Oregon Ducks

Which Duck linebackers will wreak havoc? The locks, contenders and longshots

Which Duck linebackers will wreak havoc? The locks, contenders and longshots

The Ducks know they have two stars at linebacker in junior Troy Dye and senior Justin Hollins. With the emergence of La’Mar Winston Jr., this position unit could be the strongest on the team.

LOCKS

Troy Dye, junior, inside linebacker: Oregon's defensive MVP for the 2017 season has generated major NFL draft buzz and has landed on three major watch lists; the Bednarik Award (nation’s top defensive player), the Butkus award (nation’s best linebacker) and the Nagurski award (nation’s best defensive player).

In his two seasons, the preseason All-American has 198 tackles with 118 solo tackles, 80 assisted tackles and 9.5 sacks.

Justin Hollins, senior, outside linebacker: The Butkus award nominee is heading into his fifth year at Oregon as the only Duck to have played on the unit that helped get Oregon into the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game in 2014.

Last season he forced three fumbles and finished third on the team in tackles for loss (11.5) behind defensive end Jalen Jelks (15) and linebacker Troy Dye (13.5).

La’Mar Winston Jr., junior, outside linebacker: The Len Casanova Award for leadership winner (voted on by his teammates) played in all 13 games for the Ducks in 2017, including seven starts. Five of those starts came over the final six games when he delivered 31 tackles with five for loss. He finished the season with 49 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks. 

[WATCH: A SUMMER IN PARIS WITH LA'MAR WINSTON JR.]

"(La'Mar)'s put on weight and strength," Dye said. "Seeing his transition from our freshmen year until now is phenonemal."

CONTENDERS

Kaulana Apelu, senior, inside linebacker; The walk-on was placed on scholarship before the start of 2017 season. He played in five games and made three starts, totaling 20 tackles, including three for loss before suffering a season-ending injury. Apelu rehabbed and returned to the field in time for spring practice. In the spring game, he led the Ducks’ defense with nine tackles and returned a tipped pass 100 yards for a touchdown.

Isaac Slade-Matautia, redshirt freshman, inside linebacker: Last season Slade-Matautia utilized his redshirt. ESPN and Rivals ranked the four-star prospect a top two player from the state of Hawaii. He is competing to be in the mix for starting alongside Dye.

"(Isaac)'s a beast," Dye said. "He's going to surprise a lot of people. There are a lot of things that he has taught me."

Adrian Jackson, freshman, inside linebacker: A consensus four-star prospect and the state of Colorado's top player in 2017. Dye called Jackson a "phenomenal beast" a few days into fall camp. Jackson currently backs up Dye at the JACK linebacker position, but says he’d be willing to move to MIKE.

[READ: How the new redshirt rule helps Oregon]

Keith Simms, sophomore, outside linebacker: Suffered a season-ending injury last season. Played both inside and outside throughout spring practices and totaled 8 tackles and a sack during UO’s spring game. Simms could add quality depth if he can stay healthy.

LONGSHOTS

Sampson Niu, sophomore, inside linebacker: In 2017, Niu played in six games and finished with eight tackles and one tackle for loss. He missed spring drills while rehabbing an injury suffered in the Las Vegas Bowl. Four-star prospect and the top inside linebacker in the state of California by Rivals and 247Sports.

MJ Cunningham, true freshman, inside linebacker: A consensus three-star prospect by ESPN, Rivals and 247Sports. The Portland-native is another freshman that could crack the rotation.

Who will Herbert sling the ball to? The Locks, Contenders and Longshots at receiver

Oregon uniform update: White hot Ducks in Tempe

Oregon uniform update: White hot Ducks in Tempe

The No. 6 Oregon Ducks will be donning white uniforms with green helmets and cleats ­­­­on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. (PT) in Sun Devil Stadium. Ducks fans are encouraged to wear white to the 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). 

Oregon (9-1, 7-0 Pac-12) has secured a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game as the North Division champion and is in the running as a College Football Playoff contender. The Ducks have two conference games left and Arizona State (5-5, 2-5) is the next opponent they must beat. 

Numbers to know: Oregon has 19 players who have scored a touchdown and 19 players who have at least a half-sack, both of which lead the nation.

MORE DUCKS

Keeping up with the Johnsons: Best friends with a serious competition

Oregon wide receiver Mycah Pittman undergoes surgery, out six weeks

How Mycah Pittman's injury affects Oregon

Juwan Johnson’s “Big Brother” advice to Mycah Pittman

Crunch time is nearing: Oregon is No. 6 in College Football Playoff

Historically, quarterback Justin Herbert plays extremely well vs. ASU

Talkin' Ducks Podcast: Oregon Ducks are finishing the regular season strong

Talkin' Ducks Podcast: Oregon Ducks are finishing the regular season strong

There are only two remaining Pac-12 conference games left on Oregon's schedule: Arizona State and Oregon State. 

The No. 6 Oregon Ducks (9-1, 7-0 Pac-12) have a chance to become the first Pac-12 school to go 8-0 in Pac-12 play since Oregon did it in 2010, with a win this Saturday in Tempe, Arizona.

On the latest Talkin' Ducks Podcast, hosts Jordan Kent and Anthony Newman discuss the Ducks' 34-6 domination of Arizona last Saturday, how Oregon is closing out the regular season right on track and give props to freshman defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Listen to the full Talkin' Ducks Podcast below:

MORE ON THE DUCKS

How Oregon can avoid a disastrous defeat to Arizona State

Ugo Amadi admires Coach Cristobal's achievements at alma mater

Keeping up with the Johnsons: Best friends with a serious competition

How Oregon can avoid disastrous defeat to Arizona State

How Oregon can avoid disastrous defeat to Arizona State

No. 6 Oregon (9-1, 7-0 Pac-12) looks to stay unbeaten in Pac-12 Conference play and avoid a disastrous defeat to Arizona State (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12). The Ducks have secured a spot in the Pac-12 title game as the North Division champions and are in the running as a College Football Playoff contender.

Numbers to know: ASU's run defense is currently fifth in the country with only 23 rushing plays allowed over 10 yards this season. With five rushing plays over 20 yards allowed this season, ASU is 7th in the country. 

[READ: Keeping up with the Johnsons: Best friends with a serious competition]

Fun fact: Oregon has held six opponents under 10 points, which leads the nation and is a program best since 1960.

Betting line: Oregon opened as 14.5 point favorites over Arizona State.

An ASU victory would… Qualify the Sun Devils for a bowl game for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons.

A UO victory would… Make Oregon the first Pac-12 team since the Ducks in 2010 to start 8-0 in conference play.

Sun Devil to keep an eye on

Freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels is on milestone watch. Daniels needs 38 passing yards to set the ASU freshman school record. Daniels is particularly good at the end of games, recording seven fourth quarter passing touchdowns to one interception. 

Dual-threat Daniels excels at extending plays and improvising, adding 247 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns this season. Oregon cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. called him “the best freshman quarterback in the country.”

3 keys to an Oregon victory

Finish the game

Arizona State closes games strong, allowing only one fourth quarter touchdown in the last seven games. At 3.3 points allowed per fourth quarter, ASU sits tied for 5th nationally and second in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils are on a four-game losing streak but they aren’t getting blown out. Three of those games (UCLA, USC, OSU) came down to the wire, while wining dramatic games against Michigan State and Washington State.

In away games, the Ducks have outscored their opponents 56-20 in the second half. It’s important for Oregon to not let off the gas on the road to fly out of Tempe victorious.

Get to Daniels

Oregon’s 32 sacks ranks first in the conference and that stat must continue to grow on Saturday. Daniels has thrown for 2,236 yards with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions in nine games for ASU this season. The Ducks must contain the dual-threat quarterback to the pocket and stifle his impressive playmaking abilities.

Air it out

The best way for Oregon to move the ball against ASU’s unconventional defense is an effective passing game. Lack of an Sun Devil pass rush (115th ranked pass defense) has allowed opposing Pac- 12 quarterbacks to rack up almost 300 passing yards per game.

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert and wide receivers Juwan Johnson and Johnny Johnson have found a groove. It’s a prime occasion for Herbert to air it out. It’s a substantial opportunity for the Johnsons to continue their battle for most yards.

How and where to watch

Time: Saturday, Nov. 23, 4:30 p.m. (PT)

Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona

TV: ABC

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

Ugo Amadi admires Coach Cristobal's achievements at alma mater

Ugo Amadi admires Coach Cristobal's achievements at alma mater

He had quite the career in Oregon’s secondary. His hard work, leadership and high football I.Q. earned him the Lombardi Trophy his senior season. He was selected in the fourth-round (No. 132 overall) in the 2019 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Now, Ugo Amadi is reflecting on his time with the Oregon Ducks as they inch closer to a berth in the College Football playoff.

[RELATED]: It appears to be Ugo Amadi time for the Seahawks

“It’s just crazy how all that works man. I don’t think they’ll [the CFP committee] put a Pac-12 team in but I feel like they [Oregon] deserves a shot. Especially with what the scores been looking like and the teams they’ve been playing.”

Will Oregon pass the CFP committee’s eye test? Hypothetically, if Oregon can defeat Utah in the Pac-12 title game, will that be enough to pass up a potential one-loss Big 12 team in Oklahoma or a one-loss, no SEC champion team in Alabama?

Regardless, Amadi has high praise for Cristobal in just his second year as Oregon head coach.

“I wish them nothing but the best. Coach Cristobal has done great there in his second year. You only lose one game? That’s saying a lot.”

The future is in good hands with Cristobal. After former head coach Willie Taggart left the program in 2017 for his “dream job” at Florida State, the players created a petition for Cristobal (the former offensive line coach at the time) to be promoted to head coach. 

It worked and it’s paying off for the No. 6 Ducks who have a chance at a College Football Playoff this season.

MORE ON THE DUCKS

How Oregon can avoid disatruous defeat to Arizona State

Keeping up with the Johnsons: Best friends with a serious competition

Juwan Johnson's 'Big Brother' advice to Mycah Pittman

Keeping up with the Johnsons: Best friends with a serious competition

Keeping up with the Johnsons: Best friends with a serious competition

Oregon’s wide receiver room has been in flux this season with injuries and transfers. That instability could have led to an unhealthy unit but instead it’s fashioned life long bonds and healthy, serious competition.

The Friendship

It would have been easy for Oregon junior reciever Johnny Johnson III to not like Juwan Johnson.

When Juwan transferred from Penn State to Oregon to help bolster a group that lost their top receiver to the NFL, Johnny wasn’t threatened by Juwan's 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame or his one more season of experience. No, instead, when Juwan messaged Johnny on Instagram to introduce himself before moving to Eugene, Johnny welcomed him, becoming Juwan's first friend on the Duck football team.

The two Johnsons started sending film back and forth, building a bond and making a bet (more on that later).

They’ve come a long way: sweating through Oregon’s spring and summer workouts; building in fall camp; winning nine-straight games together; and securing a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game as North Division champions, all with a bigger goal in mind.

Johnny’s vision: “Me and (Juwan) holding that trophy in the air at the end of the year. I’m not going to say which trophy, but, you know.”

The Competition

What’s the bet and the payout?

“That’s something that’ll stay sacred. Me and Johnny just try to battle it out on who can get the most yards every game,” Juwan said. “That’s what it’s been all year. We had a little bet and obviously he’s winning right now. He has a couple games ahead of me.”

The reference there is that Johnny leads the team in receiving yards (485) on 35 catches in 10 games, while Juwan has 299 yards on 18 catches in six games.

Johnny and Juwan both grabbed career long touchdown catches in Oregon’s win over Arizona. Is there a competition for longest touchdown?

“If there is, I need to find out. I hope so,” said Offensive Coordinator Marcus Arroyo. “That’s a great competition to have. Both of those guys did a great job on both of those plays. It was exciting to see and good for Justin [Herbert] to hit a couple good, deep balls.”

The Plays

At the start of the 2019 football season, junior cornerback Deommodore Lenoir tabbed Johnny and Juwan as Oregon’s most physical receivers. Their toughness has been evident. Both have different skillsets, but both provided major highlights in Oregon’s win over Arizona, marking the first time Oregon connected on multiple 50-plus yard touchdown passes since 2016.

On the second play of the game, quarterback Justin Herbert launched a 73-yard touchdown pass to Johnny Johnson III, the longest pass play of the season. A wide-open Johnny slipped behind defenders and bolted to the end zone.   

Then, a little trickery to the delight of Oregon fans. A reverse flea flicker 53-yard touchdown toss from Herbert to an extended Juwan Johnson, worthy of a SportsCenter Top 10 nod.

The Future

The Johnsons are in a groove and it could get ugly for Arizona State (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. (PT) The Sun Devils are allowing almost 300 passing yards per game in Pac-12 play, ranking ninth in the conference.

It’s a prime occasion for Herbert to air it out. It’s a substantial opportunity for the Johnsons to continue their battle for most yards.

The veteran receiver best friends could be the weapons Oregon needs to close out the regular season and conquer No. 7 Utah in the Pac-12 title game. After that? It’s a fight for that trophy Johnny dreamt of.

Juwan Johnson’s “Big Brother” advice to Mycah Pittman

Juwan Johnson’s “Big Brother” advice to Mycah Pittman

This 2019 Oregon football season has had several bright spots, including the exciting play of Mycah Pittman. The true freshman wide receiver has shown that the future of this program is in good hands... Really strong and sticky hands to be precise. 

Pittman's first season in a Duck uniform has been attacked by injury. A shoulder injury kept him out for the first six games of the season, and now another injury vs. Arizona last Saturday may keep him out the rest of the season.

Pittman working for extra yards, tried to stay off the ground as an Arizona player awkwardly fell into his planted arm. Pittman remained on the field for minutes as the trainers attended to his right wrist with Coach Mario Cristobal hovering over his back, comforting the young receiver.

Pittman was escorted off the field and then came the diagnosis: a broken arm with a timetable for return at six weeks

[RELATED: How Mycah Pittman’s injury affects Oregon]

Have you ever witnessed one positional group plagued with so many injuries and moving pieces? The Ducks were without grad transfer Juwan Johnson until five games into the season; Pittman suffered a shoulder injury that also kept him out until Cal; Jacob Breeland suffered a season-ending knee injury; Brenden Schooler entered the transfer protocol.

“We’re back to what we’ve done all season… That’s kind of how the season has been with those guys," said Offensive Coordinator Marcus Arroyo. "Those guys have done a great job. They’ll step right up. Next guy up.” 

The players next in line to step up in Pittman’s absence? Arroyo says, just like before, expect more from freshmen Josh Delgado and Bryan Addison as well as Spencer Webb to be moved around from receiver and high end.

On Monday, Cristobal said: “Justin Collins is a guy last year in this game proved to be very valuable, caught a slant down there and got us in the tight red zone at the end of the half. He’s been coming along. He’s coming off an ACL as well.”

Cristobal also mentioned Isaah Crocker, J.R Waters and Lance Wilhoite as options UO will explore. Although, Wilhoite and Waters are both coming off injuries and are likely not caught up to speed.

Overcoming injury is not east feat. It weighs on you both physically and mentally. This being Pittman’s second major injury of the season, senior grad transfer Juwan Johnson made sure to give his ‘Big Brother’ advice:

“It was heart breaking of course. I call him my ‘Little Brother.’ I got to check up on him and make sure he’s right because he just a freshman, they get in their head a lot. The one thing I got to do I keep his head high, keep his head above water, tell him to keep pushing. As long as he knows it’s not over because we still got some games left even if he isn’t back to still keep his head up. Honestly at the end of the day, there is more than football.”

 

Crunch time is nearing: Oregon is No. 6 in College Football Playoff

Crunch time is nearing: Oregon is No. 6 in College Football Playoff

The College Football Playoff committee released its third rankings this season and Oregon remains at No. 6. The Ducks (9-1, 7-0 Pac-12) are the third-highest one loss team ranked, behind SEC teams, Georgia and Alabama.

With three weeks left of the 2019 college football season, crunch time is nearing and the CFP picture is taking shape for Selection Sunday.

[READ: In search of his own legacy, Justin Herbert has one of his biggest nights with Marcus Mariota in the house]

No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson are all undefeated with clear paths to the playoff. The fourth spot could get interesting with plenty of drama conceivable.

Patience required

It’s going to take patience for Oregon to break into the top four spots. On a nine-game winning streak, Oregon has secured a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game as the North Division champion. Victories against upcoming opponents Arizona State and Oregon State won’t be enough to move the needle. 

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

Other teams fighting for the fourth spot?

No. 4 Georgia, No. 5 Alabama, No. 8 Penn State and No. 9 Oklahoma. Which means you can root for each of these teams to lose to boost Oregon’s berth chances. The Bulldogs still have to face Texas A&M and will be put to the test in the SEC Championship game vs. No. 1 LSU. No. 5 Alabama, without quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, still plays No. 15 Auburn. No. 8 Penn State plays No. 2 Ohio State this Saturday. No. 9 Oklahoma plays TCU and No. 21 Oklahoma State.

Root for two other Pac-12 teams in conference play

  • Utah to finish conference play 11-1 (remaining games at Arizona and vs. Colorado)
  • No. 23 USC to blow out UCLA in its final game to finish ranked (Gives Oregon another win over a ranked opponent).

Smell that?

It’s roses. If Oregon wins the Pac-12 title game and doesn’t receive a CFP berth, the Ducks get the conference’s automatic bid to the Rose Bowl. Not a bad Plan B!

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.

There is a lot of football to be played that could sort out the top four, but for now, the Ducks are in a good spot to strike. 

Headstrong: Former Oregon football lineman Zach Okun's message to those struggling with mental health

Headstrong: Former Oregon football lineman Zach Okun's message to those struggling with mental health

The month of November is Men's Health Awareness Month. ‘The Movember Foundation’ uses November to bring awareness to various men’s physical and mental health issues, as well as support to those tackling prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health, and more.

Throughout this month, NBC Sports will be releasing numerous videos that feature sports superstars discussing the importance of mental health as well as how they approach the subject. 

___ 

Zach Okun received his first collegiate scholarship for athletics in eighth grade. He was more than 300 pounds and as tall as his teachers. There was already a path laid out before him regarding his future: football.

For those who play the game of football, a certain edge is required to be successful in such a violent sport. Okun was just that, but there was more than meets the eye. In August 2019 during a preseason practice, Okun suffered a severe concussion. 

He battled with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts…

“I was terrified. That was my biggest fear, was people thinking less of me because of what was going on inside my head. To this day, if I think I did something wrong in class, I will think about it until it drives me insane or I fall asleep. 

Anything I did wrong was the end of the world. And that’s a hard way to live.”

Okun’s football career quickly ended, but his fight with mental health lives on to this day. He sought out therapy and now advocates to anyone who may be in a similar situation that he was and still is today.

He currently attends Santa Clara University and is pursuing a degree in law. 

Historically, quarterback Justin Herbert plays extremely well vs. ASU

Historically, quarterback Justin Herbert plays extremely well vs. ASU

Oregon (9-1, 7-0 Pac-12) has secured a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game as the North Division champion and is in the running as a College Football Playoff contender. The Ducks have two conference games left and Arizona State (5-5, 2-5) is the next opponent they must beat. 

The Ducks look to stay unbeaten in conference play as they head to Tempe… Here are 10 numbers you need to know about the 4:30 p.m. kickoff at Sun Devil Stadium.

ON A HERBERT HIGH

Coming off a season-high 333 passing yards vs. Arizona, quarterback Justin Herbert is displaying incredible accuracy. He’s completed 70 percent of his passes in three-straight games, connecting on 62-of-84 (73.8) over that stretch. Herbert has historically played well against ASU. In his career against the Sun Devils, Herbert is 69-of-111 for 1,032 yards, nine TDs and two interceptions. His career-best 489 passing yards came as a freshman vs. ASU in 2016.

CAN YOU SAY CLUTCH?

The Ducks have outscored their opponents 56-20 in the second half on the road. Oregon is also 25-for-41 (.610) on third down conversions in the last three games.

SINGLE DIGITS

Oregon has held six opponents under 10 points, which leads the nation and is a program best since 1960.

SPREADING THE LOVE

Oregon has 19 players who have scored a touchdown and 19 players who have at least a half-sack, both of which lead the nation.

CRISTO-BALLIN!

A win would make Mario Cristobal the fourth head coach in program history to win 10 games in a season. 

KEEPING UP WITH THE JOHNSONS

Johnny Johnson III is coming off a four-catch performance vs. Arizona, including a 73-yard catch, the longest of his career and longest by a Duck in 2019. Juwan Johnson’s potential is also being realized, totaling 16 receptions, 263 yards and four touchdowns in the last three games. He led Oregon with five catches, one touchdown and 93 yards vs. Arizona.

THIBODEAUX TRAIN, FULL STEAM AHEAD

Freshman defensive tackle Kayvon Thibodeaux has 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in the last two games. He’s coming off a season-high three tackle for loss performance against Arizona. The highest rated recruit in program history, Thibodeaux ranks 4th among all freshman nationally in sacks(5.5).

STRONG SHANE

For the second time this season, Oregon left guard Shane Lemieux was named Pac-12 offensive lineman of the week. Against Arizona, Lemieux was the highest-graded (80.4) guard in the Pac-12 and third nationally. He has not allowed a hit, hurry or pressure on Herbert over 67 snaps and leads the Ducks with a season-high seven knockdowns.

DEVILS COME UP SHORT IN CORVALLIS

A failed two-point conversion proved to be the difference in Arizona’s almost-comeback win at Oregon State. ASU rallied from two touchdowns down late in the game but the Beavers beat the Sun Devils, 35-34.

ARIZONA STATE VS. THE RUN

ASU has held eight of its last 10 opponents to under 150 total rushing yards (151 vs. Utah, 217 vs. UCLA). Although, the Sun Devils pass defense ranks 115th in the nation.