Rich Kolbell

Ask the Expert: Oregon

Each week we go behind enemy lines to ask the expert of the Beavers opponent to give us insight into the match-up. Today we check in with Steve Summers, who covers the Oregon Ducks for eDuck.

Question: It has been so long since Oregon State won a Civil War. How do the current Duck players view the game? Do they sense the big rivalry or is it just another game to them?

Steve Summers: I think upperclassmen have a better sense of rivalry games than freshmen or even redshirt freshmen. Oregon is going to field a fair number of underclassmen and will only have 15 seniors including redshirt seniors on the squad. Of those, two are graduate transfers so likely the intensity of the rivalry is rather distant to them.

Since Chip Kelly’s time at Oregon, the Duck coaches have tried to instill that each game is as important as any game. Kelly’s philosophy was that way so that the team would prepare as if each game meant the success of the season depended upon it. This year has not been what Oregon has known for a long time – a losing season.

My impression is that the players will play it as though it were the most important game of the year, because this is the last chance they have to have success on the field. I don’t think the players of either team are caught up in the rivalry the same way the fans are.

The players will say they are aware of it, but I don’t sense any great emotional attachment to it on their part.

Q: What playmakers on offense should Beaver fans be aware of?  How about defense?

Steve Summers: Justin Herbert is probably the first player I would point out to fans who may not have had a chance to watch any Duck football. Herbert is from Sheldon High School in Eugene, and was actually recruited by Oregon State. His performance last week against Utah was amazing for a kid who was in high school a year ago. Throwing the winning touchdown pass in the last seconds of the game is something a kid dreams about and when I asked him in the post-game interviews how many times he’d had that dream, he smiled and said, “a million.”

Herbert’s best game was against Arizona State where he tied a school record by throwing for 489 yards and four touchdowns against the Sun Devils.

Another player that is not widely known is running back Tony Brooks-James. He is capable of scoring every time he touches the ball is a great compliment to Royce Freeman in the rushing game.

Junior receiver Darren Carrington caught Herbert’s pass in the end zone last Saturday in Utah for the game winner, but Jalen Brown is a talented wide receiver and will see lots of playing time. Senior Johnny Mundt has been around for a long time, but has really been an effective weapon in his senior season as a tight end.

Defensively, freshman linebacker Troy Dye was the conference defensive player of the week during week one of the season, and is the best defender on the squad. Another true freshman that spectators will want to watch for is safety Brenden Schooler. He is team’s third leading tackler behind Dye and junior linebacker Jimmie Swain.

Q: What is the injury report heading into Saturday’s match-up?

Steve Summers: I wish the Ducks would be more open about injuries. It’s too bad because a lot of misconceptions, rumors and innuendos could be avoided with a little more transparency on Oregon’s part. Not only are reporters not allowed into practice, the Ducks have a policy of not discussing injuries, even to extent of not discussing a player  like Pharaoh Brown, who was taken to the hospital in an ambulance as reporters were walking to the media area after Brown was injured at Utah two years ago.

Brown nearly lost his leg as it was later revealed when Kyle Whittingham visited him in the hospital in Salt Lake City and the story was reported in the Salt Lake Tribune. 

That policy still exists today.

Brown of course recovered and is playing. His recovery is a remarkable story, but the secrecy that surrounds the program has unnecessarily created a lot of ill will on both media and fan’s part toward the Oregon football program.

Who we know for sure is out include offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby, wide receiver Devon Allen, wide receiver Dwayne Stanford and likely starting defensive tackle Rex Manu. I’m not counting DT Austin Maloata, who was dismissed from the team or defensive end Canton Kaumatule, who retired for medical reasons. Running back Taj Griffin is also apparently lost for the season and defensive tackle Drayton Carlberg won’t play either.

What can the Beavers do in order to help their chances on Saturday?

Steve Summers: Before the Utah game last week I was convinced that the Ducks had given up on the season and would finish the year 3-9. I felt that way through the first half last week and it wasn’t until the Ducks actually scored 27 points in the second half did I start thinking that perhaps there was some life in the team after all.

Still though, I have to ask myself was the win over Utah a true picture of where the Ducks really are? Was Utah overlooking Oregon? How did a defense that couldn’t stop anyone all year long suddenly show some prowess last week, after all won’t Joe Williams be playing in the NFL someday?

So given that I may have to hedge my position a bit; if you’d asked me a week ago, I would have said, do what everybody else in the conference has done – run right at the Ducks, up the middle because they are so poor in fundamental tackling, they won’t be able to stop Ryan Nall. Heck he might rack up some record setting numbers; and when he gets tired, throw the ball because the Ducks can’t stop that either.

Well, last week caused me to rethink that. It probably is what the Beavers will do and most likely they will score a bunch of points. 

Now stopping the Ducks might prove to be a bigger challenge than scoring on the Ducks.

The Beavers have to take care of the ball and not make life easier on Herbert by giving him great field position to work with. He has a very active and accurate arm, and I believe he is figuring out the zone-read option which can help get Freeman and Brooks-James going.

Rumors have been circulating about Helfrich’s time in Eugene being limited, and then they go and beat Utah.  Do you believe Helfrich is on the hot seat?

Steve Summers: The win last week probably saved Mark Helfrich, but a big loss to Oregon State might cause a change to materialize.  I was asked the same question  today in fact and part of the question was whether the Ducks would try to get Chip Kelly back to Eugene.

I honestly don’t think Helfrich’s time is going to end this year if Oregon wins on Saturday because despite the losing record, there is progress showing in this team that is going to field a lot of freshmen and redshirt freshmen.

For sure, I’ve heard all the rumblings too, but Pat Kilkenny was on John Canzano’s radio show last week (at Kilkenny’s request)  to clear up the rumors that Phil Knight was going to spend $10 million a year for a new coach. Kilkenny said that rumor was started by agents who represent coaches who might be testing the market and are trying to drive up the bargaining prices

If Helfrich isn’t fired this year, then he’ll have one more year to find some solutions, because I doubt he’ll be given too many chances after this season.

What is your prediction including score?

Steve Summers: Oregon’s defensive backs coach said on Monday that Oregon State is going to be very much like Utah because of Gary Anderson’s connection to Kyle Whittingham. Neal also said after Saturday’s game that OS is very similar to not only Utah but also Stanford in that they do many similar things.

So if that is true, then the Ducks will have familiarity with the opponent.

Let’s go with a similar outcome to last week, but with more scoring. How about 42-39, and the winner is the team who has the last possession?

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