Oregon 101: Quarterback Quandaries

THE COUGARS WON'T won't get any sympathy on their quarterback injury woes, not from Oregon. The Ducks have lost three to injury since fall camp and may start a true freshman Saturday. With both squads going deep down the depth chart for signal callers, can you expect the Ducks to try to stay on the ground and protect their quarterback?

Probably.

THE OREGON ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Jeremiah Masoli, QB: Welcome to Oregon's quarterback carousel. Projected starter Nick Costa is done for they year with a knee injury. Back up Justin Roper is also out this week with a knee injury. Third stringer Jeremiah Masoli was knocked out last week with a concussion but is nonetheless, and perhaps surprisingly, expected back this week. Chris Harper played poorly in Masoli's place, and the Ducks burned Darron Thomas' redshirt in a last ditch effort to stage a comeback on Boise State. Thomas looked darned good, but Masoli likely starts this week, though either way the Ducks are expected to rely heavily on the ground game, mix in QBs, and hope to go at least one week without one getting injured.

Jeremiah Johnson, RB: Fast and compact, Johnson will get a ton of touches and will try to pound the Cougar defense.

LeGarrette Blount, RB: A 240 pounder, Blount plays thunder to Johnson's lightning. He will try to wear down the Cougar D even more and set up Johnson.

Overview
Mike Bellotti's system has almost always emphasized balance and efficiency but the injuries at QB have resulted in a noticeable shift to the ground game. The Ducks, however, would appear to be built to handle it. They are averaging 6.2 yards per rush and 299 rushing yards per game through the early going. Receiver Jaison Williams and particularly tight end Ed Dickson are usually solid when called upon, though drops have also been frequent, but expect them to be secondary offensive options this week.

Strategy
The typical approach to beating the Oregon offense is the stuff the run and pressure the QB. That should hold more true than ever before. But shutting down the Oregon ground game isn't as simple as putting 8 in the box. The Ducks present a varied combination of running back styles and have a deep threat in Jaison Williams that serves to keep safeties concerned. But the Cougs may just have to take their chances with the receivers. The biggest problem may be getting after the quarterback. The Cougar pass rush has been ineffectual, in part due to the starters playing through some injuries, and may need to rely on blitz packages to generate significant pressure.

Cougars (1-3) vs Ducks (3-1)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
3:15 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Martin Stadium (35,117)

TELEVISION:
FSN NW

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
Oregon by 21

LAST MEETING:
2007 in Eugene, Oregon won 53-7.

THE SERIES:
Oregon leads the series 40-38-7

CF.C PREDICTION:
A stunner! Cougars 28, Ducks 27

THE DUCKS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Nick Reed, DE: Reed brings a strong pass rush on the right side. Unless there are changes in the lineup, that pits him up against Joey Eppele who struggled in pass protection during his first start last week.

Patrick Chung, FS: Many people were calling the UO secondary one of the best in the nation but Chung backs up a pair of decent cornerbacks to give the Duck's a solid pass defense. And the UO coaches have had a tendency to focus most on stopping the run, and the end result last week was that the Ducks got torched, giving up 386 passing yards to Boise State.

Overview
Oregon uses a run-oriented 4-3. Their secondary has talent, but can be beat if they get left on an island. Defensive ends Reed and Will Tukuafu are very good pass rushers. Overall, it is a sound defense, but will give up points in bunches against superior execution, as evidenced by last week's loss at home by then the No. 12 team in the country against unranked Boise State.

Strategy
The Cougars' young line has looked better in run blocking than in pass blocking for the most part, so getting a consistent running game going is probably a must. Eppele, (or Vaughn Lesuma or Steven Ayers or...) is going to have his hands full with Reed in pass protection, so it might be a good idea to run to the left and middle early in the game. Above all, the Cougs must avoid being predictable in their play calling. If trends hold true, the passing lanes will be most open on first down, when the Ducks tend to over-emphasize the run on defense. Look for Brandon Gibson, and perhaps when he is the least accounted for, and the senior could turn in some big plays. If it comes to third and a mile, the Cougs may want to play it conservatively rather than risk a turnover.

THE DUCKS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Kicker Matt Evensen is solid, but punter Josh Syria doesn't have the strongest leg in the world. Oregon's kick return averages are among the best in the conference.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The quarterback situation really adds a level uncertainty to this game but outside of that, Oregon has a huge talent advantage. The x-factor Lobbestael brings is valuable and the coaches need to capitalize on it if WSU is to pull off a stunning 21-point upset. The running game is the key for WSU's chances, but swinging for the fences on the first play could get the fans and team emotionally charged and the Ducks a little concerned following a week they spent lamenting a tough loss. Above all, the Cougs have to do everything possible to keep Lobbestael from becoming the third quarterback in two weeks to go down. The Cougs need push their luck, on offense, defense and special teams. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain and making Oregon feel the pressure early could be big.


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