The Ducks are coming off a tough loss at Nebraska... what are the expectations for this Oregon team going into Pac-12 play? How much pressure is Mark Helfrich under, if any, up there in Eugene?
Steve Summers: "The Ducks expect to win every game they play, of course that was what their thinking before the Nebraska loss, but now there seems to be optimism among the players that they will get back on track against Colorado. If you are asking what expectations the fans have, that seems to vary as fans of any program naturally think the team is better when they win and worse when they lose. Duck fans are no different in that regard.
"The Ducks are very secretive about the program and practices and camps are completely closed to the public and media, save on special practice during spring ball and once during fall camp where donors at certain contribution level were allowed in. The Athletic Department hired a professional blogger, who writes daily updates on practices but the reports are highly sanitized from giving a real picture of how the team looks. That is all fine when a team goes 12-1, wins the Pac-12 Conference Championship and a Rose Bowl game and played for the National Championship. However, when the team loses three games in the regular season and then loses the Alamo Bowl after having built a 31-0 halftime lead, the secrecy wears thin.
"Last week hurt Mark Helfrich in more ways that just losing. When a coaching staff has one of the most reliable place kickers in the country in Aidan Schneider, yet chooses to go for four straight 2-point conversion plays that fail that creates heat. The Ducks scored five touchdowns last week, and converted the first 2-point conversion. On the second TD, again they went for two, but failed. The problem is that instead of kicking extra points on the next three that would have at least tied the game, they went for 2 and missed. So the heat is on, not scorching yet, but this coaching staff has demonstrated they make mistakes too often."
What are the Ducks' strengths and weaknesses based off your observations?
"I wish I could have watched a little practice to get a better idea, but all I’ve been able to see are games. The Ducks strength still is the ability to score a lot of points, and are fourth in the high scoring Pac-12 Conference at 43.0 points per game, plus are second in total offense at 545.3 yards per contest.
"The biggest weakness is defense, especially stopping the run. So far this season, the Ducks have allowed an average of 29.7 points, 402.7 yards, including 170.0 yards rushing. This isn’t very good but surprisingly significantly much better than last season. Penalties have really hurt the defensive effort, especially pass interference. The Ducks are at the bottom of the conference having had 33 flags thrown at them, accounting for 314 lost yards and a whopping minus 104.7 yards per game.
"Coaching? Mark Helfrich was the offensive coordinator at Colorado and what happened there? When he came to Oregon, Chip Kelly was the head coach and left Helfrich a kid name Marcus Mariota to be the quarterback. Helfrich kept Kelly’s system in place after Kelly departed for the NFL. Mariota of course won the Heisman Trophy and the Ducks played in the National Championship game. But what does Helfrich do that isn’t a carbon copy of Kelly? I’ll let it go at that."
Who are the Ducks' top playmakers, on both sides of the ball?
"If he is playing, Royce Freeman will be a load for the Buffs to handle. After playing in the first quarter last week, Freeman left the game due to what appeared to be a shin injury of some sort (Duck secrecy: don’t talk about injuries even when the entire nation sees it happen on a national television broadcast) When Freeman left the game, his three backups, Kani Benoit (finished with 100 yards rushing, one TD off a 41-yard run), Taj Griffin (68 net yards including a 50-yard TD run) and Tony Brooks-James who scored three TDs and had a total of 37 yards with his longest TD run of 20 yards.
"The driver of the Oregon offense is Dakota Prukop, the graduate transfer from Montana State. He’s not as fast as Marcus Mariota, doesn’t have quite the same long ball accuracy as Vernon Adams, but is right up there with both in terms of productivity by throwing 249.33 yards per game passing, six touchdowns and no interceptions so far this year. He also is part of the running game with 172 total yards (152 net) but has been sacked five times.
"Darren Carrington is the biggest receiver threat with 70.67 yards per contest. He has one TD off a 50-yard play. Devon Allen was the second leading receiver and the Olympian was on his way this year but suffered a torn ACL and is lost for the season and perhaps his career is finished. Time will tell on that. Surprisingly, Charles Nelson, the guy who had two TDs in 2014 against Colorado and a touchdown last year, has been relatively quiet as a receiver on catching 13 catches for 117 yards but no TDs. Nelson is dangerous on kick and punt returns but has not yet converted any this season.
"Defensively, the top defenders in a rather nameless group are linebacker Troy Dye with 4.5 TFLs, all in the first game; cornerback Tyree Robinson, the team’s leading tackler with 18, but his has had a rash of PI calls against him; and defensive tackle Jalen Jelks, who was out last week but is listed on the depth chart is the best pass rusher and has two sacks."
Like Colorado, the Ducks are having injury issues right now... could you break down the injuries and the impact they will have on Oregon this Saturday?
"We know for sure Devon Allen and start left tackle Tyrell Crosby are done for the season. For a brief change, Helfrich talked about them in his Tuesday presser. He also mentioned that he hopes Royce Freeman will play and the top running back is listed starter on the depth chart for this game. While tight end Pharaoh Brown is back after a horrendous injury that nearly cost him his leg two years ago, he’s still a threat even though they’d like to limit the time he’s on the field. Back up and last year’s starter Evan Baylis was out for the first two games but was back last week, however back up Johnny Mundt, who had a big game against Cal-Davis is now injured. No passes were thrown at the tight end last week, so were not sure how the health of that unit will impact the game. No major injuries have been leaked about the defense (Oregon secrecy: don’t comment on injuries, but let your interns leak the information on social media)"
Lastly, what is your score prediction for Saturday's game?
"I don’t think this will be the double-figure blow out we’ve seen in this series since Colorado joined the conference. If the Buffaloes have any kind of running game at all the score could end up in single digits. Colorado quarterback play is going to be essential, but even with Oregon’s problems with coaching decision, this is going to be a very tough road game and I think the Ducks win at home by 7 in a game that’s not particularly high scoring. If Sefo Liufau plays I’m tempted to switch that prediction around."