1. A lot has been made of Oregon’s injury issues. What will that look like on Thursday?
That’s a good question because the Ducks won’t discuss injuries. However, the latest depth chart included in Oregon’s weekly media release indicates that starting tackle Jake Fisher may start at left tackle moving true freshman Tyrell Crosby back to right tackle. Fisher missed the WSU game and part of the Wyoming game. His return adds another experienced senior to line up that faced some rough spots against the Cougars in Pullman.
Another lineman, junior college transfer Haniteli Lousi, 6-5, 308 is back on the depth chart as the back-up left guard. Lousi has been out since the opener against South Dakota. Another lineman, Elijah George, may also be back though he is not listed on the 2-deep depth chart.
Cornerback Troy Hill missed the Wyoming game, but was back in action against WSU.
All-American tackle Tyler Johnstone is recovering from a knee injury, but was practicing on Sunday. However, it is highly unlikely that Johnstone will be available for the Arizona game and probably won’t be available for the rest of the regular season. Another tackle, Andre Yruretagoyena, is still on crutches with a cast on his right leg.
The rest of the team appears in good shape and should play Thursday night.
2. By now we know what happened last season. Is Mark Helfrich playing up the revenge angle?
For the most part the Ducks are downplaying the loss last year. While some of the players think there is some revenge factor, they will point out that this is a different team and that they want to take each game “one at a time.” Helfrich is quick to point out that there are 40 new faces on this squad that were not here last season and so far this season 10 true freshmen have made an appearance in games.
The Ducks seem to be more focused on how they are executing rather than circling the calendar for Thursday night’s game. Last year the Ducks felt they made too many mistakes in all phases of the game and if they could throw away the videos of what happened they would.
Realistically they realize that there will be no Ka’Deem Carey or B.J. Denker to deal with, and Anu Solomon presents a different set of problems for the Oregon defense to figure out.
3. How has Oregon’s defense changed with a new coordinator, if at all?
Don Pellum, the new defensive coordinator, took over the job last winter from his longtime boss Nick Aliotti. Pellum also played at Oregon, so while there might be a few new wrinkles, it appears to be very subtle as far as the Oregon defense looking different. The Ducks still want to stop the run first, then force the opponent into passing situations where the Oregon athletes can make plays.
The defensive line showed up decisively in the second half of the Michigan State game and made a difference. Since then though, the Ducks have allowed a lot of yardage.
Most Oregon fans were shocked at the Duck defensive performance on the road at WSU, but the Cougars present a different challenge as they will throw the ball the entire game with short routes and Oregon may have given too much cushion to receivers in those routes.
Oregon is lining up in a 3-4 scheme and so far this season it has been effective enough for a 4-0 record. It will be interesting to see what happens when Solomon has the ball in his hands and rolls out with the option to throw the ball down field.
4. We all know about Marcus Mariota, but who is another player that is vital to Oregon’s success on Thursday?
The first name that pops out is Devon Allen, the wide receiver. Arizona fans may remember him from his days at Brophy Prep in Phoenix. Allen has become the main target for Mariota and is averaging 74.8 yards per game and has five touchdowns so far this season. Allen is also the NCAA reigning 110 High Hurdle Champion in track. The versatile athlete has breakaway speed and is a deep threat who seems to be improving each game.
Byron Marshall is actually the leading receiver out of the tazer position with 18 catches for the season.
5. In general, how does this team compare to last year’s?
In some ways this is a very different team with all the new faces, but really, with No. 8 on the field, the Ducks are still a quick strike offense that can score quickly and score often. Mariota has been spectacular all season. His decision making has been very impressive. Last game against WSU, while the Oregon defense struggled, the Cougars had no answer for Mariota.
Even when a patch-work offensive line that was on the verge of complete collapse, Mariota demonstrated great leadership on the sidelines talking to the young offensive linemen and for the most part, the Ducks played much better in the second half of the game on the way to a one touchdown win on the road.
One thing remains to be seen in the Arizona game on Thursday night and that is how does the Oregon running game perform? The Ducks have three exceptionally talented running backs in Marshall, Thomas Tyner and freshman Royce Freeman, yet none have had a 100-yard game this season.
That’s not to say the Oregon running game isn’t productive, because it averages 225.2 yards per game. That figure is helped by Mariota’s contribution of 53.5. Actually the Ducks did have one rusher go over 100 yards in rushing against WSU and that was Mariota with 106 total yards. However, he was sacked seven times and the figure ended up 58-net yards rushing.