Here are our five questions for Steve Summers about the Oregon Ducks:
Ryan Abraham: Oregon ranks 127th in the nation in total defense. What changes has Brady Hoke made and is there a light at the end of the tunnel as far as the Ducks D goes?
Steve Summers: The primary problem the Oregon defense has is poor, fundamental tackling. Brady Hoke has re-introduced the 4-3 scheme but whether it is a 4-3 or a 3-4 or whatever scheme you can imagine the basic problem still exists.
My question of course is why does it exist? I venture to guess that most of these players tackled better in high school than they do now. If we were talking about the 1970s Oregon Ducks, then it would be more understandable because back then, Oregon barely had enough Division I players to man the starting roster, let alone the team. Just for the edification of those who may not know, but Oregon uses few players drawn from the state of Oregon and that has been the case for long time.
This particular team has drawn talent from all over the country yet poor tackling (at least in the first six games) has everyone who follows this team stumped. Coaches say they need to tackle better. Players say they need to tackle better. Fans say then need to tackle better. Yet going into the ninth game of the season, basic tackling techniques are still being brought up. Players have poor leverage, don’t wrap up; players out of position – you name it and the Duck defense is probably guilty of it.
Last week the Oregon defense still gave up nearly 500 yards of total offense and 35 points but managed to beat a shorthanded Arizona State team. Now, to be fair to the Ducks, they did show improvement, particularly only allowing 139 net yards or 3.9 ypc average against 36 rushes. This is an improvement particularly considering Virginia rushed for 193 yards on 40 carries or a 4.8 ypc average. Nebraska, Colorado, Washington State all went over 200 yards rushing against the Ducks while Washington and California both hit the 300 yard mark and the Huskies were on their way to 400 yards but had mercy and only racked up 378 yards of rushing.
On Thursday, Hoke said after practice that several players seem to be catching on to what the coaches have wanted them to do, but we’ll see after the game Saturday if this actually the case.
Against the Sun Devils, the Ducks did manage to stop 10 ASU drives and frankly going into the game I thought if the Sun Devils ran the ball that they might score on every possession. That didn’t happen, partially due to the Sun Devils playing without some their starters, and some improvement in tackling technique by the Ducks.
Ryan Abraham: Injuries have seemed to hit the Ducks hard this year. What is the latest on the injury front and will any key players miss or return for the game Saturday?
Steve Summers: That’s always a good question as the Ducks have a little game they play – they don’t talk about injury. They also don’t let media into practices ever, so people are left to speculate. We know that WR Devon Allen and starting OT Tyrell Crosby are lost for the season. We also think that WR Dwayne Stanford is done for the year. Defensively, linebacker Johnny Ragin III and DT Drayton Carlberg are mostly like done in my opinion; while DT Elijah George, LB A.J. Hotchkins and DE Canton Kaumatule haven’t been seen in uniform lately. Safety Reggie Daniels is another M.I.A with no explanation.
DE Eddie Heard was suspended on Thursday morning for an incident that involved a bar and a woman. He pled not guilty to harassment and Assault-4 (both misdemeanors) on Thursday afternoon at an arraignment hearing.
DE Torrodney Prevot is also suspended indefinitely for an alleged assault on his ex-girlfriend in which police agencies have yet to file charges even though the incident apparently happened sometime last spring.
Ryan Abraham: To me, this looks like a Ducks team that is improving now with Justin Herbert at the helm. What has the freshman brought to the table that allowed him to take over the starting role?
Steve Summers: Herbert has been the ray of hope for the Ducks. He’s played in five games but in his first game he was in for one snap and he handed the ball off. In his second game against Washington State he led the Ducks on a five play drive covering 70 yards and ran the ball in for a touchdown. That was in garbage time when the Cougars had the game wrapped up but was playing their second and third string players.
Herbert’s first start was against the Huskies and it was a rather pedestrian outing, more because the Ducks had problems all over the field that day. Still he was 21-for-34, 179 yards, two TDs and an interception. His first real break was on the road against Cal. He threw six touchdowns, 258 yards and only made one mistake, unfortunately for the Ducks it was an interception in the second overtime with Cal leading by 3-points. Last week he was super throwing for 489 yards and four TDs. He was named Conference Offensive Player of the Week for that performance.
There is still a lot of work for him to do in terms of his footwork and some question about his full understanding of how to read zones, especially whether or not to hand the ball off.
The one thing Herbert has managed to do however is instill some confidence in the rest of the team that he can deliver the ball. ASU may not be a solid test when it comes to defense, and certainly the Trojans will make his life a lot more difficult.
He does though have a lively arm and is very accurate. He also seems to have a calm demeanor so I wouldn’t dismiss him as just some freshman getting a chance to play on a not-so-good team.
Ryan Abraham: Royce Freeman has not seemed like himself this season. What has been the issue there and how has Oregon continued to run the ball well despite his struggles?
Steve Summers: Freeman started the season off well enough going for 207 and two TDs against Virginia but in the next game against Nebraska he left the game in the first quarter with what appeared to be a shin injury. Since then he appears not to have the same acceleration we saw against Virginia. Some of that might be due to a very young offensive line (one senior and four redshirt freshmen) and in the last three games he’s been caught behind the line of scrimmage, but I’ve wondered if that was due to Herbert incorrectly interpreting the zone-read.
OC Matt Lubick feels it is a combination of a lot of things, but for sure the acceleration just doesn’t seem to be there.
Even with Freeman not up to form though, the Ducks have plenty of talent at running back. When you watch Tony Brooks-James it will remind a lot of people of LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner, two players Trojan fans would just as soon forget about.
Kani Benoit is another big back that has had some injury problems but he seems healthy and like Brooks-James and Taj Griffin, are capable of scoring anytime they touch the ball.
Ryan Abraham: The Trojans are a big favorite in this game, at least according to Las Vegas oddsmakers. For Oregon to beat USC, what do you think would need to happen on Saturday?
Steve Summers: An over confident USC team, that is looking for that big game against the Huskies could help this Oregon team that has a very fragile confidence level. This isn’t the same team that had the likes of Marcus Mariota, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner etc.; this team is improving but against a highly motivated Trojan team, it is going be very tough on them – unless of course the defense is a lot better than it has been all season long.
One other thing, Herbert is a smart kid and apparently a fast study.
So to answer your question, the Ducks have to play near flawlessly on defense and Justin Herbert must continue to make the improvement he has shown so far this season. Plus having Brooks-James turn in a Barner like performance in the Coliseum (not that anyone seriously expects that to happen.)