Preview 2017: Oregon Ducks
Previewing and looking ahead at the Oregon Ducks season – and what you need to know.
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What You Need To Know About The Oregon Offense
The offensive coordinator tandem of Marcus Arroyo and Mario Cristobal won’t tinker with the formula too much. Head coach Willie Taggart was able to crank up the ground game at South Florida, and while he’ll want more power, he’ll keep the Oregon up-tempo principles.
The Ducks were 15th in the nation in total offense last year. With the talent returning, there’s no need to do mess with much of anything.
Royce Freeman and the top four running backs return after combining for well over 2,000 yards,27 touchdowns and averaged well over five yards per carry. There’s explosion, power, and speed to burn. Combine them with the terrific class of recruits, and look out – especially behind the fantastic line.
The Ducks went through a few lumps last year with a slew of underclassmen up front, but now they’re outstanding on the line four starters back along with Tyrell Crosby, who missed almost all of last year with a foot problem.
The emergence of Justin Herbert as the star quarterback of the show – he threw 19 touchdown passes and four picks in just nine games – was one of the big positives in a lost season. He might not be the runner that past Oregon star QBs were – or what Taggart had at USF in Quinton Flowers – but he can move.
Even with the loss of Darren Carrington, Charles Nelson is still an NFL receiver who’s still around Eugene, but the established depth isn’t there. The tight end situation is a bit of a question mark, too, but it’s hardly a big concern.
Biggest Key To The Oregon Offense
Can Herbert stay in one piece, and quickly adapt to the new coaching staff? The starting receivers are fantastic, the O line is outstanding, and the backs might be the best in the Pac-12. As long as the quarterback situation is solid, the Ducks will be unstoppable.
Herbert isn’t going to receive a whole bunch of love in a league with Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Jake Browning, but he’s on the verge of stardom, too, if he can repeat and improve on his great first year. There isn’t any experience behind him, so developing the depth is a must.
What You Need To Know About The Oregon Defense
What do you do when your defense is among the worst in the country? You get one of the best defensive minds in all of football as your coordinator. Taggart hired former South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt – who spent the last few years building up the Colorado D – but can he work miracles?
Oregon finished with the third-worst defense in the country in both yards and points allowed. The run defense was bad, the pass D worse, and nothing worked for a group that gave up the most first downs of anyone in college football.
It starts up front with a change to a 3-4 alignment. Experience isn’t a problem with everyone back, but getting into the backfield more is a must. Henry Mondeaux is a good all-around end to start with, while Clemson transfer Scott Pagano should be an instant help.
Tony Dye is a great-looking young hitter who led the team in tackles as a freshman, while fellow linebacker Jimmie Swain was second. This group can move, and now it’ll be up to the quick options on the outside to be more disruptive.
Experience isn’t a problem in the front seven, and it isn’t an issue in the secondary, either, with everyone back. Aaron Springs made a whole slew of plays at one corner spot, and Brenden Schooler made a slew of tackles to lead the safeties, but …
Biggest Key To The Oregon Defense
It’s up to the defensive front to start doing more. The secondary has been way too soft over the past few years – last season it allowed teams to hit 65% of their passes and failed to come up with an interception in six of their last eight games – but it hasn’t had a whole lot of help.
The Ducks came up with a mere 25 sacks and 61 tackles for loss, failing to bail out a miserable run defense that allowed 200 yards or more in nine of the last ten games. How low was the bar? All Oregon had to do was allow fewer than 220 rushing yards – it was 4-0 when allowing fewer, 0-8 when giving up more – and it could barely do that.
Oregon Will Be Far Better If …
It does everything right. The defense has to be better, the offense more consistent, and the new coaching staff has to crank the machine back up. But to win the Pac-12, all of the main problems have to be fixed, and the Ducks have to stop messing up.
South Florida wasn’t great when it came to penalties – getting hit just over six times per game – but it was 14th in the nation in turnover margin. Oregon was flagged more than everyone but two teams, and was miserable when it came to turnover margin. Throw in the problems punting the ball, and there are a whole slew of things that need to be fixed.
Best Oregon Offensive Player
RB Royce Freeman, Sr. – A slight stunner that he came back for his senior year, the 5-11, 230-pound veteran didn’t quite have the 1,836-yard, 17-score. campaign he cranked up as a sophomore – he was limited a bit by a leg injury – but he still led the team with 945 yards and nine scores with 23 catches for 144 yards and a touchdown.
He missed time early in the year and was bottled up for stretches, but when he’s healthy and on his game, he’s one of the nation’s best blends of speed and pop. One of the sure-thing five best running backs for next year’s draft, it’ll be a battle between him and Georgia’s Nick Chubb for the honor of being the best senior running back.
2. QB Justin Herbert, Soph.
3. OT Tyrell Crosby, Sr.
4. RB Tony Brooks-James, Jr.
5. C Jake Hanson, Soph.
Best Oregon Defensive Player
LB Troy Dye, Soph. – Not everything about the Oregon defense was a disaster. The 6-4, 225-pounder turned in a terrific first season from his strongside linebacker spot, leading the team with 91 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and 13 tackles for loss.
A beefed up defensive back, he showed off the range and the pass rushing ability to get all over the field and be a force in the open field, highlighted by a 14-tackle day against Cal as part of a three-game stretch making 37 stops.
2. DE Justin Hollins, Jr.
3. LB Jimmie Swain, Sr.
4. CB Arrion Springs, Sr.
5. S Brenden Schooler, Soph.
Key Player To A Successful Season
DT Scott Pagano, Sr. – The defensive front three in the new scheme has to be stronger, the pass rush has to be better, and the D as a whole has to be more disruptive. There’s experience up front, but there aren’t a slew of killers for a defense that generated just 25 sacks and gave up 247 rushing yards a game.
Enter Pagano, a transfer from Clemson with 6-3, 295-pound size and a national title ring, coming up with 31 tackles two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. A spot starter for the Tigers, he’s expected to step in and instantly change the makeup of the Duck D when arrives.
The Oregon Season Will Be A Success If …
It wins the Pac-12 North. The depth is lacking, there still might not be any semblance of a decent defense, and the road games at Stanford, UCLA and Washington might be too tough to overcome.
The Ducks beat the Huskies and Cardinal on the road two years ago. Even so, the North title might be a bit of a reach, but would it really be any sort of a shocker? At least if they’re in the hunt late, and if they get to ten wins, it’ll be an outstanding start to the Taggart era.
Key Game To The Oregon Season
Sept. 9 vs. Nebraska – Of course the showdowns against Stanford and Washington will mean everything to the Ducks and their Pac-12 chances, but if this really is going to be a bounceback year, and if 2016 was really and truly just an aberration, then they have to take down a mediocre Nebraska team without working too hard.
Last year, a 35-32 loss in Lincoln should’ve been an indication of things to come, but it mostly seemed like a bit of an aberration. As it turned out, it was the beginning of a five-game losing streak. Destroy the Huskers, look the part again, get the swag back.
2016 Oregon Fun Stats
– Yards Per Carry: Opponents 5.7 – Oregon 5.5
– Time of Possession: Opponents 34:16 – Oregon 25:44
– Fumbles: Oregon 20 (lost 9) – Opponents 8 (lost 3)