Oregon Ducks

Oregon's defense faltering in Pac-12 play

Oregon's defense faltering in Pac-12 play

EUGENE - Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt was all smiles when he met with the media on Wednesday outside of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. He was also very anxious to get out to the practice field. About 90 seconds into the interview session, Leavitt moved one foot toward exiting while asking, "Anything else?"

Well, yeah. Can't get away that easily when we get you once a week and the defense is getting lit up as of late. The Ducks (4-3, 1-2 Pac-12) have given up 143 points (35.6 per game) in four Pac-12 games after allowing just 69 in three non-conference games. So, who could blame Leavitt for wanting to get the practice. Like the Ducks' offense - 17 points in the last two games - the defense has plenty of work to do.

But unlike the offense, which is operating without quarterback Justin Herbert, the Ducks' defense doesn't have an obvious excuse to lean on. The main 11 starters have remained mostly the same with a few depth chart changes and a couple of players missing games here and there. Only inside linebacker Kaulana Apelu has been lost for the season. 

What's happened to the defense is simple. It went from playing very average offenses to facing quarterbacks that can put points on the board. UO has allowed 12 touchdown passes in four Pac-12 games and now faces the challenge of contending with UCLA's Josh Rosen, who has thrown for 17 scoring passes this year. UCLA hosts Oregon at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Rose Bowl. 

It's bad enough giving up touchdown passes. But Oregon isn't even intercepting any to balance things out a bit. After intercepting six passes in non-conference play, the Ducks have picked off just one pass in conference. 

"We do it all of the time in practice, we've just got to translate it into the games," Robinson said.

Getting interceptions against scout team quarterbacks is not the same as facing Pac-12 starters. The quarterback foursome of Arizona State's Manny Wilkins, California's Ross Bowers, Washington State's Luke Falk and Stanford's Keller Christ have given the Ducks problems. Even Bowers, sacked seven times, managed to throw for three touchdowns with no interceptions. The one interception for UO in conference came at Stanford on a dropped and tipped slant pass in the end zone that landed in the arms of freshman cornerback Deommodore Lenoir.

Maybe the most concerning problem is that those same quarterbacks have had poor games against other teams. Falk threw five interceptions in last week's 37-3 loss at Cal. Bowers threw four in a loss to USC. Wilkins threw two at Stanford. Chryst had two picked off at San Diego State. So, they've given up the ball. Just not to Oregon. 

Back to Rosen. He threw for three interceptions and zero touchdowns in a 47-30 loss last week at Arizona. He now has eight on the season, tied for the second most among conference starting quarterbacks.

He is a bit of a gunslinger that likes to take chances. So, if Oregon is going to pull off the upset, the Ducks must find a way to pluck a few of his passes out of the air. 

"We're always focused on turnovers whether that's stripping the ball out, punching it our, quarterback throwing it and get it," UO safeties coach Keith Heyward said. "We just haven't made plays."

Leavitt pointed out that the Ducks have had chances at intercepting a few more during conference play, but failed to catch the ball. 

"Those are missed opportunities," he said. 

With the offense struggling so badly, the defense can't afford to not force turnovers. The mediocre play of backup quarterback Braxton Burmeister, a true freshman, has resulted in too many short drives that result in no points. Oregon's defense was on the field for 37 minutes during its 49-7 loss at Stanford. That's too much pressure to put on a young and rebuilding defense. 

"Obvious we feel like we have to stop the opponent no matter whether the offense is playing like it was before or playing like we are now," Heyward said. "We just have to take care of our own side of the ball and get stops."

Part of the problem is some of the youth of the secondary. The Ducks are have started safety Nick Pickett and cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. Lenoir has seen his playing time increase. They represent the future of the Ducks' secondary. Sometimes growing pains can be tough. 

"They're trying," Leavitt said. "They're doing the best they can. They are going to be great players. I'm really excited about them."

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Oregon at UCLA

When: 1 p.m., Saturday, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif. 

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: UCLA minus 6 1/2.

Records: Ducks (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12), Bruins (3-3, 1-2).

Last week: UCLA lost 47-30 to Arizona (4-2, 2-1). Oregon lost 49-7 at No. 22 Stanford (5-2, 4-1).

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (44-48, 4-3 at Oregon); UCLA's Jim Mora (44-27).

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Oregon should run wild but unless the Ducks get some big plays from Burmeister they won't have much of a chance of keeping pace with Rosen and his fleet of receivers.

Redshirt sophomore tight end Caleb Wilson leads the Pac-12 with 7.6 receptions per game over five games. He has caught 38 passes for 489 yards and one touchdown. Redshirt senior wide receiver Darren Andrews is second at 7.3 receptions per game. He has made 44 receptions for 591 yards and seven touchdowns. Redshirt junior Jordan Lasley leads the conference in receiving yards per game (108.4) over five games while catching 54 passes for 543 yards and three touchdowns. 

Final pick: UCLA 44, Oregon 30.  Burmeister will improve enough to help the offense break 20 for the first time in three weeks but it won't be nearly enough. 

Oregon Ducks move up three spots in AP Poll

Oregon Ducks move up three spots in AP Poll

After last week's blowout against Montana, the Oregon Ducks actually moved down a spot in the AP Ranking and spent the week sitting at No. 16. 

After a 21-6 win at The Farm over Stanford, Oregon moved up three spots to No. 13 with their 3-1 record. 

Washington State fell out of the Top 25 after their shootout against Chip Kelly and the UCLA Bruins. 

That leaves Oregon as the top representative in the Pac-12. 

Undefeated Cal slots in at No. 15, Washington comes in at No. 17, Utah sits at No. 19 and USC is still inside the Top 25 at No. 21. 

Oregon has a bye next week before squaring off with undefeated No. 15 California.

Stanford's Cameron Scarlett: The foe you can root for

Stanford's Cameron Scarlett: The foe you can root for

The Oregon Ducks squared off against a familiar face turned foe Saturday evening. 

Cameron Scarlett, Stanford’s starting running back, is a name that might sound familiar. 

Let’s jog your memory:

Scarlett is a fifth-year senior at Stanford. Before arriving on campus for his undergraduate studies, Scarlett played high school football under Steve Pyne at Central Catholic High School in Portland, OR where he earned accolades such as two-time all-conference and two-time all-state and led his team to pair of state and league titles. In addition to the 4,831 career all-purpose yards, 54 career touchdowns, in a high school career that was cut short due to injury, Scarlett lettered in football, track and field, basketball and swimming. His football accomplishments were enough to earn him Oregon’s top-ranked recruit by Scout, Rivals, 247Sports and PrepStar.

It’s in the family, too. His dad, Paul, ran track at BYU, his brother Brennan is an outside linebacker for the Houston Texans. 

Scarlett saw his most action on the field for the Cardinal last season, where he played in 13 games, starting two of them. He earned his undergraduate degree in science, technology and society, and this year, while he works to earn his Master’s Degree in Media Studies, Scarlett has been named to the Doak Walker Award watch list, which honors the top running back in college football. 

In most likely his final game facing his “hometown team,” Scarlett rushed for 97 yards, which ties a career-high. 

“There’s some extra energy,” Scarlett told NBCSNW postgame. “This is definitely a game I hold close to my heart.”

Scarlett said he stays in contact with fellow Central Catholic alumni, Oregon senior outside linebacker La'Mar Winston and junior safety Brady Breeze, although, they were radio silent this week leading up to the game.

The Oregon Ducks defense held their opponent without a touchdown for a third straight game, the first time since 1935 to have made such an accomplishment. And while the Ducks staved off Scarlett’s rushing attack, head coach David Shaw is encouraged by his starting running back’s effort and progression.

“He showed what kind of back he can be,” Shaw said after Stanford’s 21-6 loss to No. 16 Oregon. “Physical, quick, tough-- I thought he played really well.”

It is the first time the Stanford Cardinal have lost three straight games under David Shaw. 

“I just want to win every game,” Scarlett said. “Every loss is the same — disappointing.”

“We need to move onto the next and start stacking some wins.”

Up next for the Cardinal, Scarlett will have another crack at his other hometown team, as Stanford gears up to take on the Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis on September 28th.

Oregon Duck defense suffocates Stanford but about that offense...

Oregon Duck defense suffocates Stanford but about that offense...

STANFORD, Calif. – A win is a win – at least that’s what most Ducks will think coming away from Oregon’s 21-6 triumph over Stanford late Saturday afternoon. I mean, the Cardinal have been a problem over the last several seasons, including last year when they stole a victory at Autzen.

Except in college football, that’s really not true – a win isn’t always enough. If you want a piece of postseason play or merely a high ranking in the polls at the end of the year, the whole season turns into a beauty contest.

You have to look good. Better than good, in fact. You better look real good – especially when on national television – if you want to pick up votes in the poll, which is critical to having any thought of a playoff berth.

And the Ducks, who managed only three touchdowns against a team that had allowed a combined 90 points in its two previous games, struggled on offense.

Not that the UO defense didn’t continue its stellar run. The Cardinal managed only 234 yards of total offense and was dominated by Oregon’s quick and hard-hitting defense, which hasn’t allowed a touchdown since the opening game of the season.

Oregon chose to run the ball 30 times in this game and netted just 61 yards. And it allowed four sacks. That doesn’t sound like an offensive line that the media touted as one of the best in the country prior to the season.

And while the running game wasn’t consistent all day, Oregon stayed conservative on offense. Quarterback Justin Herbert, with NFL scouts populating the press box, threw the ball only 24 times and completed 19 of them for 259 yards and all three touchdowns.

Just once, I’d like to see the Ducks open up the passing game and give this man about 45 attempts. And if that happened, you can bet the running game would come alive, too.

And OK, I had to ask Coach Mario Cristobal, why didn’t you throw the ball more often, given you seem to have one of the best quarterbacks in the country?

“We’d like to get as many points on the board as possible, so whatever is called – sometimes these are throw/run options,” Cristobal said. “The look, the leverage, the number of the box count, will determine where the ball goes. If I could guarantee 80 points by throwing the ball more, I certainly would. But we’re trying to move the ball, score points and get effective offense.”

OK.

The Ducks are still running a lot of what appears to be a read-option at times but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of reading there, as the ball was handed off every time Saturday by Herbert, rather than pulling it out and taking yards himself.

He admitted after the game that “I probably should have pulled it out a few times,” but he’s pretty comfortable with the backs carrying the ball. I get that – and I understand that the last thing the Ducks need is for Herbert to get hurt.

But if that’s the case, just forget the option – the Cardinal wasn’t honoring Herbert as the possible ball carrier very often, anyway – and just get another back behind the quarterback and go to more of a power running game.

Now don’t get me wrong – the Ducks dominated this game and seemed to have it locked up when they led 14-3 at the half. Not only was their defense suffocating Stanford but their punter, Blake Maimone, was spectacular. He booted the ball six times for an average of 45.7 yards. Those punts kept Stanford backed up in the shadow of its own end zone most of the day.

This one was not close – but it wasn’t impressive, either.

Oregon has a bye next week before squaring off with undefeated California.

Social media reacts to Oregon's performance against Stanford

Social media reacts to Oregon's performance against Stanford

On a beautiful, 86 degree afternoon down on The Farm in Palo Alto, the No. 16 Oregon Ducks completely shut down the Cardinal offense in a 21-6 win. 

This win marks the first Pac-12 opening win for Oregon since the 2014 season (at Washington State). Ducks fans traveled well and with 39,249 fans in attendance, it seemed as if half of them were wearing green or yellow with how loud it was when the Ducks on defense took the field.

Call it what you want, but the Ducks got their revenge over the Cardinal after last season's heart-breaking overtime loss in Eugene, OR.

Here's how social media reacted to Oregon's win over Stanford:

Justin Herbert etched his name in the Oregon Football record books with now 13 touchdown passes in a three-game stretch. Herbert finished the game 19-for-24 for 259 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

And the Ducks defense once again had a stellar performance. Through three games now, Oregon has not allowed a single touchdown. Safety Jevon Holland recorded another interception.

The Ducks now head into a BYE week to heal up and recover before hosting the undefeated California Golden Bears on Satuday, October 5. 

 

Instant Analysis: Three quick takeaways from Oregon's win over Stanford

Instant Analysis: Three quick takeaways from Oregon's win over Stanford

The No. 16 Oregon Ducks opened conference play with a win over the Stanford Saturday night. It's the first time since 2014 they've accomplished such a feat. In the process, Justin Herbert eclipsed the 8,000 passing yard mark for his collegiate career and remains the most steady QB in the nation, having completed 174 passes without an interception.

BOX SCORE: Oregon 21, Stanford 6 

Here are three quick takeaways:

  1. Ducks very conservative in this game-- It wasn't the traditional fast-paced, barn burner of a game Oregon fans have grown so accustomed to. 
  2. With a quarterback as good as Justin Herbert, might be a good idea to throw the ball more-- Herbert had an efficient night, connecting on 19 of his 24 passes for 259 yards. Herbert led Oregon down the field for a touchdown in the first half with precision: 2 plays, 55 yards and 35 seconds ticked off the clock. The future first round pick finished his night 19/24 for 259 yards with 3 TDs.
  3. Cardinal were not honoring Herbert on the option... might want to have him keep the ball once in a while if you're going to continue to be an option team. Or just junk the option and hand it off. -- Herbert lost 22 yards on 5 recorded attempts. CJ Verdell led Oregon's rather quiet rushing attack with 82 yards on 24 attempts. 


Additional Note: Stanford running back Cameron Scarlett, graduate of Central Catholic High School in Portland, OR finished the game with 97 yards rushing on 19 carries.

Stay tuned for more from the locker room.

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* Peter Socotch also contributed to this report

Talkin’ Ducks Podcast: Special guest Mike Bellotti evaluates Mario Cristobal’s team

Talkin’ Ducks Podcast: Special guest Mike Bellotti evaluates Mario Cristobal’s team

The Talkin’ Ducks Podcast is hosted by Jordan Kent, Joey Harrington, and Anthony Newman, covering everything Oregon Ducks related. From interviews, game analysis, news, and nonsense, these guys have you covered.

On this week’s episode, Jordan and Anthony have a very special guest! Former Ducks head coach Mike Bellotti joins the guys to talk about the current makeup of Mario Cristobal’s team.

Plus, Bellotti has high praise for quarterback Justin Herbert.

"He’s the most NFL ready QB to come out of Oregon in a long, long time. Maybe ever," Bellotti said.

LISTEN to the full podcast here:

Check back every Wednesday for a new episode.

Oregon football opens up Pac-12 play on the road in style

Oregon football opens up Pac-12 play on the road in style

Pac-12 conference play is here and the No. 16 Oregon Ducks are flying south to face the unranked Stanford Cardinal on The Farm.

The Ducks will be wearing white jerseys paired with kelly green bottoms and helmets.

Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. (PT) on Saturday, September 21.

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).

Oregon (2-1) is 10.5 point favorites over Stanford (1-2) who is coming off a 45-27 loss to Central Florida. Oregon took care of business at home last Saturday 35-3 over the visiting Montana Grizzlies. The Ducks are also searching for their first Pac-12 opener win since the 2014 season.

There has always been that addition factor when Oregon and Stanford meet up. These two teams have typically run the Pac-12 North table (along with Washington and more recently Washington State) in the last decade. 

The last time the Ducks and Cardinal met, Stanford came away with the overtime thriller in front of ESPN’s College GameDay in Eugene, Oregon. 

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.