With EDuck.com publish Steve Summers
1. How much buzz has this kind of game to kick off the season created in Eugene and around the state? Duck football is already the big sports story in Oregon and this game simply adds another chapter. The BCS National Championship game obviously was huge for Oregonians and this kind of game against LSU with all the ESPN hype that surrounds it makes it something that will set ratings records. Few television sets will have anything else on come 5 p.m. (Pacific) on Saturday.
2. Besides guys named Darron Thomas and LaMichael James, what is it that makes this offense hum so well? Practice. The tempo of the team is the key to its success. What makes the offense go so well is that the Ducks rarely make mistakes in execution. Last year Oregon had few calls for false starts and considering the Ducks want to get back to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball within 14 seconds of the whistle makes them extremely effective. In Chip Kelly’s practices the Ducks seldom scrimmage, instead they do repetitions and try to get as many practice snaps in as possible. That means there are no huddles; no standing around; no wasted time. Sometimes it was so hard to identify exactly who was in the 11x11 drills because by the time linemen had untangled from the snap, they were lining up and the quarterback was calling signals.
3. How deep are the concerns about running this offense against an SEC defense with a revamped offensive line? The biggest question about Oregon’s offensive line is at center because the three candidates for the starting job have so little game experience. Hroniss Grasu is the projected starter and redshirted last year. He is a very smart and mobile player, and somewhat of a mean streak to him. While the official roster reflects a line that seems a bit on the smallish side, but my eyeball evaluation makes me a bit skeptical of what the Ducks chose to list.
4. Defensively what does Oregon have to do to stack up against the speed and power of LSU? Defensively the Ducks will rely on an aggressive defense that will be designed to put pressure on the quarterback. The interior defensive linemen will use their speed to fill gaps and allow the speed of linebackers to make plays. The secondary is filled with what Tennessee’s Derrick Dooley termed, ‘California speed,’ and he is right the bulk of the Oregon Ducks are from California. Expect multiple fronts with the defense substituting freely. Last year Oregon used 20-26 defenders per game, meaning that defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is not afraid to make wholesale personnel changes during the game. The Ducks feel the talent level is good enough that there isn’t much if any drop off in the two-deep roster. Fresh bodies do wonders against speedy and powerful players who are a bit spent.
5. What do you think the Ducks learned from the BCS National Championship Game against an SEC opponent that they can put to use in this game? One would hope that Chip Kelly has learned that when he finds his team operating out of its own end zone to not be afraid to load up an offensive line in a buffalo formation (seven linemen) and drive out of the end zone with a big back. In two of Oregon’s three losses over the last two years, the Ducks were caught for a safety when they tried to run their normal offense when they lined up very deep (1-yard line) in their own territory. Two years ago, LaGarrette Blount was tackled for loss in the end zone in a very frustrating loss to Boise State (and we all remember how that frustration turned out for Blount.) LaMichael James came up an inch short against Auburn in the BCS Championship when he tried to out-quick the Auburn defensive front, but it resulted in two points for the Tigers.
A big back could have also punched in a touchdown in the BCS game in a situation where Oregon stalled at the goal line. Oregon may play true freshman Tra Carson, who is a big back at 6-foot, 227. Had the Ducks scored on that possession, would Oregon now be the defending BCS champion?
6. How do see this game playing out? First games are tough enough when a team goes on the road, but when I look at the Ducks I see a team that looks to be right on track from where they left off last season – a team that executes the fast tempo better than anyone else; a team that is all business and ready to takes its place to return to the BCS Championship Game. Pace should be the key factor in the game and execution in the fast tempo. Since Oregon does not allow media or the public in to watch its scrimmages, I do have to take into consideration that that there are still some unknowns about this game. Last year, before each game I had a gut feeling the Ducks would win handily by at least double-digit scores. My gut was right in 11 of those games. The Ducks beat Cal by two points and lost to Auburn by three points. Arizona State came within 11 points, everyone else was beaten by at least 17 points. The Ducks and Tigers had one common last season and that was Tennessee. (LSU also played Auburn and lost 24-17). Oregon beat Tennessee in Knoxville, 48-13, while LSU beat Tennessee at home, 16-14. My gut is telling me this game is one more where I see Oregon on top by double digits at the final whistle. My head tells me that this is an opening game where neither team will execute the way they would like and the final score comes down to Oregon winning 21-17.