1.Utah struggled a bit with ASU's running game last week. Now they get Oregon. The best way to slow that ground attack is...?
Some teams have tried loading the box with an eight-man front, but the problem with that is the Ducks are an opportunistic offense that doesn’t run a lot of different sets. Oregon runs a few basic formations and relies heavily on the quarterback to make correct decisions. Fortunately for the Ducks they have No. 8, Marcus Mariota who is really, really good at reading defenses and has nerves of steal as he willing to wait for opportunities. In others he doesn’t panic easily and if the holes aren’t necessarily there he’ll pull the ball from the mesh and look to either throw or run it himself. The problem most defenses have run into with the Ducks is that there are too many weapons and a great quarterback that can run and pass.
Oregon is getting lots of yardage out of Byron Marshall who is basically a running back, converted to a tazer back, converted to a wide receiver. Marshall is the leading receiver and can make a lot yards after the reception. The Ducks also have a great tight end in Pharaoh Brown who is 6-6, 250, presenting a huge target for Mariota. The Ducks lost Bralon Addison to injury in the spring game, but Devon Allen, the NCAA 110m high hurdle champion, has had a great year and is capable of big explosion plays. Dwayne Stanford and Darrin Carrington are also big receivers who can catch and run. Not to mention Royce Freeman who is having a sensational freshman season and Thomas Tyner who seems recovered from a string of nagging injuries that slowed him down earlier in the season.
Teams have also tried spying on Mariota with a good defensive athlete but that has not especially worked as Mariota is so hard to get a good angle on.
Other teams have tried slowing Oregon’s ground game down by controlling the clock with their own offense and keeping the Oregon offense on the sidelines. My guess is that the Utah coaching staff does not want hurry the game up to match Oregon’s pace and will use all the time they can with sustained drives by running the ball.
2. There were offensive line issues early in the season that seemed fixed when Jake Fisher returned. How well is the line holding up, how healthy are they, and what will they do to slow Utah's pass rush?
The offensive line is in relatively good shape though they lost Matt Pierson last week. Pierson is a walk-on that started seeing a lot of time when Fisher was sidelined. Tyrell Crosby, the true freshman has seen a lot of playing time this year including starts and would have likely been the starter by now anyway, even if Pierson had been hurt against Stanford. Joe Pisarcik will be the first guy while the Ducks won’t talk about injuries but my guess is that Andre Yruetagoyena, could be back from a broken foot suffered in the Michigan State game and will maybe not at the same level he was before the injury, will be good enough to give the Ducks a big boost in depth.
Big Stetzon Bair was switched from the defense to the offense after Fisher went down and has seen more and more action. While he wouldn’t be the first to come in, he may see time in spots to give a breather to some of the players seeing more playing time. I expect the Ducks won’t go too far down the bench to bring in players. One upside for the style of hurry up Oregon plays – the offensive line isn’t on the field too much with drives lasting under two minutes.
3. The defense is often overlooked at Oregon. How good are they in 2014? Who are some of the standouts?
The Oregon defense has given up a lot of yards but the best two games they had were against Michigan State and Stanford and in my estimation why the Ducks won both of those games. Safety Erick Dargan leads the team in tackles (65 total and 43 solos) and interceptions (5). He also ahs eight pass deflections. Tony Washington has a good nose for the ball and while listed as a defensive end but does drop back in coverage in obvious passing downs. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is statistically down from last year but is generally regarded as the top cornerback. Joe Walker has been more and more impressive as the season progresses especially against the run. De’Forest Buckner is one starting end on defense and Arik Armstead is the other. Both are over 6-7 and near the 300 pound neighborhood which makes Alex Balducci at 6-5, 310 seem small at nose tackle. Armstead has been bothered with an ankle problem but should start on Saturday against the Utes.
4. What area on this team is Oregon most vulnerable?
The three teams that have given the Ducks the most trouble and caused Duck fans all kinds of anxiety were Washington State, Arizona and California. Obviously Arizona beat Oregon but all three teams put a lot of stress on the Oregon defense. Conner Halliday threw 63 times complete 43 for 436 yards and four TDs. Anu Solomon was 20-for-31, 287 yards and one TD. Jerad Goff was 32-for-52, 360 yards and two scores. While Solomon’s numbers are more typical of one would expect to see in a college game, the Duck defense showed it was vulnerable to a hurry up offense and a highly accurate passer. Fortunately for the Ducks they were able to outscore WSU and Cal, but they could not say the same for Arizona. A lot of that had to do with the shape of a Fisher-less offensive line but still the Oregon defense game up too much yardage.
The longest field goal of the year was made last week of 40 yards. Maybe because the Ducks don’t kick many field goals, but if the game came down to kicking a 45-yard field goal, the Ducks would probably be in trouble.
I think Oregon’s kickoff coverage could make some improvements to be considered top-notch and could give up some precious field position to the Utah’s special teams.
5. Is Marcus Mariota the greatest Duck of all time?
Joey Harrington might have been the best quarterback at Oregon (not counting Dan Fouts way back in the day) but even Harrington concedes that Mariota is better than him. I truly believe Marcus Mariota will be the first player taken in the NFL draft should he go this year or even if for some unexplainable reason he decides to use his final year of eligibility and go after next season. There is really something special about this kid, plus he is a very likable guy. He is genuinely polite and considerate when reporters talk to him. When answering questions, he will look at the person asking the question directly and very patient with media that can sometimes bring out the worst in people.
On the field he just makes things happen whether is escaping rushing defenders and running far enough to pick up a first down or finding some guy wide open, he is someone that will make Monday Night Football reminiscent of John Elway or Joe Montana in bringing a team back with two minutes to go in a game, trailing by five and having to go the length of the field for a win.
Know Your Foe: Oregon
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