Oregon Ducks

Dropped passes are hot lava? What I'm watching and listening for at Oregon media day

Dropped passes are hot lava? What I'm watching and listening for at Oregon media day

Oregon football is facing an especially important fall camp with a pivotal and polarizing week one showdown against Auburn. To kick it off, the Ducks will be available for media interviews on Friday.

There are bound to be some great quotes and opinions on hot topics surrounding the 2019 season. Here is what I am watching and listening for:

Auburn attitude

Typically, fall camp is an opportunity for coaches to evaluate the growth of players over the summer, while addressing the depth chart and implementing schemes. Usually, fall camp is not a time to focus on one specific team. With the lofty implications of Oregon’s week one marquee SEC matchup, will that philosophy shift?

The Ducks grasp the chance to upset Auburn in prime time and become the Pac-12’s best chance for a spot in the playoff. A win sends the underdog Ducks and the Pac-12 Conference into national relevancy, and a loss initiates an uphill fight; no team has ever rebounded from a week one loss to make the final field of four.

It’s a similar situation that Washington was in last season. The Huskies lost to Auburn in a similar kind of neutral site, early-season matchup and every game afterwards became a “must win.”

Will Oregon coach Mario Cristobal begin Auburn game plan implementation earlier than normal? Or will he stick to the “focus on us first” mentality?

Freshmen phenoms

Ahead of last season, Herbert picked then-redshirt freshman running back CJ Verdell as a player he expected to surprise fans. Herbert was very, very, very correct; Verdell had 1,018 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and 315 receiving yards and two scores last season.

Which young Ducks are impressing veterans this season?

The highest-ever rated recruiting class in program history is officially in Eugene with several players capable of making an instant impact. Defense end Kayvon Thibodeaux, cornerback Mykael Wright, linebacker Mase Funa, wide receiver Josh Delgado and wide receiver Mycah Pittman have already earned the praise of Cristobal and teammates.

Don’t forget about running back Sean Dollars, running back Jayvaun Wilson, tight end Patrick Herbert, linebacker Ge’Mon Eaford and kicker Camden Lewis. Each have the potential for production this season. 

Likely, there will be a few freshmen that emerge, while the others take a little more time to adjust to the college pace. Position openings at defensive end, linebacker and wide receiver bode well for starting role battles for Thibodeaux, Funa, Delgado and Pittman.

[READ: True freshman Kayvon Thibodeaux poised to lead Oregon football in sacks]

Will Thibodeaux live up to his No. 1 recruit in the nation hype? Will he beat out senior Gus Cumberlander, who has showed vast pass-rush improvement, and start at defensive end? Will Funa challenge veterans in both the STUD position and at inside linebacker and find himself into a starting role? Pittman and Delgago excelled in the spring, will they get on the field sooner rather than later?

Dropped passes are hot lava

Ring the alarm bells, warm up the searchlight, the hunt is on for Oregon’s next leading receiver. Single-season receiving yardage leader Dillon Mitchell is with the Minnesota Vikings, which opens a big void for a reliable receiver.

Letting catchable balls hit the turf was one of the main problems for Oregon’s offense. According to Oregon, the coaching staff's analysis registered 52 dropped passes last season. Ouch.

[WATCH: Juwan Johnson and Justin Herbert's intensifying connection]

How can Oregon best take advantage of quarterback Justin Herbert’s final season? Cristobal called it “no secret” that drops must improve. New wide receivers coach Jevon Bouknight stepped in and made a strong instant impression on his position group. His focus was on correcting their mental approach and technique. Will there be a notable difference in confidence of veterans like senior Brenden Schooler, who had his fair share of drops last season?

What about a special teams plan?

Leading punt returner Ugochukwu Amadi is gone to the Seattle Seahawks. There is a vacancy for kickoff returner with Tony Brooks-James’ departure. Who on the roster is best fitted for return duties?

Cristobal has praised Dollars for his special teams abilities, so watch for the freshman to get a shot. Jevon Holland, Jaylon Redd and Travis Dye are other options.

Three keys for the Oregon Ducks to win the Pac-12 Championship

Three keys for the Oregon Ducks to win the Pac-12 Championship

Friday’s battle between No. 13 Oregon (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) and No. 5 Utah (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) for the Pac-12 Conference crown is bound to be intense with major post-season implications. 

The Ducks still have a chance at playing in the Rose Bowl as Pac-12 Conference champions (among another option). Standing in their way? The Utes, packed with experienced offensive weapons, one of the toughest defenses in the nation and imminent College Football Playoff dreams.

AN OREGON WIN WOULD…

·      Tie Oregon with Stanford for most Pac-12 Championship Game victories (3).

·      Clinch the program's eighth appearance in the Rose Bowl.

·      Give Oregon seven seasons with 11 or more wins (first time since 2014).


A UTAH WIN WOULD…

·      Be Utah’s first conference championship.

·      Extend its winning streak to nine games, their longest winning streak since 2008 when Utah went undefeated (13-0).

·      Keep its college football playoff hopes alive.

THREE KEYS TO AN OREGON VICTORY

Oregon can hang with anyone when they put it all together but how can they defeat a Utes team looking for a statement win to display to the College Football Playoff rankings committee?

1. Shake up Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley

Dual-threat quarterback Tyler Huntley is dangerous and experienced. The senior is crazy efficient (has completed 75.5% of his passes, which is second behind LSU’s Joe Burrow) averaging 11.1 passing yards per completion, a Pac-12 best and third in the FBS. 

Huntley and Burrow are the only two quarterbacks who have thrown under 70 percent in two or less games. They are also the only quarterbacks that have thrown for 80 percent or higher in four games this season.

The Heisman-Trophy candidate also has 74 carries for 255 yards and five rushing touchdowns.

“Huntley runs that offense like he’s been there for four years because he has been. We’re looking forward to playing against them,” senior linebacker Troy Dye said.
Oregon must disrupt Huntley and the ball-controlling Utes. The Duck defense has been mostly dependable this season, allowing 10 points or fewer in seven of 10 games. The Ducks have recorded a conference-best 35 sacks and will need to continue to play to that strength.

Look for starting defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux to have a major impact. The freshman has heated up in the last four games, totaling eight tackles for loss and four sacks. Coming off a two tackles for loss, one sack performance, Thibodeaux matched a program freshman record with 6.5 sacks on the season, tying Troy Dye’s 2016 total. Entering this season, Thibodeaux’s goal was 10 sacks: an accomplishment still in reach.

2. Win the turnover battle

The rainy, windy conditions in a clash between the most physical teams in the conference could lead to some mistakes and sloppy play. Oregon must be on the winning end of the turnover battle to contend against Utah. The Ducks practiced with a wet ball this week and aren’t overly concerned with “mother nature”. Some numbers to consider:

  • Keep Utah’s defense out of the end zone- The Utes defense has five touchdowns this season, ranking second in the FBS.
  • Oregon ranks first (17) and Utah (13) ranks second in interceptions.
  • Utah is 10th in FBS in turnover margin (0.83).
  • Oregon has scored 113 points off turnovers compared to opponents' 27 points off turnovers.
  • This season against Pac-12 teams, Oregon is undefeated when winning the turnover battle (4-0).

3. Passing game success

Utah is known for its defense, which is giving up a conference-best 11.3 points (third in the nation) and 56.3 yards rushing (first in the nation) on average. Opponents haven’t found an answer to the Utes rushing defense that is allowing an average of 2.26 yards per carry. The Utes have held 11 of their 12 opponents to under 100 yards rushing.

So likely, the Ducks will have to get it done through the passing game.

This is considerable reason for concern regarding Oregon’s offense, which has struggled in the last two games. After quarterback Jusin Herbert threw two interceptions against Arizona State, the Ducks totaled their lowest yardage of the season against Oregon State. Oregon’s receivers have lacked separation and Herbert has had some errant throws.

[READ: Justin Herbert's heart is Oregon's X-factor to win Pac-12 Title]

The Ducks will need junior wide receiver Johnny Johnson III to maintain his dependability in his strong season finish. In the last three games, he has 18 catches for 335 yards and four touchdowns. 34 of the junior’s 49 receptions have gone for first downs and he has three-straight games with a touchdown catch.

How and where to watch

Time: Friday, Dec. 6, 5:14 p.m. (PT)

Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California

TV: ABC

Radio: KUGN-AM (590), KUJZ-FM (95.3), KZEL-FM (96.1)

How Marcus Arroyo’s name popping up in the coaching carousel affects Oregon

How Marcus Arroyo’s name popping up in the coaching carousel affects Oregon

In a time of collegiate football postseason play, the coaching carousel has begun.

How might this effect the No. 13 ranked Oregon Ducks? Offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo’s name popped up Wednesday, according to a report from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, for the UNLV head coaching vacancy.

According to the report, another name on that list will be across the field from Arroyo at the Pac-12 Championship on Friday: Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley.

Arroyo joined the Oregon program as a part of Willie Taggart’s staff back in 2017 as Oregon’s co-offensive coordinator as well as the coach for the quarterbacks/tight ends. Before his tenure at Oregon, Arroyo spent two seasons as the running backs coach for the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

How this effects the Ducks

It’s not always good for team morale to hear one of your own coach’s names being thrown out to take another position, especially now that the Ducks are San Jose bound for the Pac-12 Championship game.

A dialed-in, focused week with limited distractions is what’s needed for the Ducks right now with No. 5 Utah looming at the end of the short week. This will be the final season that senior quarterback Justin Herbert will be coached by Arroyo as Herbert is NFL bound in a few months.

Justin Herbert's heart is Oregon's X-factor to win Pac-12 Title

Justin Herbert's heart is Oregon's X-factor to win Pac-12 Title

Oregon is about to play as the underdog for the first time in 2019 in its most prominent game of the season: The Pac-12 Championship game.

Statistically, No. 5 Utah out-matches the No. 13 Ducks. The Utes have the Pac-12's best defense; a physical team that’s allowing only 56 rushing yards a game. Plus, Utah is the conference’s best rushing team, led by running back Zack Moss with a crazy efficient dual-threat quarterback at the helm in Tyler Huntley.

Also, the Utes are still College Football Playoff contenders looking to make a statement to the committee.

Alas, Oregon has something that Utah doesn’t have: Senior quarterback Justin Herbert, a young man who is looking to bestow a lasting legacy in his swan song season. The Eugene-native has the chance to validate his stamp of greatness and accomplish the goals he returned for in his final Oregon football season.

No one shoulders it more than him. His passion is almost… (pause)… You can almost taste it. You feel it on him sometimes. He is really excited (to compete for the Pac-12 Title). The biggest part for him, is another chance to play with an “O” on his chest with his guys in his senior year in a place he wanted to play. That’s really cool to see. -- Oregon offensive Coordinator Marcus Arroyo 

Following Oregon’s loss at Arizona State, which killed all hopes of a College Football Playoff berth, Herbert said “it means everything” to refocus and aim their ambitions at the Rose Bowl. The Ducks can guarantee a spot in the Rose Bowl with a Pac-12 title win.

Herbert’s coaches and teammates are inspired by his desire and heart as Oregon prepares to play Utah.

He’s the main leader on this team, so we follow what he does. Since Saturday’s game, he’s come out and been the focal point of the whole team. He’s leading the right way, showing by example and telling people what to do. We all follow what number 10 does and we love what he does. -- Troy Dye

Herbert’s message to Dye and the rest of the Ducks?

Compete, compete, compete. Leave it all out there. There are only two teams in the Pac-12 practicing this week.

The Ducks will need spectacular play from Herbert to take the title. A major key to victory will be finding success in the passing game, something that hasn’t been roaring in the past two games (two interceptions at ASU and recording the lowest yardage total of the season vs. OSU).

This is where Herbert’s undeniable talent, passion and love for Oregon come into play. Plus his arm, which compels NFL scouts to keep an analyzing eye on Herbert and project him as a first round selection in the 2020 NFL draft.

Herbert will set his single-season career high in passing (3,151 in 2018; currently 3,140) on Friday, but can he empty the tank and perform at his best against the best?

In the Herbert era, year-over-year the Ducks have shown progress, winning four games in 2016, seven games in 2017, nine games in 2018 and 10 currently in 2019, plus a chance at the Rose Bowl.

His chances to make an impact in an Oregon uniform are dwindling. The 6-foot-6, 237-pound quarterback with the powerful right arm and sneaky-fast wheels has an opportunity for the most substantial win of his Duck career on Friday in Levi’s Stadium.

Rainy, windy conditions in a clash between the most physical teams in the conference vying for the crown… get your popcorn ready.

Opposing corners should fear Oregon offensive lineman Penei Sewell

Opposing corners should fear Oregon offensive lineman Penei Sewell

Left side, strong side.

Last week, Oregon sophomore Penei Sewell was honored as one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy which is presented to the nation’s best interior lineman on offense or defense. Sewell is named alongside Wisconsin junior center Tyler Biadasz and Auburn senior defensive tackle Derrick Brown.

This honor comes to Sewell in his sophomore season. The Outland Trophy committee recognized and honored Sewell as a finalist after 18 games played. 

It’s just a blessing. Growing up, I’ve always wanted one of those and to see that I’m a finalist, I want to go harder. -- Penei Sewell

How impressive is it that Sewell, in his second year of collegiate football, is up for this prestigious award? Very. Sewell joins Oregon legend and five-time NFL pro bowler Haloti Ngata (2005) as the only two players in program history be a finalist.

“I think more than anything it’s the accountability and what he’s put on tape. He plays with physicality and is graded out real well. Not a lot of mental errors. The things you’re looking for when you take those accolades,” said offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo.

Here are some of Sewell’s accomplishments as a freshman:

- USA Today Freshman All-American

- The No. 2 offensive lineman in the Pac-12

- The No. 7 tackle in the nation with an 84.0 grade from Pro Football Focus

At 6-foot-6, 325 pounds, Sewell has been integral in defending quarterback Justin Herbert’s blindside in addition to using his strength and agility to get to the second level of the defense quickly creating space for screens or chunk plays. Imagine being an opposing corner and seeing Sewell with 120+ extra pounds on you charging with a determined and fierce look in his eyes to get you on the ground.

If you’re a corner or something, you should definitely fear him especially in screens because he’s willing to come… I’ve never seen a guy his size be able to move in space like that. It’s really impressive. -- senior offensive lineman Shane Lemieux.

Looming for Sewell and Oregon is the Pac-12 Championship game. If Oregon is to move the ball against the stout Utah Utes defense, Sewell will need to bring his A-game once again.

The Outland Trophy winner will be announced on Thursday, December 12.

Talkin' Ducks Podcast: Oregon's offense needs to figure some things out ahead of Utah

Talkin' Ducks Podcast: Oregon's offense needs to figure some things out ahead of Utah

The No. 13 Oregon Ducks (10-2, 8-1) held off the Oregon State Beavers (5-7, 4-5 Pac-12) in Autzen Stadium this past weekend after Oregon junior corner Thomas Graham Jr. forced a fumble that was recovered by junior safety Brady Breeze with the Beavers driving to tie the game. 

Now, after a closer Civil War than expected, the Ducks will prepare for the No. 5 Utah Utes in the Pac-12 Conference Championship in Santa Clara and with a chance to punch their ticket to the Rose Bowl.

Whether it was limited explosion plays, miscues, fumbling at the pylon or simply a lack of execution, the Ducks offense better figure itself out before it runs into that stout Utah defense.

"It's hard as a person outside the box to say 'well this is what's going wrong with this offense'... What I do know is when I watch Justin Herber throw some footballs, they're off," says Talkin' Ducks co-host Anthony Newman. "Seeing a ball over-thrown to Juwan Johnson who's 6-foot-6; seeing the ball thrown to the feet of Jaylon Redd on a screen play; you're one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and I'm not knocking Justin Herbert, but i'm just saying the performance that he had in the last couple of games, as a top quarerback in the country, you want those throws to be on point."

Our Talkin’ Ducks hosts Jordan Kent and Anthony Newman break down the Civil War, preview the Pac-12 Championship, predict what bowl game the Ducks will play in, give their thoughts on a 10-2 regular season and discuss Chris Petersen’s decision to resign from the University of Washington. 

Listen to the full podcast below.

Ducks offensive analyst Prentice Gill joins ASU staff

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Prentice Gill/IG

Ducks offensive analyst Prentice Gill joins ASU staff

Former offensive analyst Prentice Gill is flying south to join Herm Edwards’ coaching staff at ASU. 

Gill announced his departure from Oregon in a post on Instagram. 

“First off I just want to say thank you to the University of Oregon and Coach Cristobal for giving me the best opportunity of a lifetime! I enjoyed every second of it and I could never repay them for who they’ve been and what they did for me! With that being said I’d like to say thank you to Coach Herm Edwards, @antoniopierce and @sundevilfb for giving me my first Full time position at Arizona State University as the Wide Receivers Coach! I couldn’t be happier to join the #sundevilnation and I can’t wait to earn my keep and prove them right for taking a chance on me! With all that said, let’s move on to the next chapter! #ForksUp." 

Herm Edwards recently announced the firing of offensive coordinator Rob Likens and that he would not be bringing back wide receivers coach Charlie Fisher or tight ends coach Donnie Yantis.

Enter Prentice Gill, who is widely considered to be a talented recruiter. 

Gill’s coaching career began in 2012 at Los Angeles Harbor Junior College as the wide receivers coach. He moved to Long Beach Community College before joining USC in 2014 and San Jose in 2015 as a defensive grad assistant. 

In 2014, he spent a year with the Trojans in their football office before joining San Jose State’s staff as a defensive graduate assistant.

Where Oregon's Bowl path currently stands: Rose Bowl to Alamo Bowl

Where Oregon's Bowl path currently stands: Rose Bowl to Alamo Bowl

The College Football Playoff picture is clearing and with two losses, Oregon is no longer a contender.

With one week remaining in the 2019 season, the Ducks are No. 13 in the CFP rankings with a date against No. 5 Utah in the Pac-12 Championship game. Oregon is looking for its first win over a top 5 team since the 2015 Rose Bowl against No. 2 Florida State.

Since the Ducks are out of the final four…

How can the Ducks fly to the Rose Bowl (for the eighth time)?

OPTION ONE

The Pac-12 North Division champion Ducks still have a chance at playing in the Rose Bowl by winning the Pac-12 Title game on December 6 in Santa Clara, California. Oregon will face Pac-12 South Division champions Utah in the Pac-12 Championship.

OPTION TWO

Another route to roses… If the Ducks lose the Pac-12 title game and the No. 5 Utes get into the playoff, Oregon could still go to the Rose Bowl as the conference’s next best team.

Oregon’s drop out of the top-10 hurt Utah’s resume as contenders, but Alabama’s second loss boosted Utah’s chances. The fourth playoff spot opens if No. 2 LSU beats No. 4 Georgia in the SEC championship. Even if Utah beats Oregon, there's still a path for No. 6 Oklahoma to sneak in over the Utes. An impressive second defeat over No. 7 Baylor would make a strong case for the Sooners.

The Rose Bowl is played vs. a Big Ten opponent in Pasadena, California at 2 p.m. (PT) on January 1, 2020. Possible Big Ten opponents: Penn State, Minnesota, Wisconsin.

CAVEAT

If an Oregon loss to Utah causes the Ducks to dramatically drop in the final rankings, there is a caveat that would be relevant to Oregon’s chances to get to the Rose Bowl.

The Rose Bowl traditionally selects the next-highest CFP-ranked team from that conference, but if there is one or more teams closely ranked, the selection becomes up to the discretion of and “will result in the best possible matchup for the Rose Bowl Game,” according to the Rose Bowl Management Committee.

USC is currently No. 22, so the Trojans could threaten the Ducks. In 2016, No. 9 USC was selected instead of Pac-12 South Champion, No. 10 Colorado. 

What is the next bowl game best-case scenario?

If Oregon loses the Pac-12 Title game and Utah is left out of the playoff and goes to the Rose Bowl, the Ducks are looking at the Pac-12’s No. 2 bowl tie-in, the Alamo Bowl.

(By the way, two Alamo Bowl representatives were in the press box on Saturday)

The Alamo Bowl is played vs. the Big 12’s No. 2 team in San Antonio, Texas at 4:30 p.m. (PT) on December 31, 2019. Likely Big 12 opponent: Baylor.

What about an at-large bid?

Auburn’s win over Alabama moves the Tigers ahead of the Ducks for an at-large bid for the Cotton Bowl. The Cotton Bowl is played in Arlington, Texas at 10 a.m. (PT) on December 28, 2019.

Oregon earned its first 10-win season since 2014 and has the opportunity to be crowed Pac-12 Champions. Now that the national title is out of the picture, senior quarterback Justin Herbert said, “It means everything” to learn from the Arizona State loss and refocus on finishing the season strong.

 

MORE ON THE DUCKS

Where Oregon's bowl path currently stands: Rose Bowl to Alamo Bowl

10 surprising numbers: Oregon vs. Utah

Mario Cristobal's ear-catching comments about time of possession

 

 

10 surprising numbers: Oregon vs. Utah in Pac-12 Championship

10 surprising numbers: Oregon vs. Utah in Pac-12 Championship

Friday’s battle for the Pac-12 Conference crown is bound to be intense with major post-season implications. The conference title winner gets an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl, unless the winner gets a berth into the College Football Playoff (Utah has a chance), then the No. 2 team would go to the Rose Bowl.   

Oregon is looking for its first win over a top 5 team since the 2015 Rose Bowl against No. 2 Florida State. No. 5 Utah is playing in the Pac-12 Championship game for the second-straight year after winning the Pac-12 South Title outright both years (2019, 2018).

BETTING LINE

Oregon opened as 6.5-point underdogs to Utah. The total over/under is set at 50 points.

AN OREGON WIN WOULD…

·      Tie Oregon with Stanford for most Pac-12 Championship Game victories (3).

·      Clinch the program's eighth appearance in the Rose Bowl.

·      Give Oregon seven seasons with 11 or more wins (first time since 2014).


A UTAH WIN WOULD…

·      Be Utah’s first conference championship.

·      Extend its winning streak to nine games, their longest winning streak since 2008 when Utah went undefeated (13-0).

·      Keep its college football playoffs hopes alive.

INJURY UPDATE

Oregon’s offensive line will be back at full strength for the Pac-12 Championship Game. Ducks center Jake Hanson, who did not play against Oregon State or the second half against Arizona State, is expected to play against Utah.

Backup receiver Daewood Davis did not play against Oregon State and his status remains undetermined for Friday.

TOUGH THIBODEAUX

In the last four games, freshman Kayvon Thibodeaux has eight tackles for loss and four sacks. Coming off a two tackles for loss, one sack performance, Thibodeaux matched a program freshman record with 6.5 sacks on the season, tying Troy Dye’s 2016 total.

DOMINANT DUCK DEFENSE

Oregon’s defense has held 11 of its 12 opponents under their season scoring average.

HERBERT’S SUCCESSES VS. UTAH

In quarterback Justin Herbert’s career vs. Utah, he’s gone 50-for-76 (65.8%) for 612 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions. 


PRECISE HUNTLEY

The Utes are ranked second in the FBS and first in Pac-12 in completion percentage (.747). Utah’s Tyler Huntley and LSU’s Joe Burrow are the only two quarterbacks who have thrown under 70 percent in two or less games. They are also the only two that have thrown for 80 percent or higher in four games this season.

JOHNNY JOHNSON III CATCHING FIRE

Johnny Johnson III is finishing the season strong, recording 18 catches for 335 yards and four touchdowns in the last three games. 34 of the junior’s 49 receptions have gone for first downs and he has three-straight games with a touchdown catch.

UTAH LEADING THE NATION

Utah leads the FBS in rushing defense (56.3) with opponents averaging just 2.26 yards per carry. The Utes have held 11 of their 12 opponents to under 100 yards rushing and have outscored their opponents 193-61 in the second half this season.