Oregon Ducks

Oregon’s home opener marked with momentous firsts and lasts

Oregon’s home opener marked with momentous firsts and lasts

EUGENE - It's been 294 days since Shout has echoed through Autzen Stadium. As the sun set, the third quarter closed and Oregon led by more than 50 points, the familiar tune sounded extra loud as the Ducks sideline grooved and gestured to the stands to “get a little bit louder now.”

In his final home opener, smiling senior linebacker Troy Dye danced alone to the Autzen Stadium tradition on the 15-yard line, pumping up the rowdy 50,920 fans that watched Oregon dominate Nevada, 77-6.

Teammate Brady Breeze was happy to see Dye let loose.

“He was just having fun, today was a day to have fun,” Breeze said. “Sometimes when you are playing football, you are so focused on making a call or the next play, that you don’t enjoy that you are playing in front of thousands of people and living your dream.”

It’d be an understatement to say that loads of fun was had by many Oregon players. Fourteen different Ducks recorded a reception and all 11 touchdowns were scored by different players. The offense rolled to make a strong statement that dates back a decade. The win marked the 10th straight home opener that Oregon scored 50 or more points. The Ducks’ 77 points tied a program modern era record and the Autzen Stadium scoring record.

The game didn’t start as rosy as it finished. Quarterback Justin Herbert’s first two drives were marked with a few uncharacteristic missed throws. However, the senior regained his composure after the underwhelming start with an explosive 66-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Breeland. The score extended the quarterback’s nation-leading streak of 30 consecutive games with a touchdown pass.

Herbert caught fire after that first quarter touchdown, darting throws over the middle and commanding the offense to complete his next 10 of 11 passes. Herbert finished with 310 passing yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions in his 30th career start.

Herbert joined Marcus Mariota and Joey Harrington as the only quarterbacks in program history with multiple games with five passing touchdowns.

The quarterback wasn’t the only Duck to shine in their final season opener.

Breeland led the Ducks with 112 receiving yards on four catches. The 6-foot-5 senior tight end set a career-high in yards and reached his first career 100-yard receiving game. In the post game press conference, Breeland was caught off guard when realizing that it was his last season opener as a Duck.

Aside from the “lasts” the victory showcased many “firsts” that are a peek into Oregon’s not-so-far-off future.

Backup quarterback Tyler Shough took control of the offense half way through the third quarter. Shough’s first career completion was also his first career touchdown: A seven-yard pass to wide receiver Jaylon Redd.

An astounding five Ducks scored their first-career touchdowns.

"We found a whole bunch of guys that want to make plays and are able to, so we put them in today,” Herbert said. “I'm really happy for them that they stepped up big-time. It's fun to watch."

Daewood Davis, who coaches moved from cornerback to receiver to help with depth in the depleted unit, scored on a tight rope 16-yard pass from Herbert.

Wide receiver Bryan Addison, who earned the start, scored a 24-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left in the first half.

Ryan Bay, a 6-foot-3 senior tight end who walked on to the team as a freshman, scored his first career touchdown with a 16-yard grab in the second quarter.

Hunter Kampmoyer, a tight end who began his career as a defensive end, scored on a 21 yard pass from Shough.

Safety Brady Breeze recovered a DJ Johnson forced fumbled and took it to the house.

The biggest tight end on the field was offensive lineman Brady Aiello wearing a number 82 jersey. Aiello got to do what most linemen only dream about: catch a touchdown pass from the quarterback they usually protect.

 “I’m very jealous of him,” Oregon coach and former offensive lineman Mario Cristobal said. “It’s what I wanted my entire life.”

On defense, inside linebacker Sampson Niu came away with first career interception and forced his first career fumble.

Not to be overshadowed is the “firsts” from the true freshman from UO’s highest-ever rated 2019 recruiting class. A total of 14 true freshmen saw action in the game.  Outside linebacker Mase Funa’s got his first career sack, the first of many for the highly-touted four-star prospect. Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux provided a highlight, tackling the Nevada punter for an 11-yard loss after a bad snap. Tight end Patrick Herbert made his first appearance under the college football lights. Running back Sean Dollars recorded his first carry, finishing with 12 yards on four carries.

The blend of the firsts and lasts with the veterans and newcomers meshing cohesively together, is enough to make Dye (and the Oregon fan base) want to shout.

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. 

Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers in action at the Phil Knight Invitational, follow along on social

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USATI

Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers in action at the Phil Knight Invitational, follow along on social

Tonight is the second interation Phil Knight Invitational at the Moda Center. The first, PK80, was held in November 2017. 

The action will tip off at 6:00pm PST with the No. 13 Memphis Tigers playing the No. 14 Oregon Ducks in a matchup of ranked teams. 

The headliner will be Memphis center James Wiseman who may go first overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, and was recently declared ineligible by the NCAA. Memphis believes their decision is wrong and will be playing him anyways while the matter gets settled in court.

The Ducks return Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate Payton Pritchard at point guard and will field other notable transfers. They will be without freshman center N’Faly Dante who’s ineligible for the first nine games of the season since he cannot enroll at the University of Oregon until December 14th. In addition, starting center Francis Okoro got hit by a car last week in Eugene and his status for today’s contest in unknown.

The second matchup will be between the Oklahoma Sooners and Oregon State Beavers and tipoff following Oregon-Memphis concludes (approx. 8pm).

The Sooners were picked to finish eighth in the Big-12 this season in the preseason media poll but can easily outplay expectations. The Beavers return senior Tres Tinkle who also is a Pac-12 player of the year candidate. In Vegas, the Beavers are slight underdogs but have enough talent to win. 

Dylan Mickanen will be on site reporting on both games. Feel free to follow along on social as well.

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

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

The College Football Playoff committee released its second rankings and Oregon jumped from No. 7 to No. 6.

The Ducks (8-1, 6-0 Pac-12) were idle this weekend but moved up one spot to No. 6 in the Coaches Poll and Associated Press Poll because of shakeups in the college football landscape. This jump generated anticipation that the same would hold true in the rankings that matter: the CFB Playoff rankings. Those hopes were realized.

After Alabama’s loss to No. 1 LSU the Crimson Tide dropped to No. 5. Then, Minnesota rose to No. 8 after upsetting Penn State (who fell to No. 9). That created space for Oregon to grab the No. 6 spot.

It’s important to remember that today’s rankings are largely for entertainment value, considering how much football is yet to be played. While they do set the tone, the important playoff rankings will be released in a month. I’ve already detailed why Oregon’s current spot doesn’t matter.

It’s going to take patience for Oregon to break into the top four spots. A Duck win this Saturday vs. Arizona would clinch their third North Division title and a spot in the Pac-12 championship. But that won’t be enough to move the needle. Neither will victories over Arizona State or Oregon State.

The streaking Ducks can make a real case on December 6th in Levi’s Stadium. A Pac-12 Title and a win over a high ranked Utah team would be the resume piece to make it interesting on the committee. Utah is currently ranked No. 7 in the CFB Playoff Poll.

The first three playoff spots seem likely concrete: the SEC champion, the Big Ten champion and a 13–0 Clemson winning the Atlantic Coast Conference. The fourth spot? A Pac-12 champion Oregon team with a 12-1 record and a “good loss” to No. 12 Auburn, would certainly get a good shot.

The CFB Playoff committee’s protocol is mostly based on eye test and places an emphasis on four things if teams are comparable: 1. Championships won. 2. Strength of schedule. 3. Head-to-head competition (if it occurred). 4. Outcomes against common opponents.

My advice? Cheer for the Ducks to win out and ignore these rankings until Selection Sunday on December, 8th. Patience is a virtue.

MORE DUCKS

The magic number for Oregon vs. Arizona

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

Three notable changes to Oregon’s depth chart ahead of Arizona

Sabrina Ionescu jerseys are here but already sold out

The magic number for Oregon vs. Arizona

The magic number for Oregon vs. Arizona

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. The Ducks have three conference games left and Arizona (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) is the next opponent they must beat. The Ducks are coming off a bye with a lot on line… Here are 10 numbers you need to know about the 7:30 p.m. kickoff in Autzen Stadium.

CROWN ON THE LINE

A Duck win against the Wildcats in the Pac-12-After-Dark game would clinch the North Division title and a spot in the Pac-12 championship. It would be Oregon’s third Pac-12 North crown.

AMONG THE NATION’S ELITE

Oregon is one of five FBS teams (Baylor, Clemson, Minnesota, Ohio State) off to a 6-0 start in conference play. 

BETTING LINE

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

BALL HAWKS

Oregon 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. Jevon Holland and Verone McKinley III each have four picks, leading the team. Eleven different Ducks have recorded an interception.

DON’T MESS WITH HOLLAND

Holland, a sophomore, leads active Pac-12 players in career interceptions with nine. The Jim Thorpe semifinalist is tied for the most career interceptions among sophomores in the nation.

UPSET HISTORY

Arizona has beaten Oregon each of the past three matchups where the Wildcats enter unranked and the Ducks enter ranked. The Wildcats topped No. 19 Oregon, 44-15 last year that featured Arizona running back J.J. Taylor rushing for 212 yards and two scores.

THE MAGIC NUMBER, 40

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.

GOOD INJURY UPDATE

Oregon’s top two running backs, backs CJ Verdell (groin) and Cyrus Habibi-Likio (quad) are expected to play against Arizona. Starting right guard Dallas Warmack (hip flexor) is also good to go.

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE TAYLOR

Arizona’s rushing attack ranks second in the Pac-12, led by JJ Taylor who is ninth in the Pac-12 in rushing with 566 yards. The Wildcats’ total offense (495.8 yards per game) ranks 12th in the country and second in the conference.

EXPLOSION PLAY ALERT

Arizona has had five plays go for 70 or more yards this season. Across the country, only Oklahoma State, Alabama, Colorado State and UCF have more.

MORE DUCKS

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

Three notable changes to Oregon’s depth chart ahead of Arizona

Sabrina Ionescu jerseys are here but already sold out

Sabrina Ionescu jerseys are here but already sold out

Sabrina Ionescu jerseys are here but already sold out

Oregon senior superstar Sabrina Ionescu is tearing up the record books and becoming a household name. Fresh off a Final Four run, Ionescu and the top-ranked Oregon women’s basketball team have their sights on winning it all this season and earning the program’s first national title. And now, Ducks fans can represent the “Triple-Double Queen.”

Well, once the number 20 jerseys are back in stock, that is.

On Monday afternoon, the Oregon Duck store released a “White Nike Replica Oregon #20 Basketball Jersey” for $75. As of Tuesday morning, the jerseys are sold out in every size. No word on when an official re-stock may happen.

Nike will begin to sell a number 20 Oregon college replica jersey in apple green later in the basketball season. The Duck store will also carry it.

The chance for Oregon fans to purchase the replica jerseys is a long time coming. Ionescu has made her opinion known on social media and fans began a petition to Nike in April.

Ionescu’s support worked and the female star tweeted her gratification.

Oregon’s next game is at home versus Utah State on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

Memphis bringing a big-time player and a big controversy to the PKI

Memphis bringing a big-time player and a big controversy to the PKI

The PK Invitational is going to feature an entire level of intrigue that nobody could have seen coming when it unfolds Tuesday night in Moda Center.

The University of Memphis is coming to Portland to meet the Ducks in the 6 p.m. opening game and Oregon State takes on Oklahoma in the 8 o’clock nightcap of the doubleheader.

And Memphis is bringing a very big controversy and a big-time player who will likely be in uniform for the Tigers against the Ducks – one of the top prospects in the country, James Wiseman, a 7-1, 240-pound freshman center.

Wiseman has a group of sharp lawyers on his side and the University of Memphis, too, after the NCAA had declared him ineligible for accepting money from a Memphis booster.

And that booster? It was current Memphis coach and former NBA all-star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway.

Stay with me here, because this is a tangled web that seems to be what holds college basketball together these days. Hardaway was the head coach at Memphis East High School, where he won two Tennessee state championships. As you may guess, Hardaway was also an AAU coach in the summer, where he presumably met Wiseman. After Wiseman’s junior year of high school in Nashville, Hardaway reportedly provided $11,500 to Wiseman’s mother for moving expenses, so that her son could play for Hardaway in Memphis.

Hardaway had no connection to the university – except he had made a $1 million donation to the school’s athletic department in 2008. Which, in the eyes of the NCAA, classifies him as a booster of the school. Which means he can’t be handing money out to the mother of a recruit.

The NCAA made its ruling and the university launched its own investigation alongside the one by the NCAA. And the school disagrees with the proposition that Hardaway was a “booster” and believes the player to be eligible. They suited him up for a game last week and he was spotted boarding the team plane for Portland Sunday night. A couple of local Memphis lawyers have signed on to get the case into court and that is supposed to happen next week.

In the meantime, all of college basketball will be watching the Ducks and Tigers – and Wiseman – Tuesday night in Portland, wondering if the kid will end up causing forfeits of any games the Tigers win or leads them to great heights as the No. 1 recruit in the country and the leader of the top recruiting class this season.

The Ducks are undefeated at 2-0 and trying to establish themselves as a tournament threat again.

In the second game Tuesday in the tournament that honors Nike founder Phil Knight, the Beavers and Sooners will also try to get a good jump on what they believe will be promising seasons.

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

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

Oregon true freshman Mykael Wright has earned the nickname “silent assassin” from his teammates. His quiet demeanor, number two jersey and superstar type skills draw the comparison to NBA star Kawhi Leonard. The cornerback lived up to that label in the No. 7 Ducks’ win over USC when he killed USC's momentum and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown with 20 seconds remaining in the first half.

The speedy freshman had only regularly began working as a kick returner earlier that week. However, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal was not shocked when Wright completely transformed the energy of the game. The top-ranked cornerback in the nation (ESPN, 2019) returned punts in high school and provided tape highlights, which Cristobal often refers to. Cristobal instantly noticed Wright’s natural instincts as a returner.

“Naturally, when the ball is in the air, he knows how to get to it,” Cristobal said. "He knows how to handle receivers and handle guys who show late hands. When he’s had the ball in his hands in practice when he gets a pick or something of that nature, he just has a natural feel for following his blockers or setting up his blocks.”

His versatility has provided a solid foundation and a major strength for Oregon. During his two seasons at Valencia high school in California, Wright had nine interceptions and 25 tackles on defense. On offense, he picked up 1,986 receiving yards in addition to 26 touchdowns.

Entering this season, junior starting cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. tabbed Wright as a future freshman All-American. Now, Cristobal is game planning an increased role for Wright.

“Without question, he’s an electrifying player back there,” Cristobal said. “I think the more he does it, the better and better he’ll get. We don’t want to extend him too much because he’s got a lot going on with special teams and playing corner for us, but his role on teams is going to expand.”

The natural playmaker’s next opportunity will come this Saturday night, as Oregon looks to beat Arizona to officially punch its ticket to the Pac-12 Conference title game.