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.

Mike Leach goes full Gregg Popovich in halftime interview

Mike Leach goes full Gregg Popovich in halftime interview

Mike Leach is a national treasure and we can't get enough of him. As WSU headed into halftime tied 17-17 with Oregon, Leach got asked what his defense was doing well against Justin Herbert. 

In the most Mike Leach way ever, he gave his answer:

Never change Coach, never change. 

Troy Dye not suited up for Oregon vs. Washington State

Troy Dye not suited up for Oregon vs. Washington State

EUGENE - Oregon linebacker Troy Dye will not play against Washington State tonight.

The Duck senior is not in uniform and watching his teammates warm up in sweats with a bright pink cast.

Earlier this week, Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal said that Dye, who broke his thumb vs. Washington, would be monitored and limited in practice.  

Cristobal added that since Dye already played through the injury in Seattle, he was expected to play against the Cougars. With the team’s leader in tackles out, it appears Dru Mathis will start and MJ Cunningham and Sampson Nui will be the next men up against the Cougars’ active offense.

Oregon football: "Nightmare Green" for Washington State

Oregon football: "Nightmare Green" for Washington State

Looking to stay undefeated in Pac-12 Conference play and atop the North Division, the No. 11 Oregon Ducks will be donning nightmare green against Washington State. Many had hoped the Ducks would wear pink for breast cancer awareness month or black in the weekend before Halloween. Better brew that coffee… kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. (PT) on Saturday night in Autzen Stadium. Duck fans are encouraged to wear yellow, while students plan to wear black.

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). 

An Oregon win would snap a four-game losing streak to Washington State.

MORE DUCKS:

Ducks “moving on” from Brenden Schooler… to Juwan Johnson?

Oregon Ducks perplexed by Mike Leach's "Middle Earth" comments about Autzen stadium

Numbers to know: Oregon vs. Washington State

How Brenden Schooler's transfer does/doesn’t affect the Ducks

Why a healthy Deommodore Lenoir is crucial for Oregon vs. Washington State

Ducks “moving on” from Brenden Schooler… to Juwan Johnson?

Ducks “moving on” from Brenden Schooler… to Juwan Johnson?

Oregon senior wide receiver Brenden Schooler has entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal as a graduate transfer and the dominos have begun to fall. According Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal, the Ducks must press on.

"As it relates to Brenden Schooler, he has elected to grad transfer and we support him in his choice, and we move on," Cristobal said. 

When asked if Schooler's transfer caught him by surprise, Cristobal replied, "We just move on."

Schooler’s departure doesn’t slow down Oregon (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12), who has command of the Pac-12 North Division. While the Ducks will greatly miss the highly regarded leadership and intangibles Schooler provided, his production has already been replaced while he was out for Oregon’s first four games with injury (broken foot).

In his three games played this season, Schooler has only has two catches for 44 yards. During his absence, Johnny Johnson III, Jaylon Redd and Bryan Addison took over as reliable targets for quarterback Justin Herbert. Freshman Mycah Pittman, who returned from injury at the same time, has found a more regular rotation with the receivers than Schooler did. Pittman has 148 receiving yards on nines receptions and one touchdown.

Schooler’s decision to leave is likely playing time oriented. Simply put, the Ducks were forced find their grove while Schooler was out. Now the question must be raised, does his departure propel Juwan Johnson’s highly-anticipated Duck career forward?

When graduate transfer Johnson stepped foot on campus, his teammates were in awe. The Ducks tabbed Johnson as “the scariest big play threat for this season.” Even Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said his first thought was how large Johnson is in pads.

At 6-foot-4, 230-pounds, Johnson’s large, powerful, physical frame is unlike the other receivers currently on Oregon’s roster. Plus, he brings experience to the position: entering 2019 he had played in 16 more games than the Ducks’ most veteran wide receiver, Schooler.

"I’m here to be a leader," Johnson said when he arrived in Eugene in April. "That’s my job here, come in and bring a leader and bring that energy to the team. I want to bring the guys up so we can win a Pac-12 championship, national championship and those sort of things."

However, a right calf injury sidelined Johnson for four games and Herbert has rarely targeting him since returning to the field. In three games, Johnson has two catches for 36 yards. Both catches were in Oregon’s win vs. Colorado.

It’s possible Johnson has been playing through injury or shaking off rust and that is the reason his reps have been limited. According to Cristobal on Wednesday, Johnson, “really looks like he’s healthy now.”

“We’ve got him targeted here this week again and if the ball goes in his direction we expect him to make some plays," Arroyo said on Tuesday. “Putting him in the position to be successful I think comes in two parts: working through the week and being successful and proving we can be part of it and then coming out on a Saturday and proving it.”

Washington State (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12), which is ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in pass defense in conference games, is a big opportunity for Johnson. Saturday is a chance for the big play threat to turn into a big play reality.

 

Oregon Ducks perplexed by Mike Leach's "Middle Earth" comments about Autzen stadium

Oregon Ducks perplexed by Mike Leach's "Middle Earth" comments about Autzen stadium

Another week, another Mike “Leach-ism”. The Washington State coach described Autzen Stadium as “Middle Earth” he continued to say he likes the unique atmosphere and considers it one of the loudest in the nation.

Middle-earth is the fictional setting of British writer J. R. R. Tolkien's books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

[RELATED: Preparing for Autzen's crowd noise is just another Thursday for Mike Leach]

Not sure what to make of that comparison? The Ducks are with you. I asked junior wide receivers Jaylon Redd and Johnny Johnson III, who were perplexed but agreed that there is nothing like Autzen Stadium. 
Enjoy his response in the video above. 

MORE DUCKS:

Numbers to know: Oregon vs. Washington State

How Brenden Schooler's transfer does/doesn’t affect the Ducks

Why a healthy Deommodore Lenoir is crucial for Oregon vs. Washington State

Numbers to know: Oregon vs. Washington State

Numbers to know: Oregon vs. Washington State

Oregon hosts Washington State in a Pac-12 After Dark special at 7:30 p.m., Saturday in Autzen Stadium. 

The No. 11 Ducks (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12) look to stay atop the Pac-12 North Division, while the Cougars (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) are coming off their first conference win, defeating Colorado 41-10 in a strong offensive showing. 

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

HOME DOMINANCE

In Autzen Stadium, Oregon has outscored its four opponents 174-19. The Ducks have allowed only one touchdown in 53 drives by its opponents.

LEACHISM

After WSU’s victory against Colorado, Coach Mike Leach looked ahead to the “tough” Ducks and referred to Autzen Stadium as a “great looking stadium that looks like Middle Earth”on the WSU postgame radio show.

Middle-earth is the fictional setting of British writer J. R. R. Tolkien's books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

COUGS ARE STREAKING

The Cougars have won the last four meetings with Oregon including a 34-20 victory in Pullman last season. WSU has left Autzen victorious the past two seasons: 45-38 (OT) in 2015 and 33-10 in 2017. Oregon has never lost to WSU five-straight times.

IT’S JOHNNY JOHNSON III’S TIME

Junior wide receiver Johnny Johnson led the Ducks vs. Washington with 90 receiving yards and five receptions, all which resulted in a first down. His 30 catches this season is already more than his sophomore season total (17) and freshman season total (21).

CAREER HIGHS GALORE

Sophomore running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio has scored six rushing touchdowns in the last three games. He has set a new career high in each of the past three games. Against Washington, all 81 of his rushing yards came in the second half.

FROM PULLMAN TO EUGENE

Four members of the Oregon coaching staff have ties to the Washington State football program: Associate Head Coach/Defensive Line Joe Salave'a coached the WSU defensive line (2012-16), Linebackers coach Ken Wilson coached the WSU linebackers (2013-18), running backs coach Jim Mastro coached the WSU running backs (2012-17) and offensive analyst David Gilbertson was a WSU quarterback (2009-12).

AERIAL ATTACK

WSU leads the country in passing (440.7 yards per game), is 4th in total offense (532.7 yards per game) and 8th in scoring (42.7 points per game). Quarterback Anthony Gordon has 2,981 passing yards with 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

INSANE RATIO

Oregon senior offensive tackle Calvin Throckmorton has allowed just one sack over last 38 games (2,766 snaps). In his 45th consecutive start, Throckmorton earned Pac-12 Conference offensive lineman of week for his performance against Washington on Saturday.

THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE AUTZEN

A win on Saturday night would mark Oregon's eighth-straight win at Autzen Stadium, good for the longest streak since a 10-game run from 2013 into 2014. A victory would improve Oregon to 11-1 at Autzen Stadium under coach Mario Cristobal.

A WIN WOULD…

Give Oregon its first seven-game Pac-12 win streak since 2014. It’d also be Oregon’s first 5-0 start to Pac-12 play since 2013.


Preparing for Autzen's crowd noise is just another Thursday for Mike Leach

Preparing for Autzen's crowd noise is just another Thursday for Mike Leach

The Oregon Ducks are in mid-week preparation for their Saturday night game vs. the WSU Cougars and head coach Mike Leach. 

He's already called Autzen "middle earth" this week and one can only sit in anticipation with what topic and quote will come from Leach tomorrow. 

Yesterday, Leach was speaking with the Pac-12 after practice and was asked about piping in crowd noise to practice to preparing for places likes Autzen. 

An un-phased Coach Leach responded simply:

We do it every Thursday. Yep, every Thursday. 

And with that, the interview turned to other topics. 

It is fair to say that Mike Leach isn't losing any sleep about the crowd noise Duck fans are planning to bring to Autzen on Saturday. You can watch Coach Leach's availability from yesterday below: 

WSU Coach Mike Leach calls Autzen Stadium 'Middle Earth'

WSU Coach Mike Leach calls Autzen Stadium 'Middle Earth'

Washington State Coach Mike Leach hardly disappoints when it comes to giving a good quote. That sentiment held true when Leach was asked about the Cougars upcoming matchup against No. 11 Oregon on Saturday, October 26 at 7:30 p.m.

Washington State (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) is coming off their first conference win on Saturday, defeating Colorado 41-10 in a strong offensive showing. After the victory, Leach looked ahead to the “tough” Ducks and referred to Autzen Stadium as a “great looking stadium that looks like Middle Earth” on the WSU postgame radio show.

Middle-earth is the fictional setting of British writer J. R. R. Tolkien's books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

In his Monday press conference, Leach continued his analysis of Autzen Stadium.

“I’ve always like Autzen Stadium. It is one of my favorites in the country. Most people have it as the loudest, I would agree with that,” Leach said.

Then, Leach moved on to preview the Ducks (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12), who have control atop the Pac-12 North Division. The Cougars have beat the Ducks four-consecutive times.

On Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert:

“He’s a talented guy, but, you know, I am very pleased we have ours instead,” Leach said.

How does he plan to stop Herbert?

“The same way we have for the past four years,” Leach said.

 On Oregon’s success:

“The surprising thing to me is that people are surprised,” Leach said.

Leach continued to say the Ducks’ recruiting classes have been one of the best in the country in recent years, why would anyone be surprised that four and five star athletes are playing well?

Why a healthy Deommodore Lenoir is crucial for Oregon vs. Washington State

Why a healthy Deommodore Lenoir is crucial for Oregon vs. Washington State

Oregon starting cornerback Deommodore Lenoir is on this week's depth chart and has been cleared to play against Washington State on Saturday, according to Mario Cristobal.

“(Lenoir) looks good,” Cristobal said. “We feel like he’s ready to go and will be ready to go (against Washington State)."

Lenoir, who has started 20 straight games, suffered an injury in the Ducks’ comeback win at Washington while making a tackle with teammate Nick Pickett. Lenoir left for the locker room, did not return to the game and true freshman DJ James filled in.

Cristobal also added that senior linebacker Troy Dye, who broke his thumb vs. the Huskies, will be monitored, but he already played through the injury on Saturday and is expected to play against the Cougars.

With zero conferences losses, No. 11 Oregon (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12) has control atop the Pac-12 North Division. While the Cougars (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) are coming off their first conference win on Saturday, defeating Colorado 41-10 in a strong offensive showing.

Coach Mike Leach’s air raid offense is different than anything UO Defensive Coordinator Andy Avalos and the Ducks have competed against thus far this season.

However, Lenoir knows the Cougars all too well and has never beaten them in his Oregon career. WSU has beaten Oregon four-consecutive times. The health of the upperclassman is vital to stopping WSU.

Lenoir, who was recently named a mid-season All-American by Pro Football Focus, is allowing less than half the balls targeted in his direction to be caught, the best coverage grade in the Pac-12 and one of the best percentages in the nation.

That excellent coverage will be needed against WSU who spreads the field with their receivers. WSU quarterback Anthony Gordon threw four touchdown passes against Colorado, his fourth game with four or more touchdowns in a game this season.

“We have not done a good enough job against Washington State for the past four years,” Crisotbal said.
The Duck defense has dominated at home so far this season, giving up just 19 points in four home games this season while forcing 19 three-and-outs in 53 drives. The Ducks have nine different players with an interception, led by sophomore safety Jevon Holland who leads the nation with three picks.

Off to a 4-0 start in Pac-12 play for the first time since 2013, Lenoir and the Ducks look to avoid a letdown game and snap the four-game losing streak against Washington State on Saturday, October 26 at 7:30 p.m.