Oregon Ducks

Justin Herbert is taking on a new leadership role

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USA Today

Justin Herbert is taking on a new leadership role

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Although Oregon Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert is already considered to be one of the favorites this year to win the Heisman trophy, in order to seal the deal, his offense has to thrive. This means that Herbert, along with his young, talented wide receivers will have to step up and make big plays against teams like Stanford, Washington, and Utah. The only problem, however, is that this has been a difficult task for Oregon to accomplish throughout the past couple seasons.

To make matters worse, wide receiver production has crumbled throughout the years in Eugene, ever since the departure of Marcus Mariota — the 2014 Heisman trophy winner. But not all hope is lost for the Ducks, since they have candidates that can turn things. Aside from Herbert himself — who’s demonstrated key leadership skills in the classroom due to his academic achievement, the Oregon Ducks also have their receivers. Dillon Mitchell, Johnny Johnson III, and Brenden Schooler have all shown head coach Mario Cristobal and quarterback Justin Herbert what they can do with the ball in their hands.

In order to be recognized nationally and win the Pac-12, however, the Oregon offense will have to put up big-time numbers. How much are we talking? They’ll have to put up at least 950 more yards than they did last year. In other words, their offense would have to average out between Mariota and Vernon Adams Jr. in order for Herbert to get an invitation to New York in 2019 for the upcoming draft. With that much pressure on their plate, it’s easy for athletes like Herbert to forget how important rest and rejuvenation are when it comes to staying energized and injury free.

What needs to be done moving forward?

Oregon has to find ways to put the ball in the hands of their playmakers. Schooler, who’s become one of those much-needed players did well during his first season as a wide receiver. In fact, he did so well, fans forgot he was once a safety as he caught three touchdown passes and averaged 13.7 yards per catch last year. Now that he has a full year of practice under his belt at the wide receiver position, Schooler has shifted his focus from learning the plays to leading his team to victory.

Mitchell (another much-needed receiver), not only led the team in receptions, he also led the team in receiving yards. That, however, hasn’t slowed down his work ethics, which means this is another key player Oregon can count on. Johnson III, who’s become a return specialist for the team has also improved throughout the off-season. With that kind of potential, along with a healthy quarterback, the Oregon ducks could easily find themselves making a run for the Pac-12 championship.

One other thing that makes the receiver’s abilities even stronger is the relationship they all have with their quarterback. Michael Johnson III, for instance, noted that their quarterback is pretty special and that guys enjoy being around him — another key leadership quality that Herbert has shown his teammates throughout the off-season. The question fans are wondering, however, is with so much talent surrounding Eugene, can Oregon pull through and be the team they were three years ago? If everyone can stay healthy and Herbert can avoid having another season dealing with chronic pain, then the Ducks could possibly be a top contender. For now, however, only time will tell.

On senior day, the Ducks are counting on a true freshman; Travis Dye

On senior day, the Ducks are counting on a true freshman; Travis Dye

No jokes. No frills. No gloves…?

Picture a 1970s or 80s running back, maybe at Green Bay in the snow; a workhorse scraping and crawling for yards on the ground.

According to junior offensive lineman Shane Lemieux, that’s what true freshman Travis Dye is like.

Dye is the younger brother of Oregon’s star linebacker junior Troy Dye, but he jokes around a lot less than his “class clown” brother.

"Travis is an example of you go your career coaching and you'll have a few true freshmen that right away are mature enough to handle that pressure," offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said. "I think him having grown up with Troy a little bit and his upbringing, they've done a really nice job… I think his maturity has showed.”

Dye enrolled early in January and has become Oregon’s No. 2 running back, behind CJ Verdell. However, this Saturday on senior day at Autzen Stadium, the 18-year-old may be asked to shoulder a bigger load due to the Ducks’ depleted depth chart.

Verdell’s and Cyrus Habibi-Likio’s status is unclear, after suffering a neck sprain and quad contusion at Utah, respectfully.

At Utah, Dye had the longest run of 18 yards and finished leading the team with 66 yards on nine carries. The best game of his excellent freshman season came at California; leading the Ducks’ rushing attack with 18 carries for 115 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown.

Among Pac-12 freshmen, Dye ranks in rushing yards (417) and rushing yards per game (41.7). Adding to his 83 carries and two rushing touchdowns, he also has 10 completions for 73 yards and one touchdown.

UO quarterback Justin Herbert complimented Dye on his route running and pass blocking. Dye has also impressed Lemieux.

“(Travis has) a mental capacity almost like a redshirt junior or senior would have,” said Lemieux. “He understands the ins and outs of defensive scheme, pass protections, where to hit the holes and how to be patient behind the blocks.”

Another major strength for Dye is his shiftiness and ability to run hard without hesitation. At 5-foot-10, 200-pounds, Dye has worked hard this season on breaking tackles and making defenders miss.

“I can’t get tackled by one guy,” Dye said.

This Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Dye will face a surging Sun Devils (6-4, 4-3) team that is looking for their fourth straight win to keep their Pac-12 South division title dreams alive.

Arroyo’s game plan is to pound the rock against an Arizona’s rushing defense that ranks 56th in the nation and allows an average of 153 rushing yards per game. In their last three losses (Washington State, Arizona and Utah), the Ducks have averaged just 86.3 yards per game.

If Troy is most likely to be Oregon’s class clown, what is Travis most likely to do?

“Score a touchdown,” Travis said.

With two conference games remaining, the Ducks (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) are counting on it.

Jim Leavitt isn't living up to his $1.7 million price tag: Agree or disagree?

Jim Leavitt isn't living up to his $1.7 million price tag: Agree or disagree?

Aaron Fentress and I discuss if Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is living up to his $1.7 million contract at Oregon.

Leavitt is the highest paid coordinator in the Pac-12 conference and inherited a defense in 2016 that ranked 126th in the nation in total defense. In 2018, the Ducks are 67th in total defense. Over two years, Oregon's scoring defense has improved from 41.4 points per game to 28 points per game. 

What do you think?

MORE DUCKS:

How Oregon can win it's home finale

Cristobal “formidable” in hypothetical Pac-12 coaches brawl, according to Leach

Streaks and stats you need to know: Oregon vs. ASU

Best and Worst from Oregon's loss at Utah

Pac-12 movement in the AP Top 25 Poll

Cristobal “formidable” in hypothetical Pac-12 coaches brawl, according to Leach

Cristobal “formidable” in hypothetical Pac-12 coaches brawl, according to Leach

Washington State head coach Mike Leach is always good for a thought-provoking interview. The No. 8 Cougars are Pac-12 title front runners this season… But who would take the title for last coach standing in a hypothetical brawl between the Pac-12 head coaches? Coach Leach gave a full breakdown.

Initially, Leach picked two coaches he thought are in the best shape; Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and Arizona State’s Herm Edwards.

“Simple, at this age if you’re in shape, you’ve got a chance,” Leach said.  “They’re both in great shape. They’re both in shape, they both exercise.”

However, then Leach began to think about strategy in this fake brawl. His idea is you’d have a good chance to win if you could stay away from Whittingham and Edwards, while they are taking down the other coaches.

Leach was asked about Oregon’s Mario Cristobal, a former offensive lineman at Miami, as a potential fight winner. He was very complimentary of UO’s first year head coach and his long limbs:

“Well you don’t want to get tied up with (Cristobal),” Leach said. “You don’t want to let him get his hands on you because he is big and he’s got long levers. You don’t want him to get those things on you. He would be dangerous, there’s no question. Formidable for sure.”

If I had to rank the Pac-12 coaches, based on who would win in a brawl, here is how it would look:

1. Justin Wilcox

2. Mario Cristobal

3. Kyle Whittingham

4. Kevin Sumlin

5. David Shaw

6. Herm Edwards

7. Mike Leach

8. Clay Helton

9. Jonathan Smith

10. Mike MacIntyre

11. Chip Kelly

12. Chris Peterson

 

Streaks and stats you need to know: Oregon vs. ASU

Streaks and stats you need to know: Oregon vs. ASU

Oregon’s final game at Autzen Stadium will be an after dark special vs. Arizona State at 7:30 p.m. A win would match Oregon’s win total (six) from 2017. Drop knowledge at the tailgate with these eight facts:

ASU is streaking: The Ducks will look to snap the Sun Devils’ three-game win streak, which is their longest in Pac-12 play since 2014.

Much improved Sun Devil offensive line: ASU has allowed just 11 sacks (1.1 per game), which is tied for 12th nationally. Last year, ASU allowed 41 sacks (124th).

Sophomore star: ASU running back Eno Benjamin leads the Pac-12 with 227 carries for 1,295 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. He's had seven 100-yard games already this season and averaged more than five yards per carry over the last three games.

Flashback: In 2016 and his third career start, quarterback Justin Herbert equaled the program record with 489 passing yards in a 54-35 win over Arizona State at Autzen Stadium. In his two career games against the Sun Devils, Herbert is 50-of-77 for 770 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

Leading the nation: Justin Herbert’s streak of 25 consecutive games with a touchdown pass is the longest in the nation.

Hello record books, meet Dillon Mitchell: Mitchell is the first player in program history with six or more receptions in seven consecutive games. The junior’s 904 receiving yards in Pac-12 play rank third nationally in conference games. He is the only Pac-12 player and one of seven FBS players with 1,000 yards receiving on the season.

Putting on a show at Autzen: Over the last two seasons at Autzen (13 games), Jalen Jelks and Justin Hollins have a combined 27.0 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks.

Senior night: Oregon will honor 10 seniors on Saturday night, and possibly a few juniors who could be playing their last game in Eugene. The Ducks are out of the race for the Pac-12 title and are playing for the best possible bowl game.

Best and Worst from Oregon's loss at Utah

Best and Worst from Oregon's loss at Utah

Before moving on to Oregon’s (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) next game (7:30 p.m. kickoff vs. Arizona State), let's take a look at the best and the worst from the Ducks’ loss at Utah.

BEST

A special connection: The Justin Herbert to Dillon Mitchell connection is still going strong. Mitchell finished with 169 yards on eight catches and two touchdowns. The junior became the 11th player in UO history to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a season.

Accurate Herbert: The Ducks leaned on Herbert’s arm because of their inability to establish a running game. The junior threw for 288 yards, three touchdowns and completed 60.6 percent of his passes.

WORST

Damaged Ducks: Injuries continue to pile up for Oregon. Here is the injury update, according to Cristobal;

  • CJ Verdell, who left the game in the second half against Utah and didn’t reenter, tweaked his neck and is believed to be “okay” for Saturday.
  • Cyrus Habibi-Likio suffered a quad contusion and he flew home Sunday. “He’s doing much better than expected,” Cristobal said.
  • Sampson Nui, who started at inside linebacker in place of Kaulana Apelu (suffered a season ending injury last week), is currently in concussion protocol and his status against Arizona State is currently up in the air.
  • Linebacker Adrian Jackson "tweaked" his shoulder but the injury is not believed to be significant. Cristobal is hopeful he will return to practice on Tuesday.
  • True freshman offensive lineman Steven Jones is currently in concussion protocol.

Cold start: The Ducks dug themselves into a 13-0 hole, gaining only four yards of offense through three possessions. Starting slow has become a bad habit that is a major trend; UO has been outscored 63-8 in the first half of its last three road games.

Poor run defense: The Ducks defensive line got pushed around off the line of scrimmage, allowing plenty of space for the Utes running game to rack up 232 rushing yards and an average of 4.9 yards per attempt. The Utes had no problems without their star running back Zack Moss. Armand Shyne, who had 166 yards this season, made his first career start and ran for a career-high 174 yards.

Late mistakes: Two late game penalties that killed UO’s momentum. After Oregon claimed the lead, safety Brady Breeze was called for unsportsmanlike conduct on the ensuing kickoff to put the Utes at their own 40. Then, cornerback Thomas Graham drew a pass-interference call in the end zone to help set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Utah Quarterback Jason Shelley that sealed the Utes victory.

Pac-12 movement in the AP Top 25 Poll

Pac-12 movement in the AP Top 25 Poll

After losing to Utah, 32-25, Oregon (6-3, 3-4 Pac-12) remains unranked in the latest AP Top 25 poll. The victory sent the Utes up to No. 21.

Two more Pac-12 teams rose in the rankings. Washington State moved up two spots to No. 8 after beating Colorado 31-7. The 9-1 Cougars jumped No. 9 Ohio State, who beat Michigan State on Saturday.

No. 17 Washington, who enjoyed its bye week, also moved up three spots.

Oregon's final home game vs. Arizona State will kickoff at 7:30 p.m.

Oregon served humble pie in Salt Lake City

Oregon served humble pie in Salt Lake City

Oregon dropped its third straight game on the road in a 32-25 loss to Utah (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12) in front of a sold out 46,275 crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Ducks drop to 6-4 on the season, 3-4 in Pac-12 conference play and were humbled by Utah in a variety of ways.

On a scale from 0-10 on the “hard to watch” scale, Oregon’s slow start was an embarrassing 11.

The Ducks dug themselves into a 13-0 hole, gaining only four yards of offense through three possessions. In the first quarter, quarterback Justin Herbert had zero completions and was sacked three times, including one forced fumble. Starting cold has become a bad habit that is a major trend; UO has been outscored 63-8 in the first half of its last three road games. However, it’s not the only reason for the Ducks’ defeat in Salt Lake City, after all, the Ducks did work themselves back to lead with eight minutes remaining in the game.

Utah roasted Oregon in the trenches. The Ducks defensive line got pushed around off the line of scrimmage, allowing plenty of space for the Utes running game to rack up 232 rushing yards and an average of 4.9 yards per attempt. The Utes had no problems without their star running back Zack Moss, who suffered a season ending injury last week. Utah’s backup running back Armand Shyne, who had 166 yards this season, made his first career start and ran for a career-high 174 yards.

"We struggled to stop the run tonight," nose tackle Jordon Scott said. "I was a big part of why they had a big game, and I have to do better…I've got to get back to playing at a dominant level."

Oregon’s run game was a dish of stuffed Duck. UO surpassed 100 yards rushing but it took 32 attempts. To make matters worse, Herbert was sacked four times and running back CJ Verdell got injured. Running back Travis Dye had the longest run of 18 yards and finished leading the team with 66 yards on nine carries.

To top off the humble pie, the Ducks had two late game penalties that killed their momentum. After Oregon claimed the lead, safety Brady Breeze was called for unsportsmanlike conduct on the ensuing kickoff to put the Utes at their own 40. Then, cornerback Thomas Graham drew a pass-interference call in the end zone to help set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Utah Quarterback Jason Shelley that sealed the Utes victory.

"We have to find a way to start quicker, start better on the road and not shoot ourselves in the foot, especially against a team like that," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. 

The loss to Utah is enough to leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth. Need something sweet to chew on? The Herbert to Dillon Mitchell connection is still going strong: Mitchell finished with 169 yards on eight catches and two touchdowns. The junior became the 11th player in UO history to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a season.

Oregon returns to Autzen for its final home game against Arizona State next Saturday.

Oregon will play in the Alamo or Holiday Bowl: True or false?

Oregon will play in the Alamo or Holiday Bowl: True or false?

Aaron Fentress and I discuss Oregon's potential bowl game destinations in this week's 'Good or No Good'. 

The statement: Oregon will play in either the Alamo bowl or the Holiday Bowl (the best bowl games the Ducks are eligible for, currently).

We both agree that statement is NO GOOD!

My prediction is the Ducks will win two of their final three games (lose at Utah) and finish fourth in the Pac-12 conference, sending them to the Redbox Bowl on December 31, 2018 in Santa Clara, Calif.