Oregon Ducks

Ducks happy to meet Auburn quarterback Bo Nix in season opener

Ducks happy to meet Auburn quarterback Bo Nix in season opener

The anticipation is palpable for the season opener between No. 11 Oregon and No. 16 Auburn.

Auburn named true freshman Bo Nix as starting quarterback. Tigers coach Gus Malzahn announced Nix beat out redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood in a competition that began during the spring and lasted the duration of fall camp.

Nix is not your typical freshman. A former five-star prospect and top-rated dual-threat quarterback in the 2019 class, Nix enrolled early in January and is poised to have a great career with the Tigers.

He’s looking to start his Auburn career with a bang. Oregon junior cornerback Deommordore Lenoir is looking forward to meeting Nix in his college football debut.

“It actually makes me happy. I want to welcome him to college football," Lenoir said.

I asked, what would be the best way to welcome him to college football?

"Oh a pick-six. Easy," Lenoir said.

Nix has earned the respect of senior linebacker Troy Dye already. Dye has studied Nix’s high school film and will begin a deeper dive on Sunday to start game week.

“Congratulations to him for winning the job. But the game knows no age," Dye said. "Doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or senior, if you’re ready to play, you’re ready to play. We can’t look at him like ‘oh he’s a freshman.’ He’s a great athlete. Top school in a Division I program. He’s the starting quarterback for a Division I team so we can’t ever overlook that stuff. We got to go out there and prepare like he’s been there for four years.” 

Optimism is high for Oregon football’s 2019 season and beating the Tigers will essentially make or break the team’s College Football Playoff hopes. A win sends the 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.

Oregon at Stanford: 10 Numbers to Know

Oregon at Stanford: 10 Numbers to Know

For back-to-back seasons, the Oregon Ducks will open up Pac-12 conference play against the Stanford Cardinal. Rewind to last season at home in Autzen Stadium: a critical late fourth quarter fumble from running back CJ Verdell lead to Stanford's game-tying score and sending the game into overtime for an eventual 38-31 win over the Ducks. This loss also added to the Ducks' streak of Pac-12 opening losses (the last time Oregon won a Pac-12 opener was back in 2014 vs. Washington State in Pullman, WA.

Following a dominant 35-3 win last Saturday over the Montana Grizzlies, is this the year that the No. 16 Ducks turn that all around on The Farm?

Here are 10 stats and numbers you need to know to be the fan dropping knowledge at the tailgate:

INJURY UPDATES

The Ducks have yet to see grad transfer receiver Juwan Johnson take the field. Head Coach Mario Cristobal has stated this week that Johnson is day-to-day. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound pass catcher went through pregame warm-ups prior to the season opener against Auburn but not before last week’s game against Nevada or Montana.

Senior center Jake Hanson continues to be evaluated after an injury vs. Montana last week.

Senior tight end Cam McCormick is out for the season.

Arguably the most anticipated return is true freshman wide receiver Mycah Pittman, who tweeted one week ago that his return could be on the sooner side. Pittman likely eyeing a return for Oregon vs. CAL on Friday, Oct. 5.

DUCKS SEARCHING FOR PAC-12 OPENER WIN

Ranked in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense and scoring offense, Oregon will look for its first win in a Pac-12 opener since 2014 when it takes on Stanford.

A WIN WOULD

Mark Oregon's 18th win in its last 20 Pac-12 road openers, dating back to 2000. Improve Oregon to 2-0 in Pac-12 road openers under head coach Mario Cristobal. Improve Oregon to 3-3 in Pac-12 road games under head coach Mario Cristobal.

FAST STARTS

Oregon has outscored its opponents 70-12 in the first half through the first three weeks. The Ducks are one of seven FBS teams (Arizona State, Clemson, Iowa State, TCU, Temple, Wisconsin) that haven't allowed a first half TD this season.

Senior quarterback Justin Herbert’s eight first half passing touchdowns are tied for the most in the nation with three of those going to senior tight end Jacob Breeland.

MY MY TROY DYE

Senior linebacker Troy Dye leads all active Power 5 players with 334 career tackles and has 18 games with 10+ tackles.

Following a 115-tackle junior season, Dye needs 100 more stops in 2019 to become Oregon’s all-time leader.

HERBIE STREAKIN’

Justin Herbert enters the Pac-12 opener owning two of the longest streaks in the nation: Herbert's 31 consecutive games played with a TD pass and 150 attempts without an interception both currently lead all FBS signal callers. 

Herbert also has just one INT over his last 298 pass attempts in Pac-12 road games.

STACKED OFFENSIVE LINE

Oregon has a combined 168 career starts along the offensive line, which is the most in the nation.

DEFENSE IS A WALL

The Oregon defense has gone 27 consecutive drives without allowing a touchdown.

Opposing offenses are six-of-25 on third down in the first half and have 50 rush attempts for 110 yards.

Through the first three games, opponents have reached Oregon territory just 12 times in 36 drives with three of those starting on the Ducks' side of the field.

SPREAD THE LOVE

Oregon leads the nation with 13 different players who have scored a touchdown, including nine who have caught a TD.

The Ducks’ offense has scored a touchdown on 10-of-22 first half drives.

A-MASE-ING

True freshman outside linebacker Mase Funa is off to a fast start in his college career. Funa, who made his first career start vs. Montana, leads the Ducks with 3.0 sacks and 5.0 tackles for loss and tied for the Pac-12 leader in sacks while ranking second in TFL. Ranks in the top 25 in the country in both sacks (T-17th) and TFL (T-21st).

BONUS

The Ducks are 10.5 point favorites over Stanford on the road at The Farm. The over/under is 57 points.

Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. (PT).

Running back by committee: A recipe for success for the Ducks

Running back by committee: A recipe for success for the Ducks

Oregon Football has a long, storied history of talented running backs that have donned the green and yellow. In recent memory, the program has churned out stars such as LaMichael James, Royce Freeman, LeGarrette Blount, Kenjon Barner, Jonathan Stewart... The list goes on, and on, and on. 

For the most part, the Ducks have always had talented a running back corps, but each group had its bell cow. The one back that stood out as the number one guy. Even the two-headed monsters of the past had one back that you knew was the "the guy."

That may not be the case in 2019, and that's a good thing. 

The Ducks have a plethora of riches at the running back position, and they have found ways to use every one of their talented ball carriers. 

Through the team's first three games five different backs have carried the ball, with a different player leading the team statistically each week. 

In Week 1, CJ Verdell led the way. In Week 2, it was Darrian Felix. And last game against Montana, it was Travis Dye that carried the load. 

"I think that a tribute to the backs in their room, let alone what Coach Mastro has done with those guys. He's done an awesome job," said Offensive Coordinator Marcus Arroyo. "That group's gonna get a lot of touches all over the board, similar to last year. I think they've stepped up and they've done an awesome job."

Not only are the Ducks using multiple backs, they're doing so in an incredibly balanced fashion. The team has averaged 186 yards per game, but only one player has surpassed the 100-yard mark. On the season, Dye has 29 carries for 152 yards, Verdell has 30 carries for 149 yards, while Felix has 18 carries for 127 yards. 

There is no lead back, because there doesn't need to be. Instead, the Ducks have a true three-headed monster... and we haven't even talked about Sean Dollars or Cyrus Habibi-Likio, who have combined for 19 carries and 121 yards on the season.

Senior quarterback Justin Herbert said of his backfield mates, "It's a great problem to have so many of those guys. Each one of them can fill in. Shoot, we got four or five guys out there that we have complete trust and faith in. I know that they'll get the job done."

Offensive lineman Shame Lemieux, like Herbert, knows the Ducks are well-equipped to pound the ball. "Our running backs are incredible," said Lemieux.  "CJ's (Verdell) so fast and shifty. He's a stout runner, he's really ready to run downhill. I think Travis (Dye) is kind of a squirrely guy. He's just gonna take off like a little roadrunner... We're loaded, so I'm really happy to have that."

Now here is the scary part - The Ducks haven't even clicked yet. You see, we all know that even the best running backs need great offensive lines. They need the big guys up front to open up holes to give them running lanes. While the numbers say the Ducks have been successful in this regard, Lemieux thinks otherwise. 

"I don't think we've been doing a good enough job. I think we can even do better. Once we start playing to our standard I think it's going to open up even more and our running backs are gonna get more credit."

If this is how Oregon's three-headed monster looks when the offensive line isn't doing a good job, the Pac-12 should be terrified with what this running game will look like when Lemieux and Co. click. 

We'll see if they click on Saturday when they take on a Stanford defense that has allowed an average of 135.33 yards per game on the ground. Kickoff is set for 4:00 p.m. (PT) on The Farm.

Three Ducks projected in Top-10 of 2020 WNBA Draft

Three Ducks projected in Top-10 of 2020 WNBA Draft

On April 6, 2018, Oregon women’s basketball star Sabrina Ionescu announced to the world that she would forgo the 2019 WNBA Draft and return to the University of Oregon for her senior season. In a letter she wrote to Ducks Nation in The Players’ Tribune, Ionescu said “And WNBA — I’ll see you soon. Real soon, I promise. Just have some business to take care of first.”

That “soon” gave us an exact date yesterday. On Tuesday, the WNBA held its lottery for the 2020 Draft and with that, the draft order and first mock draft.

As the projected No. 1 pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, Ionescu just may be headed for the Big Apple come next April with the New York Liberty getting that first pick.

Ionescu 2018-2019 stats: 19.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 8.2 APG.

Along with Ionescu, two other Ducks were projected as Top-10 picks in the 2020 WNBA Draft. 

Satou Sabally is projected to be selected No. 3 overall to the Indiana Fever. But the 6-foot-4 junior forward will have the choice to forgo the draft and return for her senior season, just like Ionescu. She just may want to play one season of college hoops with her younger sister Nyara Sabally, who will have to miss this upcoming season with an ACL injury.

Sabally 2018-19 stats: 16.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG

The third Duck projected to be selected is Ruthy Hebard, No. 7 overall to the Seattle Storm. The 6-foot-4 senior forward was second in the country last season in field goal percentage (67%) and is just a monster down low on both ends of the court. When she gets the ball down low, she rarely misses. An excellent screener and rebounder, Hebard just may stay in the PNW come April.

Hebard 2018-19 stats: 16.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG

Winning on the road is tough, but Oregon football can’t repeat those bad habits from last season

Winning on the road is tough, but Oregon football can’t repeat those bad habits from last season

Pac-12 conference play is finally here! The No. 16 Oregon Ducks open up Pac-12 play on the road this Saturday at the Stanford Cardinal. Not to open up any old wounds, but the Ducks did not have as good a showing on the road last season as they did at home. 

2018 Pac-12 road schedule & results:

Win @ California: 42-24

Loss @ Washington State: 20-34

Loss @ Arizona: 15-44

Loss @ Utah: 25-32

Win @ Oregon State: 55-15

A record of 5-4 in conference play with three of those losses coming on the road. The losses weren’t even close either. At times, the Ducks looked like a completely different team, playing out of confusion and frustration rather than physical, hard-nosed football that Cristobal preaches oh so often. 

This season, the Ducks face arguably a more difficult test on the road.

2019 Pac-12 road schedule:

9/21 @ Stanford

10/19 @ Washington

11/2 @ USC

11/23 @ Arizona State

The keys to winning on the road in Pac-12 play? 

Head Coach Mario Cristobal discussed them on Monday in his weekly press conference with the media: 

“You’ve got to understand, you’ve got to pack your toughness, your resiliency, your perseverance, all the stuff that goes with being a tough football team on the road. And knowing that when you leave your home and you go and do it on the road, there’s the factors outside the football game itself, they can’t matter. They can’t be relevant and it requires a certain kind of mindset. With young players or older players, it’s going to be always a huge point of emphasis.”

Oregon kicks off at Stanford at 4 p.m. (PT) this Saturday on The Farm.

Oregon Ducks' TE Cam McCormick out for the 2019 season

Oregon Ducks' TE Cam McCormick out for the 2019 season

The Oregon football tight end corps took a tough blow on Monday. Head Coach Mario Cristobal announced that senior tight end Cam McCormick will miss the remainder of the 2019-2020 season to heal from an injury.

Cristobal met with the media on Monday:

“With Cam McCormick, after assessing him and after him seeing our doctors, it is best for us to take the rest of the season and rest Cam and let him heal so that he can have a successful spring and then start next season with us...Cam’s got a tremendous heart, he’s a hard worker. I know he’s been through a lot and he’s been pushing to try to get there, but due to the nature of the injury, he’s gonna be fine, but it’s in his best interest and the best interest of the team that he have this year to heal up and then come back and join us next season.”

This news sort of comes at a shock due to the fact that Cristobal was leading on that McCormick was making big strides to 100% healthy and getting back on the field. McCormick was even warming up last Saturday ahead of the Ducks’ matchup against Montana.

The tight end room without McCormick has remained a reliable target for quarterback Justin Herbert including seniors Jacob Breeland and Ryan Bay backed up by redshirt freshman Spencer Webb and true freshman Patrick Herbert. 

It is still heartbreaking news for McCormick because it seems like we haven’t seen McCormick’s potential yet in a Ducks uniform. He has shown glimpses when healthy, but would love to see a full season with McCormick on the line.

The comeback begins now for the 2020 season.

NFL Week 2: A look at the Ducks around the league

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USA Today

NFL Week 2: A look at the Ducks around the league

It was another fun Sunday of football in Week 2 of the NFL, and just like last week the Ducks represented well. Let's take a look around the league and see how the Pro Ducks did. 

Marcus Mariota - Titans: Mariota had another decent game on Sunday, albeit in a losing effort. He was 19 of 28 passing, for 154 yards and a touchdown. He also carried the ball five times for 32 yards.

Royce Freeman - Broncos: The Broncos are off to an 0-2 start to the season, but Royce Freeman has been playing well. Despite sharing carries with Phillip Lindsay, Freeman ran for 54 yards on 11 carries, and hauled in five passes for 48 yards. 

De'Anthony Thomas - Chiefs: Thomas only totaled one reception for six yards, but he saw most of his action in the return game. He had one kick return for 19 yards, and five punt returns for 28 yards.

Patrick Chung - Patriots: Chung only had three tackles, one for loss, but was still a key part of the Patriots defense holding the Dolphins scoreless in a 43-0 win.

Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner - 49ers: The two former Ducks each recorded a sack in the 49ers 41-17 victory over the Bengals. 

Kiko Alonso - Saints: Alonso record just a single tackle in the Saints 27-9 loss to the Rams. 

Kenjon Barner - Falcons: Barner didn't factor into the Falcons offensive game, but he saw action in the return game.  He had three punt returns for 12 yards. 

Oregon Ducks drop one spot in AP Poll Ranking

Oregon Ducks drop one spot in AP Poll Ranking

There were plenty of big games on the college football slate this last weekend. Oregon hosting Montana was not one of them. 

The Oregon blowout had many positives for the program to build on as they turn their focus to opening Pac-12 play at Stanford this weekend. 

Those positives did not include helping their AP ranking. Previously ranked #15, Oregon dropped a slot down to #16 in the latest release. 

Utah (3-0) slots in at #10 and is the highest ranked Pac-12 school. Oregon comes in next followed by Washington State (3-0) at #19. 

Washington (#22), Cal (#23), and Arizona State (#24) round out the Pac-12 schools inside the Top 25. 

It's unlikely Oregon will see any significant movement upwards in their ranking until they are able to play and defeat one of the previously mentioned ranked Pac-12 schools. 

UO gets #23 Cal on October 5th, #22 Washington on October 19th, #19 Washington State on October 26th, and #24 Arizona State on November 23rd. 

It's going to be a Pac-12 guanlet for the Ducks, but if they can survive, they will set themselves up nicely for a quality Bowl game. 

Oregon Ducks win big vs. Montana: The good news and the bad

Oregon Ducks win big vs. Montana: The good news and the bad

On a perfect 70 degree early fall night in Eugene, Oregon, the Ducks won big. Yes, No. 15 Oregon crushed Montana in its final non-conference game, 35-3, as expected.

Would you like the many pieces of good news first or the bad news first? The game featured victories beyond the final score but let’s start with the area of concern.

The Bad

The biggest win of the game would have been to exit Autzen Stadium without any mounting injuries heading into Pac-12 Conference play. Starting center Jake Hanson, starting cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. and No. 3 running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio all suffered injuries that kept them from returning to the game. A less than ideal situation for a team that is already coping with the loss of their most veteran receivers, Brenden Schooler and Juwan Johnson, plus starting defensive lineman Austin Faoliu and Gus Cumberlander, who did not dress in uniform.

After the game Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal gave a positive update. Cristobal said Graham suffered a "minor tweak" on his right ankle and that Habibi-Likio was dealing with some back spasms. Hanson’s status could be more serious but medical staff is evaluating an unspecified injury.

The Good - The Defense

Whew, now we can get to all the wins.

The Duck defense terrorized Montana. Oregon held the Grizzlies to eight(!) rushing yards, which is the fewest since playing Cal in 2017. Oregon put constant pressure on Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed and other than their one scoring drive, the longest Grizzlies drive was 34 yards.

"Our main emphasis this week was holding (Montana) to under 80 yards rushing," said Isaac Slade-Matautia. "We did a phenonemal job with that."

Two true freshmen made big impacts on the defense adding more promise to the future of Oregon football. Mase Funa and Mykael Wright took advantage of the valuable reps.

Funa, playing the STUD position, made a big impression early. After earning his first career start, Funa got a sack to end Montana's opening drive. He finished with two tackles for loss, totaling six already this season, which leads the Pac-12 Conference. He is the only freshman to have two sacks in a game this season in the FBS.

When Graham went down, Wright came in and lived up to the high praise that Graham has been preaching about the true freshman since arriving on campus. Wright grabbed his first career pick on Montana's opening series of the second half.

The Good - Pass Catchers
A triumph not to be overlooked is the improved play from tight end Jacob Breeland and wide receiver Johnny Johnson III, who were quarterback Justin Herbert’s main targets.

Coming off his first 100-yard receiving game, Breeland once again starred. The 6-foot-5 250-pound senior was the first Duck to find the end zone on a perfectly placed 5-yard touchdown pass from Herbert on the opening drive. Breeland scored again on a 16-yard pass in the second quarter.

Through three games, Johnson has already surpassed his season total receptions from last season (17). Johnson set a career high and led the Ducks in receptions with eight for 76 receiving yards and two touchdowns against Montana. His first touchdown of the night was a major highlight. Seconds before halftime in the red zone, Herbert scrambled out of two potential sacks and rolled to his right and whipped an 18-yard pass to Johnson in the back of end zone to extend Oregon’s lead to 28-0 before half.

"I have more confidence right now than I've had in my entire life," Johnson said after the game. "We are on our way."

The Good - Herbert

Herbert went 30 of 42 for 316 yards with five touchdowns, his second week in a row with a handful of scoring passes. The senior opened with 10 consecutive completions, including two scoring strikes to tight end Jake Breeland, and closed with two scoring throws to Johnny Johnson III and one to Jaylon Redd.

Herbert’s play was outstanding from the start. The senior began the game a perfect 10-of-10 for 113 yards and two touchdowns before throwing an incompletion. His final line was 30-of-42 passing for 316 yards with five passing touchdowns with two carries for 18 yards, both first downs. 

Oh by the way, Herbert extended his nation-leading streak of 31 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. He also became the only quarterback in Oregon history to throw five touchdown passes in back-to-back games. 

"They're just focused on getting better, and they've done a great job so far," Cristobal said. "And the best is yet to come, we really feel that."

Besides injuries and a slow running game, it was victories galore for the Ducks vs. Montana. Oregon has appeared sharp in its past two non-conference wins. Can the Ducks build on that experience against tougher competition? It’s time to find out, ready or not, conference play is here.

Welcome to big-time college football -- and Guaranteed Slaughter Nights

Welcome to big-time college football -- and Guaranteed Slaughter Nights

Well, how do you think Oregon and Oregon State looked Saturday?

I’m asking you because I couldn’t tell. Mismatches don’t reveal much about a team and college football is in such a terrible rut when it comes to these kinds of games that I’m shocked there isn’t some sort of fan revolt. Oh, wait – fans LOVE these games when they’re on the winning side. No matter who they’re beating, they seem to take great pleasure in those 40, 50, even 60-point routs.

Anyway, I have no real idea who is good in college football – other than Clemson and Alabama, simply because they are who they are.

Do you realize that the top nine teams in the country yesterday outscored their opponents 457-118? That’s an average score of 51-13, by the way. And those games probably took in millions of dollars, not even including the TV treasure trove. Fans don’t like competitive games as much as they like blowouts in their favor. And the schedule for a lot of these teams this time of the year includes a few Guaranteed Slaughter Nights.

I guess there are a few things you can watch for in such games. They can be fun. But making judgments about a team’s worth? Hardly possible.

Still, here are my thoughts after a long day of dial-switching and DVR-draining while watching college football:

  • When will the winning coach take his starters out? For the Ducks, quarterback Justin Herbert played virtually the entire game. For the Beavers, Jake Luton was out after one series in the second half. Of course, Oregon State doesn’t have to worry about impressing voters every week. And really, the Duck win wasn’t as impressive as most people expected. UO Coach Mario Cristobal wanted to get his starters more snaps, he said. He should have scheduled Central Florida.
  • FBS teams shouldn’t be allowed to play FCS teams. Period. And no, I have no idea where those smaller-division athletic departments are going to find the money to fund their programs without these games. Aren’t there enough lousy teams for the Pac-12 to beat without scheduling teams from the Big Sky? Well, from what I’ve seen from the Pac-12 lately, maybe not. And yet the schools complain about having to play nine conference games! They ought to play 12 of them if they want to give all their schools a chance to win a few games.
  • I think Oregon is good. Actually, I think Herbert is REAL good. He’s the heart of that offense and makes it all go. The defense looks pretty good, and in the Pac-12, it doesn’t seem as if it’s going to get a real test against any offensive juggernauts. Even Washington State isn’t humming the way it has in the past. Oregon just may be the best of the lot – but I’d get Herbert encased in bubble wrap when my lead is more than 30 in the fourth quarter.
  • The Beavers did what they were supposed to do against a school named Poly Saturday. But they have a way to go. A long way, actually, But I think patience is required, just as it is at UCLA, where Chip Kelly inherited a dumpster fire. It takes years to turn these programs around. Give them time. Perhaps a lot of time. OSU was a mess when Jonathan Smith arrived.
  • Portland State stayed with Boise State longer than I thought possible on that horrid blue turf. By the way, until somebody invents grass the color of Boise State’s turf, they shouldn’t be allowed to use that stuff for games.
  • I heard all the hype about the Oregon offensive line prior to the start of the season but I don’t think the running game is where the Ducks want it to be. However, if Herbert stays as accurate as he has been, the runs will be there. Pac-12 defenses are going to have to respect the UO passing game to a degree that should make running easier.
  • Up next for Oregon and Oregon State? Stanford. Ironically, both teams will open conference play with the Cardinal. And if there was ever a season to do that, this might be it. Stanford gave up 45 points to USC and another 45 to Central Florida in the last two weeks.