Penei Sewell

A once-in-a-decade player ignites Oregon's run game

A once-in-a-decade player ignites Oregon's run game

Oregon’s 37-35 drama filled win snapped the Ducks’ four-game losing streak to the Cougars in front of a sellout 59,361 crowd at Autzen Stadium, the tenth highest attended game in history. When freshman kicker Camden Lewis nailed a 26-yard field goal as time expired, the Duck student section flowed over the fences to celebrate with the team that lifted up Lewis.

Meanwhile, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal found running back CJ Verdell to give him a congratulatory hug after the sophomore’s career night that will likely shoot him to the top as the Pac-12 Conference’s leading rusher. His 257 rushing yards ranks tied for fourth most all-time in school history and the most by a Duck in Autzen Stadium history.

There is something eerily similar between Oregon’s comeback victory vs. Washington in Seattle and its gutsy last minute triumph over Washington State at home.

The big plays to the left side.

If Verdell sparked the Ducks’ (7-1, 5-0 Pac-12) offense against Washington State, then left tackle Penei Sewell was the ignition.

Last week against Washington, running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio ran for a career-high 81 yards, all of which came in the second half, and credited Sewell for insane blocking.

Habibi-Likio and his girlfriend thanked Sewell by having him over for a home cooked meal of baked mac-n-cheese and chicken.

This week, Verdell had the hot hand and became the Pac-12 running back with the most yards in a conference game. A stunning highlight came in the first quarter: Oregon’s offensive line blew open a huge hole, wide receiver Juwan Johnson pancaked two defenders and Verdell cut, sprinting untouched to the end zone for a career-high 89-yard touchdown. The crowd lost control at the play that felt very vintage Oregon offense.

What’s it like for Verdell to run behind Sewell?

"Who was it that parted the Red Sea? Moses?” Verdell said. “Yeah, when Moses parted the Red Sea, that's how I would describe it."

Following Verdell’s three-touchdown and career-high 257 rushing yards plus 56 receiving yards on four receptions, the running back plans to also take care of lineman Sewell, but in his own way.

“Me and Penei are pretty much brothers,” Verdell said. “He pretty much lives with me. If he wants a home cooked meal then it ain't nothing. I'll make him some ramen noodles or something."

Sewell, the highest-graded offensive lineman in the country by Pro Football Focus, has had major honors roll in this season, earning Pac-12 offensive lineman of the week three times already.

He leads the team with 32 knockdowns and Oregon has a 13-2 record with Sewell as starter. Sometimes, Sewell almost out runs the running back. It’s easy to get lost watching his play during an offensive drive, he’s that impressive.

Oregon senior center Jake Hanson beams with pride when asked about Sewell.

"Penei is a guy that comes along in a program once every decade or couple decades honestly. He's that good,” said Hanson. “And on top of his natural talent he works very hard, he's passionate about the game, he's everything that you would want in a teammate… I love having him as my left tackle."

The win over WSU was another step forward towards Oregon’s first Pac-12 Title since 2014. The Ducks have more challenges ahead, starting with a trip to Los Angeles to play Pac-12 South foe, USC next Saturday. However, with a unique once-in-a-decade player like Sewell, the 2019 season is also beginning to feel very special.

Numbers to know: Oregon Ducks vs. Washington Huskies

Numbers to know: Oregon Ducks vs. Washington Huskies

No. 12 Oregon is flying into Seattle, WA on a five game winning streak to face rival No. 25 Washington. The Ducks (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) look to stay atop the Pac-12 North Division, while the Huskies (5-2, 2-2) are in the hunt to stay in the mix for the division title. It’s the 112th meeting between the Northwest foes and a ranked pivotal division matchup.

Here are 10 stats and numbers you need to know to be the fan dropping knowledge at the tailgate:

BETTING LINE

Oregon is a road favorite. The Ducks opened as 3.5-point favorites against the Huskies. The line has since moved to 2.5-points. The over/under is 55 total points.

FIVE-GAME DUCK DOMINANCE

Oregon has outscored its last five opponents 195-25. The Ducks have scored 27 touchdowns while giving up just one touchdown. UO has held all five opponents to under 10 points, the first time they’ve done so since 1958.

RED ZONE STOPS

Opponents haven't scored a touchdown against Oregon in nine red zone trips. On the season, the Ducks have only allowed two touchdowns of opponents’ 14 red zone trips, a rate of 14.3 percent that leads the nation.

FAST WASHINGTON STARTS

Through seven games, UW has outscored opponents 90-6 in the first quarter.

HUSKIES STOUT PUNT GAME

Washington is 13th in the nation in net punting (42.78 yards). The Huskies have allowed only one touchback and seven punt return yards this season.

HISTORY

In games played in Seattle, the Huskies are 32-21-4 vs. Oregon. In games played in Eugene, the Ducks hold the edge over UW, 18-13. Oregon has won 18 of the last 24 games against Washington, including last season’s 30-27 overtime win in Eugene.

PENEI SEWELL, BLIND SIDE BODYGUARD

Oregon sophomore left tackle Penei Sewell has been racking up the honors this season. Sewell has been named to Pro Football Focus’ National Team of the Week three times, received Outland Trophy's Offensive Lineman of the Month award in September and earned Pac-12 honors four times. His PFF running grade (94.1) leads the nation and has only committed one penalty in 846 career snaps. Oregon is 11-2 in two seasons with the 6-foot-6, 325-pound lineman starting.

BIG REDD

Junior wide receiver Jaylon Redd has scored a receiving touchdown in five consecutive games, tied for the longest streak in the nation and the first Duck to do so since Josh Huff (2013).  Against Colorado, he scored a rushing and receiving touchdown for first time in his career and the first Duck wide receiver to do so since Bralon Addison (2015).

TO DYE FOR

Senior linebacker Troy Dye left the Colorado game with an injury but is cleared to play at Washington. Saturday will be his 40th consecutive start. His career statistics are among the best in the nation: 3rd in tackles, 4th in solo tackles, 7th in tackles/per game and 11th in tackles per loss/game.

A WIN WOULD...

Improve Oregon to 4-0 in Pac-12 play for the first time since 2013 and become the first Pac-12 team since Stanford in 2017 to start 4-0 in conference play.

BONUS: Good and bad injury updates

[READ: How Oregon's offense changes without Jacob Breeland]

Oregon vs. Nevada: 10 numbers to know

Oregon vs. Nevada: 10 numbers to know

No. 16 Oregon hosts Nevada in its home opener for the 2019 season. The Ducks (0-1) look to bounce back and get their first win after a last-minute defeat to No. 10 Auburn. Can UO stop a hangover loss or will the Ducks allow the Tigers to beat them twice?

Nevada (1-0) has nothing to lose, everything to gain and intense momentum coming into Autzen Stadium. The Wolf Pack mounted a stunning comeback win over Purdue on Friday night. Oregon can still win the Pac-12 North and contend for a conference title but the Ducks need to bounce back sooner rather than later.

Here are 10 stats and numbers you need to know to be the fan dropping knowledge at the tailgate:

1. INJURY UPDATES

Two Ducks will miss the entire 2019 football season: Sophomore linebacker Adrian Jackson and true freshman wide receiver J.R. Waters both suffered season ending foot injuries.

The loss of Waters is another hit to Oregon’s wide receiving corps. The Ducks are coping with injuries to Brenden Schooler (right foot)Mycah Pittman (shoulder) and most recently Juwan Johnson, who is day-to-day with a foot injury.

Tight end Cam McCormick is also day-to-day.

2. VEGAS, BABY

Oregon is a three-touchdown home favorite over Nevada. The Ducks opened as 21.5 point favorites over the Wolf Pack, currently the Ducks are 23 point favorites. The over-under is 62 total points.

3. SEWELL VS. SEWELL

Ducks starting left tackle Penei Sewell graded out as the third-best offensive lineman and second best tackle in the Pac-12 in week one according to Pro Football Focus. The sophomore has not committed a penalty in 521 snaps in his career.

Against Nevada, Penei Sewell will face a new challenge: his brother, senior linebacker Gabriel Sewell. Gabriel Sewell led the Nevada defense in 2018 with 92 total tackles and is on watch lists for the Chuck Bednarik Award and Polynesian Player of the Year.

"I'm sure when that number is called and he has to block him, and Gabe has to take on a block, they're not going to play patty cake," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said.

4. POSITION MOVES

As a result of the depleted wide receiving unit, Oregon has switched up its week two depth chart.

-Redshirt freshman Spencer Webb has been moved from tight end to wide receiver.

According to Cristobal, Webb’s role will be “expanded.” With Juwan Johnson out, the 6-foot-6 246-pound Webb was the large target that Herbert desperately needed against Auburn, scoring his first career touchdown -- an impressive 20-yard grab over the back of a defensive back.

-Sophomore Daewood Davis has been moved from cornerback to wide receiver.

As a redshirt freshman, Davis played receiver in seven games and had a 13-yard reception against San Jose State. He moved from wide receiver to cornerback after the season.

5. RED HOT DYE

In his 34th consecutive start, Dye recorded a game-high 15 tackles against Auburn. After a stellar 115-tackle junior season, Dye needs 106 tackles in 2019 to become Oregon’s all-time leader.

Currently, Dye leads all active Power 5 players with 328 career tackles and has 18 games with 10 or more tackles.

6. STREAKING HERBERT

Herbert has a streak of 29 consecutive games with a touchdown pass, the longest in the country. He has led Oregon to an average of 37.7 points per game over his 29 career starts, and ranks sixth among active FBS leaders in passing touchdowns (64) and eighth in passing yards (7,312).

7. HISTORY

Oregon is 6-1 all-time against Nevada, winning the last six straight. The last matchup was in 2011 when Darron Thomas matched a school record with six touchdown passes and the 13th-ranked Ducks dominated Nevada, 69-20. Last time Nevada beat Oregon was in 1947.

8. HOME OPENER DOMINANCE

Oregon owns a 14-game win streak in home openers heading into Saturday's showdown with Nevada. The streak has been fueled by an offense that has averaged 57.1 points per game over that span, outscoring their opponents by an 800-285 margin.

Also, a win would extend Oregon’s streak of consecutive wins over non-conference opponents at home to 24 that dates back to 2008.

9. THE AVALOS FACTOR

Oregon’s X-Factor in preparing for Nevada’s offense may be new defensive coordinator Andy Avalos. Avalos spent the last seven seasons at Boise State, were he gained lots of experienced facing the Wolf Pack.

10. ANOTHER FRESHMAN QB1

After facing Auburn freshman Bo Nix in his first college start, the Ducks will face another freshman quarterback in Nevada’s Carson Strong. Strong is the first Wolf Pack starting freshman since 1998.

Strong earned the starting nod midway through fall camp and had a debut. In Nevada’s win over Purdue, Strong completed 30- of-51 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns, including commanding a game-tying and game-winning drive in a come-from-behind victory.

MORE DUCKS:

Mario Cristobal's ear-catching comments about Jevon Holland

Oregon Ducks fall five spots in Top 25 after loss to Auburn

5 changes to Oregon's week two depth chart, following the loss to Auburn

Ducks started and ended their playoff run on the same night

 

Dropped passes problem: Oregon football noticing a difference from the inside

Dropped passes problem: Oregon football noticing a difference from the inside

Remember when penalties plagued Oregon football in 2017? Last season, the Ducks successfully improved from the most undisciplined and heavily penalized team in the country to fourth the Pac-12 Conference in penalty yards. Oregon coach Mario Cristobal corrected UO’s bad habits to dramatically improve from the FBS-worst 88.31 penalty yards per game to 47.92 penalty yards in 2018.

What a turn around.

The Ducks must do it again. It’s no secret that next on the fix list is Oregon’s dropped passes problem. The receiving corps dropped 52 passes in the 2018 season. That’s a major hindrance when trying to make the most of Heisman-hopeful quarterback Justin Herbert’s final season at UO. Drives and potential scoring opportunities cannot be halted due to drops if Oregon wants to improve on its 9-4 record. 

The good news is the rectification process is already paying dividends.

New wide receivers coach Jevon Bouknight made a strong statement right away; focusing on one of the most old-school and effective drills, the Jugs machine. Graduate transfer Juwan Johnson, tight end Cam McCormick and offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo all indicated the countless reps have had a large influence on the receivers.

Johnson, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound receiver with an advantage in size and experience, has seen a change even since he’s arrived a few months ago.

“There has definitely been a change in dropped passes,” Johnson said. “The difference is that now the guys have confidence. (Coach Bouknight) is all about the details, his middle name is details.”

Cristobal stated the passing game inefficiency did not stem from a lack of work ethic, rather a lack of confidence and attention to detail. Bouknight has established precise discipline in aligning perfectly before each play and nailing the details of each route.

Oregon fans noticed the zero dropped passes from the wide receivers in the UO spring game, while teammates are seeing a difference from the inside.

“Receivers are making incredible catches,” offensive lineman Penei Sewell said. “Watching them improve every day has been incredible. Whatever Coach Bouknight is doing, he needs to keep doing, he’s doing something right.”

The addition of Johnson and a strong freshman class has created a unit of competition where everyone is trying to fill the vacancy for Oregon’s next top receiver; Reliability is of the utmost importance.

“(The receivers) did a good job in spring, a really good job in summer, you can tell by the way they are coming into camp,” Arroyo said. “With the added group and added depth, every day is an opportunity to win a job, take a job or keep a job. “

The opportunity for playing time is plentiful but there is no time to waste; A date with Auburn football looms on August 31.

3 Ducks you must watch in the Redbox Bowl

3 Ducks you must watch in the Redbox Bowl

The Redbox Bowl will feature a Duck debut, a triumphant return and the last hurrah.

It also marks the first time the Ducks are playing a bowl game in the Bay Area, facing Big Ten foe Michigan State, Monday at noon at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

On Talkin’ Ducks (video above) I divulge the three Ducks in particular I will have my eye on; senior defensive end Jalen Jelks, freshman left tackle Penei Sewell and sophomore transfer linebacker DJ Johnson.

Why?

-I expect Jelks to ball out in his last game in green and yellow 

-Sewell's return could be a huge difference maker, considering MSU has the best rush defense in the country

-Johnson's debut will be a sneak peek of Oregon’s future at linebacker

Ducks lose starting LT Penei Sewell for six weeks

Ducks lose starting LT Penei Sewell for six weeks

From an offical press release from Oregon:

True freshman offensive lineman Penei Sewell will miss approximately six weeks due to a high ankle injury suffered in last weekend’s win over Washington, head coach Mario Cristobal announced on Tuesday morning. 

“Penei is a relentless competitor and I have no doubt he’ll return better than ever,” said Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal.

Sewell started the first six games at left tackle for the Ducks and is currently ranked the No. 6 tackle in the nation, according to Pro Football Focus.  The Saint George, Utah, native was the first Oregon true freshman to start along the offensive line in a season opener since 1997.

On the depth chart behind Sewell is junior George Moore. However, Oregon's offensive line prides itself on the versatility that each player can play multiple positions. When Sewell and Dallas Warmack (stinger, will return)  went down in the Washington game, backups Brady Aiello and Jacob Capra filled in at tackle and guard. 

Oregon Mailbag: Herbert's insane stats and what's going on with Taj Griffin?

Oregon Mailbag: Herbert's insane stats and what's going on with Taj Griffin?

Each week I will answer five of your best questions from Twitter or Instagram.

Who is Oregon's hype man this season? Will the Ducks put up 50 points on Saturday? What's going on with Taj Griffin? Which Duck is the best interview? Is there a weak link on the offensive line? 

Question from NBC Sports Northwest on Twitter: Does the Oregon football energy feel different this season? What differences have you noticed at practices and games? 

Answer: I have noticed a more controlled, disciplined excitement under Mario Cristobal. Cristobal puts major emphasis on details and schedule, which is a major change from last season under Willie Taggart.

The game day energy is different this season. Oregon’s strength and conditioning coach Aaron Feld is the Ducks’ hype man. He stands at the end of the tunnel and pumps up every player that walks on the field with his electric enthusiasm.
This team doesn’t “win the day” and it doesn’t swag surf. I don’t think this team has found its identity yet, but it will (which is fine, we are only two games into the season).

Question from Corey on Twitter: What is your over/under on the Ducks putting up 50+ points on the board against San Jose State?

Answer: San Jose State is near the bottom of the FBS level statistically in a number of defensive categories, so it’s very likely that Oregon scores over 50 points. I expect Justin Herbert to throw up insane passing numbers.

San Jose State ranks second to last nationally defending the pass. In SJSU’s first two games, UC Davis quarterback Jake Meier and Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew each finished with over 400 passing yards.

Question from Jere on Twitter: Which player on the current roster is the most fun to interview?

Answer: There are a lot of Ducks with good personalities on this team. Senior running back Tony Brooks-James is a great interview because I’ve interviewed him for five years and we’ve built a fun rapport. He can be silly and serious when he needs to be.

Linebacker La’Mar Winston Jr. has a lot to say and great stories to tell. On Oregon’s media day he told me about eating Duck for the first time while he studied art abroad in Paris this summer.

Question from Chip on Twitter: I am curious why Taj Griffin has not been more involved in the offense?

Answer: Taj Griffin has a very specific set of skills that Cristobal has planned on utilizing in UO’s offense. The speedy senior shines brightest in space, like when he took a screen pass from Herbert 83 yards to the end zone in Oregon’s opener. Expect him to be involved in the offense by contributing at running back and receiver, as he has worked on his blocking skills to stay in the backfield on more downs.

“We all know what Taj can do when he has some space," Cristobal said. 

Question from Jon on Twitter: Which player on the offensive line do you figure will be the most pivotal over the course of the season? 

Answer: Penei Sewell, the first true freshman offensive lineman to start the season opener since 1997 (last true freshman to start a game on the offensive line was right tackle Tyrell Crosby in 2014).

Sewell is protecting Herbert’s blind side at left tackle and, so far, has exceeded expectations and gained the trust and praise of his teammates. Will his inexperience play a factor as the Ducks play better opponents? We will see, but so far so good.

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Career-highs, milestones and streaks: Oregon numbers you need to know

Career-highs, milestones and streaks: Oregon numbers you need to know

On Saturday, No. 23 ranked Oregon is looking to extend its streak of consecutive non-conference home wins to 22 when it hosts Portland State at 11am at Autzen Stadium.

Yes, the Ducks should crush the young Portland State Vikings, but there is still plenty to watch and get excited about. If you want to be the person at the tailgate with all the facts, here are some numbers to know:

High-flying offense: Oregon is 78-0 all-time when scoring 50+ points.

Oh, the good ole days: Oregon hasn’t scored 50 points in back-to-back games since 2014 (Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl). This could change against Portland State on Saturday, if the Ducks amass 50 points. 

Defensive duo: Jalen Jelks and Troy Dye combined for 28.5 tackles for loss in 2017. They are the top returning tackles for loss duo in the Pac-12 conference.

On a roll: Oregon has four defensive touchdowns in its last three games (dating back to last season) with at least one in each contest.

Go Herbie go: Quarterback Justin Herbert’s five touchdown passes in UO’s season opener broke the record for most touchdown passes in an opener in Oregon history. Akili Smith (1998) and Danny O'Neill (1994), previously held the record with four touchdowns each.

Career-highs: In UO’s opener, defensive lineman Jordon Scott set career-highs in tackles (7) and tackles for loss (1.5). Defensive lineman Austin Faoliu set a career-high with five tackles. Wide receiver Jaylon Redd set a career-high with 81 yards receiving
 and scored a 33-yard touchdown, the longest touchdown catch of his career. Defensive lineman Jalen Jelks tatched a career-high with nine tackles (third straight game with six or more).

First game under the lights: A total of 10 true freshmen played in UO’s season opener. (Bryan Addison, Karsten Battles, Travis Dye, Kahlef Hailassee, Jevon Holland, Verone McKinley III, Penei Sewell, Tom Snee and Steve Stephens)

Freshman starter: Right tackle Penei Sewell was the first true freshman offensive lineman to start season opener since 1997 (Last true freshman to start a game on the offensive line was RT Tyrell Crosby in 2014).

Don’t mess with Hollins: Justin Hollins recorded a tackle for loss in UO’s season opener for the fifth straight game dating back to 2017.

Safety Ugo Amadi poised to be a star: Amadi returned his fifth career interception 38 yards for a touchdown on Bowling Green’s first drive of the second half. The senior finished sixth on the team in total tackles with five, but he was tied for the lead with four solo tackles. After his performance in the opener, the Ducks have moved him to the starting punt returner role.

Nose in the books: A first-team Academic All-American as a sophomore, Herbert holds a 4.06 GPA as a biology major.

Run Tony, run: Senior running back Tony Brooks-James surpassed 1,000 all-purpose yards in each of the last two seasons.


UO’s “penalty problem” showed improvement: In 2017, Oregon was the most penalized team in the nation, averaging 9.4 penalties for 88.3 penalty yards per game. Oregon finished with three penalties for 35 yards.

 

More Ducks:

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Oregon’s unpredictable power/tempo offense brings the "thump"

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Streaks and records you need to know for Oregon's home season opener

Streaks and records you need to know for Oregon's home season opener

The Ducks have won 13-consecutive home season openers. On Saturday, No. 24 ranked Oregon is looking to extend that streak to 14 against Bowling Green.

Now, I know you might be thinking Bowling Green is a “cupcake” opponent and rolling your eyes, but there is plenty to watch and get excited about. If you want to be the person at the tailgate with all the facts, here are some numbers to know from the Oregon Athletic department:

High-flying offense: In Oregon’s 13-game home season opener win streak, the Ducks have averaged 57.1 points per game.

Autzen dominance: Oregon has won 20 consecutive home non-conference games dating back to 2008.

Defensive duo: Jalen Jelks and Troy Dye combined for 28.5 tackles for loss in 2017. They are the top returning tackles for loss duo in the Pac-12.

Go Herbie, go: With QB Justin Herbert in the starting lineup in 2017, Oregon posted a 6-2 record and averaged 49.1 points per game.

Freshman starter: Right tackle Penei Sewell will be first true freshman offensive lineman to start season opener since 1997 (Last true freshman to start a game on the offensive line was RT Tyrell Crosby in 2014).

Coming in hot: Junior receiver Dillon Mitchell had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games to end last season. In 2017 Mitchell led UO with 42 catches and 517 receiving yards.

Nose in the books: A first-team Academic All-American as a sophomore, Herbert holds a 4.06 GPA as a biology major.

The race is on: Herbert needs just 81 passing yards against Bowling Green to reach the 4,000-yard milestone. If so, Herbert will tie program bests set by Marcus Mariota (reached 4,000 yards in 18 games) and Joey Harrington (reached 4,000 yards in 16 starts).

Run Tony, run: Senior running back Tony Brooks-James surpassed 1,000 all-purpose yards in each of the last two seasons.


More Ducks:

Oregon’s unpredictable power/tempo offense brings the "thump"

How the new redshirt rule helps Oregon

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

Dazzling UO running backs: The locks, contenders and long shots

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

Oregon's Week 1 depth chart

Expectations remain high for transfer WR Tabari Hines

Ducks top Huskies, again