Oregon Ducks

Justin Herbert: the player opponents hate to love

Justin Herbert: the player opponents hate to love

LOS ANGELES— Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert has been creating problems for Pac-12 Conference defenses for three seasons. His junior campaign flashed brilliance that caused NFL scouts to project him as a top pick in the 2019 NFL Draft had he chosen to leave school. Herbert’s decision to stay surprised many, except those who know him, and caused opposing Pac-12 coaches to sigh.

“Seems like Herbert has been there forever,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said of the four-year starter. “Somehow they granted him 10 years of eligibility.”

The hot commodity quarterback certainly has an NFL future but the pros will have to wait one more season before the Eugene-native plays on Sundays. The Ducks and coach Mario Cristobal are grateful for the opportunity for another season with the senior and recognize the opportunity to make the most of his finale.

“It’s really rare… I think what’s really neat about it is that he’s just as grateful for the opportunity. There was no hesitation and no flinching in his decision,” Cristobal said. “He knows what he wants for Justin Herbert and is not going to let anyone talk him out of what he knows is the best thing for him. He has taken another giant step in terms of his development. He is a guy that- who doesn’t love him?”

Herbert, who is on most short lists for this season’s Heisman Trophy, was named first-team quarterback in landslide fashion at Pac-12 Media Day. The senior received a first-team nod on 31 of 33 media members ballots.

Yes, the media is all aboard the Herbert train and so are opposing Pac-12 coaches. While coaches raved about Herbert’s talent, they also reeled for an answer on how to defend the 6-foot-6, 240-pound passer with the powerful right arm and sneaky fast wheels. Herbert has become the most hated to love player in the conference.

“He’s such a fantastic player, arguably the best quarterback in the country,” said Cal second-year head coach Justin Wilcox. “He really doesn’t have a weakness in his game. It’s exciting to play against guys like that. We know it will take our best.”

Wilcox has known Herbert and his family his entire life. The two families are tied with a bond to UO through Josh Wilcox, who played tight end at Oregon in the mid-1990s. Wilcox and Herbert played backyard football after holiday meals. If he was home, Justin Wilcox was often the quarterback for Justin Herbert’s team.

21 years apart, Wilcox “thinks the world” of Herbert and his family until game day when Wilcox separates from their history for work. Wilcox was not surprised that Herbert returned for his senior season because “he’s wired the right way.”

36 miles north in Corvallis, second year head coach Jonathan Smith is proud of Herbert’s representation of the state.

“To be able to watch him over the last couple years turn into the player that he is, he’s just impressive, on and off the field,” Smith said. “I’m really happy for him and the future that he has ahead of him. He represents that school and this state in a great way.”

In Hollywood at Pac-12 Media Day, Herbert oozed confidence and comfort. Sitting next to him, teammate Troy Dye gushed about the respect Herbert has earned from the entire team, top to bottom.

“He can make any throw in the world. I swear, I’ve seen him make every throw and it pisses me off every day,” linebacker Dye said. “It’s super cool to have a quarterback like that because he’s a great leader, a great person and a great friend.”

Herbert enters his final season as a Duck with a streak of 28 consecutive games with a touchdown pass, the longest in the nation. His veteran offensive line is projected to be the best in the country and he utilized the summer break to better connect with his receivers. His leadership skills have grown immensely, altering the perception of his shy personality. He is receiving instruction from legends at his position.

Long story short, Herbert is putting it all together for an epic senior season that could be record shattering.

“He’s exactly what you want on your football team,” Cristobal said. “He acts like he’s a freshman that just got here and is trying to prove something.  He lives each day as if he’s the guy who’s trying to prove that he belongs here. When your best players are doing that, you’ve got a chance to be a good football team.”

Herbert's work ethic-- you gotta love it. That is, unless your are playing against him. 

The one thing Mario Cristobal emphasized during the bye week: penalties, penalties, penalties.

The one thing Mario Cristobal emphasized during the bye week: penalties, penalties, penalties.

If Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal could wave his magic wand and fix one thing about his team’s performance, it would be easy: penalties. 

In the latest Talkin’ Ducks Podcast with Jordan Kent and Anthony Newman, Kent sits down with Cristobal to talk about what changes Oregon has emphasized and practiced during the bye week.

“Penalties. We had been the least penalized team in the conference. I understand it, we have 49 guys from California and a lot from southern California, and that game went over the edge at times. You can’t do it. And it doesn’t make you any tougher or make you any better, but look I’m behind our guys one hundred percent. We just aren’t behind the stuff that can compromise winning,” said Cristobal.

The No. 6 Ducks went from first to worst in the span on three games accumulating over 100 yards in penalties in each of those games. At USC, more uncharacteristic penalties plagued the Ducks highlighted by an ejection from defensive lineman Austin Faoliu. 

Cristobal added, “We play with a lot of passion. We play with a lot of emotion, but we kind of let emotion play with us a bit in the course of that game. But then, in the second half, we were able to take control and get stronger and able to wear down our opponent.”

From the moment Cristobal was hired as head coach, one of his main philosophies has been disciplined football. The Ducks haven’t shown that in recent games racking up all these yards in penalties, but Cristobal can assure you that he is getting it under control.

Listen to the full Talkin’ Ducks Podcast below:

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Podcast: You can't reward a one-loss, no conference champion team with a CFP spot, right?

Oregon swagged out in nightmare green and yellow for Pac-12 After Dark

Legacy of a Leader: Troy Dye's intensity guiding Oregon to a season worth coming back for

Podcast: You can’t reward a one-loss, no conference championship team with a CFP spot, right?

Podcast: You can’t reward a one-loss, no conference championship team with a CFP spot, right?

Minnesota and Baylor just may skip over Oregon to secure a College Football Playoff spot.

Let's run a scenario:

“If Oregon wins out, and there is still a lot of football to be played, the only way a one-loss Oregon team that is the Pac-12 Champion is on the outside looking in, is if you do get a Minnesota running the table or even Baylor running the table,” says Talkin’ Ducks host Jordan Kent on the latest Talkin' Ducks Podcast.

If you look at just the value of wins alone and strength of conference, the Big Ten is home to six of the top-25 teams in the country; the Big 12 has five; the Pac-12 has just two (No. 6 Oregon, No. 7 Utah).

Minnesota upset Penn State (then No. 17 beating then No. 4) which jumped the Golden Gophers up to No. 8 in this week’s CFP rankings.

The Golden Gophers still have two top-20 teams remaining on their schedule: No. 20 Iowa and No. 14 Wisconsin.

The other team that may give Oregon some trouble is Baylor. The No. 13 Bears (9-0) don’t have any promising wins to show for yet this season, but still has to face two teams in the top-20 remaining on their schedule: vs. No. 10 Oklahoma on Saturday and vs. No. 19 Texas on November 23. Both games however will be played at home in Waco, Texas.

It’s a plus and a minus feeling. If both Minnesota and Baylor win out and are they are their respected conference champions, strength of schedule and strength of conference just may be the determining factor to putting either of these teams ahead of Oregon.

On the other hand, Baylor and Minnesota have tough matchups coming up and a loss for either team will put a one-loss Oregon ahead. 

Then there is Alabama. Oh yes, with the history and dominance in college football, can you even imagine a College Football Playoff without Alabama in it? Would the committee put a one-loss, no SEC champ Alabama ahead of (hypothetically) a Pac-12 Conference Champion in Oregon?

“I don’t think you can reward a one-loss team that doesn’t play in their conference championship game and award them a playoff spot ahead of a team with a similar record as far as who goes into the College Football Playoff,” says Kent.

“They shouldn’t, but I think they will,” added co-host Anthony Newman.

Listen to the full podcast below:

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Oregon swagged out in nightmare green and yellow for Pac-12 After Dark

Legacy of a Leader: Troy Dye's intensity guiding Oregon to a season worth coming back for

Talkin' Ducks Podcast: Jordan Kent sits down with Mario Cristobal

Oregon swagged out in nightmare green and yellow for Pac-12 After Dark

Oregon swagged out in nightmare green and yellow for Pac-12 After Dark

Looking to punch their tickets to the Pac-12 Championship game, the No. 6 Oregon Ducks will be swagged out in yellow and nightmare green ­­­­on Saturday at 7:30 p.m in Autzen Stadium. Ducks fans are encouraged to wear green to the crucial matchup.

Oregon's "Nike Vapor Fusion" uniform is celebrating its 20th anniversary of their partnership with Nike. The winged helmets are back and the jerseys feature large "Mighty Oregon" font resembling last season's "Oregon Football 2.0" uniform with slight differences. The addition of Nightmare Green is the biggest change while notably no black set was released (yet). 

Coming off a bye, a Duck win this Saturday vs. Arizona (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) would clinch their third North Division title and a spot in the Pac-12 championship. A victory keeps the Ducks in the running as a College Football Playoff contender.

Numbers to know: In the last 12 games between Oregon and Arizona, the Ducks are 7-0 when scoring more than 40 points per game and 0-5 when scoring less than 40.

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Legacy of a Leader: Troy Dye's intensity guiding Oregon to a season worth coming back for

No. 6 Oregon in excellent position in CFB Playoff Poll: Patience is required

How Oregon can beat Arizona to become kings of the North

The magic number for Oregon vs. Arizona

Mario Cristobal’s ear catching comments on expanding Mykael Wright’s role

Legacy of a Leader: Troy Dye's intensity guiding Oregon to a season worth coming back for

Legacy of a Leader: Troy Dye's intensity guiding Oregon to a season worth coming back for

Flashback to a beautifully crisp winter day and Oregon’s win over Michigan State in the Redbox Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Junior Troy Dye hoisted his defensive MVP trophy in the air as fans congratulated Oregon’s leading tackler for three-straight seasons on possibly his last victory in a Ducks uniform.

It wasn’t. Despite gaining traction as a “freak athlete” in NFL circles with an opportunity to make major money in the 2019 NFL draft, Dye chose to stay at Oregon for his senior season. 

317 days later, Dye is still leading No. 6 Oregon in tackles, has jumped up to a projected first round 2020 NFL draft selection and has the opportunity to be hoisting a more prestigious trophy in the air in his actual final season.

Through eight games, Dye’s senior tour has featured 42 tackles with 6.5 for a loss including a sack, three pass breakups and an interception on one of Oregon’s strongest defenses in program history.

His highlights are stunning:

  • In his final home opener, the smiling linebacker danced alone to the familiar tune of “Shout” letting loose and pumping up the rowdy crowd in a moment that will go down in history.
  • Dye recorded a career-high 15 tackles and the most in a season opener in Oregon history vs. Auburn.
  • Dye performed a snow angel in the middle of the W at Husky Stadium after overcoming the largest second-half deficit since 2008.
  • Back in his home of southern California, Dye jumped into the stands after handing USC its worst home loss since 2009.

The Ducks are undefeated in Pac-12 Conference play, one win from claiming the North Division and contenders for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

On a scale from 1-10, how much fun is Dye having?

“I’m at a 12. I’m having a blast. I wake up every morning with a smile on my face, I come here (to practice) with a smile on my face and I’m going to leave with a smile on my face.”

The most telling moment of his season may have come from suffering a broken thumb and gutting it out at Washington. The injury kept him on the sideline against Washington State, snapping his consecutive start streak at 40 games and bringing a reality that it takes only one snap for a football season, or career, to be over. In a cast the size of a club, Dye returned one game later to beat up on the Trojans and show the truth of his character.

“That’s a significant injury that a lot of people would have probably waited to be fully healed and then go and play,” Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal said. “But what he chose to do is different. When guys like Troy speak, those are strong, powerful and impactful words. This (season) means a lot to him and it shows in the way he approaches practice and everything he does. I can’t say enough great things about him, I think he’s as good as it gets in the country.”

His words impacted Oregon's home opener, in which the Ducks trailed Cal 7-0 at halftime. Dye’s halftime speech eloquently made it clear the Ducks needed to play to their standard. The sentiment was echoed and the Ducks overcame their slow start to beat the Bears 17-7.

His actions speak louder than his words. Since returning and still in a cast for his thumb, the linebacker has hit a new level with three conference games left to play.

“He’s done a tremendous job over the course of the season but you really see it now, down the stretch,” Oregon Defensive Coordinator Andy Avalos said. “In my opinion, I think he’s turned it up in practice, since the injury. It made him want it even more.”

Troy Dye agrees that he has hit a new intensity.

“I realized that it can be taken from you. Within a snap, it can be gone,” Dye said. “I’m super fortunate to be able to come back and play with my brothers and end the season how I want to end it. I’m happy, I’m having fun with it and enjoying my time here.”

His teammates couldn’t be happier for him, either. True freshman Mase Funa beams when he details all the tips he’s learned from Dye. Junior Thomas Graham loves to see Dye prosper after witnessing him help change the program from a 4-8 team (2016) to a team on an eight-game winning streak with the biggest goals, a conference title and playoff berth, still possible.

What’s it like for Cristobal to witness Dye live his best life this season?

“I’m jealous. I want to go back to college and do it like he’s doing it,” Cristobal said.

In his final season, the future opportunities are ever-present for Dye. Every Oregon game, more and more NFL scouts grace the media press box. Dye accepted a Senior Bowl invite, where he can show off his elite agility and lateral quickness.

But before all of that, the Ducks need their leader to finish a potentially history-making season, which is exactly the kind of season a junior hopes to return for.

Talkin' Ducks Podcast: Jordan Kent sits down with Mario Cristobal

Talkin' Ducks Podcast: Jordan Kent sits down with Mario Cristobal

Jordan Kent and Anthony Newman talk about the Ducks coming out of the bye week, the changes around the college football landscape and the college football playoff chances for a one-loss Oregon team.

Plus, a special sit down with Oregon Head Football Coach Mario Cristobal!

Listen:

Oregon WBB starts off signing week with No. 1 recruiting class in 2020

Oregon WBB starts off signing week with No. 1 recruiting class in 2020

The 2020 college basketball season is a year away but for the No. 1 Oregon women’s basketball team and high school seniors across the country, the future started on Wednesday.

The Ducks are probably used to the “No. 1” wording: the No. 1 ranking in the nation; the No. 1 player in the nation in Sabrina Ionescu; and now the No. 1 recruiting class for the 2020 season.

Yesterday, five of the top 33 players in high school hoops signed their National Letters of Intent to join Coach Kelly Graves and the Oregon program.

These players include: Sydney Parrish (a 6-foot, five-star shooting guard from Indiana); Kylee Watson (a 6-foot-3 five-star forward from New Jersey); Maddie Scherr (a 5-foot-11 five-star guard from Kentucky); Angela Dugalic (a 6-foot-4 five-star forward from Illinois); and Te-Hina Paopao (a 5-foot-9 five-star guard from California).

Not to be overlooked, Graves’ elite recruiting has an impact all over the country. Only Paopao is from the west coast. 

222 days ago when Ionescu wrote a letter to Ducks Nation in the Players’ Tribune, she stated that Oregon was building something special. Although Ducks fans are witnessing greatness from Ionescu and for just this final season, the program is sustaining itself for the post-Ionescu (and Ruthy Hebard) era. It just goes to show that she was right; that Oregon is a prestigious basketball program that isn’t run by just one individual. The Ducks have gone from under 1,000 fans attending their games in 2014 to now season tickets being limited ahead of the 2019 season.

The Oregon Ducks aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

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How Oregon can beat Arizona to become kings of the North

Dana Altman will unleash the freshmen soon

The magic number for Oregon vs. Arizona

How Oregon can beat Arizona to become kings of the North

How Oregon can beat Arizona to become kings of the North

No. 6 Oregon (8-1, 6-0 Pac-12) is on track to the Pac-12 Conference Title game and in the running as a College Football Playoff contender. Coming off a bye, a Duck win this Saturday vs. Arizona (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) would clinch their third North Division title and a spot in the Pac-12 championship.

Numbers to know: In the last 12 games between Oregon and Arizona, the Ducks are 7-0 when scoring more than 40 points per game and 0-5 when scoring less than 40.

Fun factOregon leads the nation with 17 interceptions, which is the program's most through nine games since 1988. The Ducks' 11.78 points off turnovers per game ranks second in the country and is a major contributing factor in the Ducks’ eight-game winning streak.

Betting line: Oregon opened as 26.5 point favorites over Arizona, which marks the Ducks’ sixth straight home game as a double-digit favorite.

Players to keep an eye on

Running back J.J. Taylor

With 3,108 career rushing yards, J.J. Taylor has the 12th most rushing yards by any active Division I player. He has also moved up to No. 6 on Arizona's career rushing list and is 56 yards away from passing Mike Bell for fifth all-time.  

Oregon had no answer for Taylor in last season’s Arizona win, rushing for 212 yards on 30 carries and two touchdowns against UO. Taylor has 566 yards and five touchdowns this season.

Linebacker Colin Schooler

Schooler has 42 career tackles-for-loss, which is tied for fourth-most by an active Division I player. His 37 career solo tackles for loss are second-most nationally by an active player and the most by a linebacker.

What’s the deal at quarterback?

Oregon is preparing for both true senior Khalil Tate and freshman Grant Gunnell. Tate has started in Arizona’s last four games (all loses) but has split time with Gunnel in all of those starts.

Tate has passed for 6,001 yards in his career, which ranks sixth-most in program history. The senior is erratic at times and sensational at times. Gunnell has completing 66.4 percent of his passes this year, which currently ranks as the best ever by an Arizona freshman quarterback.

3 keys to an Oregon victory

Playing with passion, not emotion

Arizona has beaten Oregon in each of the past three matchups where the Wildcats enter unranked and the Ducks enter ranked. The Wildcats upset No. 19 Oregon last season. With redemption on the horizon, the Ducks must play with focused passion instead of blurred vengeance. Coming off a bye week, it’d be easy for Oregon to lose the positive momentum of its eight-game winning streak. Those uncharacteristic penalties must be eliminated. Staying disciplined and setting the tone early is important for an Oregon victory.

Limit big Wildcat plays

Arizona has had five plays go for 70 or more yards this season. Only Oklahoma State, Alabama, Colorado State and UCF have more. The Wildcats’ total offense (495.8 yards per game) ranks second in the Pac-12 and 12th in the country. The Duck defense must limit Arizona’s receivers and Taylor to short plays to keep this potential season altering upset at bay.

Let Herbert loose

Fresh off a three-touchdown pass performance against USC, Herbert’s elite arm should light up a suspect Arizona defense. Herbert connected on 20 of his final 21 passes after starting the game 1-for-5 and tacked on a rushing touchdown. Now, it’s time to build on that dominance this Saturday. I expect Herbert to continue to find wide receiver Juwan Johnson, continuing to bloom their explosive chemistry.

Fun fact, Oregon is averaging 44.2 points per game in Justin Herbert's 20 career starts (17-3) at Autzen Stadium.

How and where to watch

Time: Saturday, Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m. (PT)

Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon

TV: ESPN

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

Dana Altman will unleash the freshmen soon

Dana Altman will unleash the freshmen soon

The No. 14 Oregon Ducks defeated the No. 13 Memphis Tigers at the inaugural Phil Knight Invitational 82-74 at Moda Center.

After the game, Oregon head coach Dana Altman discussed how he thinks the freshmen are coming along.

As the season goes on and they get more comfortable... their talent will come through...so as the season progresses and they get more experience, I’ll be a bit more comfortable [to play them more].

Altman relied mostly on his returning players against the Tigers because they had been there before. He specifically cited sophomores Will Richardson and Francis Okoro as players who learned what it took to win last season and how he hopes that rubs off on this freshman class as the year progresses.

You can watch Altman’s full evaluation of the freshmen in the video above.

Instant Analysis: Ducks hold off Tigers in Phil Knight Invitational opener

Instant Analysis: Ducks hold off Tigers in Phil Knight Invitational opener

The No. 14 Oregon Ducks defeated the No. 13 Memphis Tigers 82-74 at the Moda Center to open the Phil Knight Invitational, led by Shakur Juiston, the Ducks used their experience to outplay the young Tigers. 

Here are some takeaways from the game.

Ducks’ defense as stingy as ever

The Ducks played defense out of their patented 2-3 match-up zone and a three-quarter-court press. They funneled all actions into the teeth of the defense, contested each shot and lived with the results. It's a formula that has done wonders for Altman’s teams. Against a young team like Memphis that starts five freshmen, it sped them up and forced them to rush outside shots or just lose the ball. In the first half alone, Memphis had eight turnovers and air balled multiple three pointers. 

Sloppy play lets Memphis linger around

All eyes going into the game were on James Wiseman. However, the freshman phenom and potential first overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft picked up two quick fouls and sat the remainder of the first half. The Ducks used that time to take a double-digit lead before losing it to trail late in the half. Whenever the teams played in the half court, the Ducks looked vastly superior. But the Ducks turned the ball over 11 times in the first half leading to 20 Memphis points. When teams are struggling, especially missing their best player, the Ducks need to finish the game right there and not let the opponent linger around.

Memphis would go on to open the second half of a 14-7 run to take a one point advantage. The Ducks would respond, but, should never have been in that position to begin with.

The local kids are game changers

The last time Payton Pritchard and Anthony Mathis shared a backcourt while attending West Linn high school, they won back-to-back-to-back state championships. They’re looking to continue that championship streak this season in the form of a Pac-12 title, or something greater.

Their chemistry and compatibility has been evident this season. Pritchard entered the season a preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 player of the year, and Mathis was supposed to supply scorching shooting. They have both delivered on their expectations, so far. Pritchard always looks to be in command of the game, especially against a young team like Memphis. Mathis shot the three well, making four of five three-point attempts en route to 12 points.