season."

 

Ducks prepared for Nebraska's raucous fans

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Ducks prepared for Nebraska's raucous fans

Memorial Stadium will be rocking on Saturday when Nebraska hosts No. 22 Oregon. 

The Cornhuskers draw around 90,000 fans per game. That can be a problem for most opponents of the Cornhuskers.  Oregon (2-0), however, isn't too concerned. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said the Ducks must embrace what will be an "awesome atmosphere," rather than fear it. And, fall back on the team's preparation. 

"We try to recreate all of that all the time in practice with the music and the noise." he said. "We never have a moment where it's quiet in practice."

Oregon is no stranger to hostile environments. But Nebraska is a different animal. The rabid fan base has produced 349 consecutive sellouts. 

The Ducks have been innovative in preparing themselves for distractions. One way is to pump loud music and noise into practice, thus conditioning players to communicate and execute amidst deafening distraction.  

"I can barely hear myself think with how loud our music is at practice sometimes," UO offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said. "That's got to help a little bit."

The offense is prepared to go with a silent snap count if needed. However, worrying about crowd noise is the least of the Ducks' concerns. 

"We just need to not shoot ourselves in the foot like we have been the last couple of weeks with penalties, with false starts and holding calls," redshirt freshman center Jake Hanson said. "Because if we start jumping offsides due to crowd noise on Saturday the crowd is going to get even louder."

Several players said that once a game begins the fans become irrelevant. Junior defensive end Henry Mondeaux, in fact, said the team has embraced the challenge of playing on the road. 

"I just think people are excited to get on the road and play a game not in Autzen," he said.

A quick look at the game: 

No. 22 Oregon at Nebraska

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

T.V.: ABC

Betting line: Nebraska minus 3.

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' key players: Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. could give the Ducks a fit. Expect to see Nebraska go to the run early and often with sophomore running back Devine Ozigbo in order to set up the playaction pass with the versatile Armstrong. 

"He can extend the play," Oregon sophomore cornerback Ugo Amadi said. "That's a very scary thing to see."

That worked to perfection during the Cornhuskers' 43-10 win over Fresno State resulting in open receivers running loose. Oregon can't afford to allow the Cornuskers to go to that well again because chasing speedy senior wide receiver Alonzo Moore in the open field would be a serious problem for the Ducks. He leads the team with 201 receiving yards on six receptions with two touchdowns. 

"That can't happen in the back end of it," Helfrich said. "And the guys committed to stopping the run have to stop the run."

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.  

They lead a defense that will test UO's young offensive line and the fortitude of quarterback Dakota Prukop, who will be making his first start in such hostile environment. 

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Oregon's weaknesses will be exposed on Saturday. The young offensive line. The green six new front-seven starters. A good, but maybe not great quarterback. These three elements will prove to doom the Ducks on the road against a solid Nebraska team. 

Game prediction: Nebraska 38, Oregon 30.  If Oregon comes out of this game with a close loss, it would bode well for the rest of the season. If things get out of hand, and they could, then we could be looking at a Ducks team that has a few more losses in it down the road. 

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.