In Week 8, the Oregon Ducks waddle into town. Actually, they won't be waddling, they'll be flying around like crazy and break-neck speeds. This will be a game worth watching in person if you can. Not because I think the Buffs will win, but because Oregon's offense is something special. I have never seen them in person, so I'm considering flying out to see them for this game. Everyone I talk to about them says it's like nothing you've ever seen.
Also, this game finds us in the middle of a stretch where we face a string (minus Washington) of incredible QBs. Six of seven teams field QBs that are in the top-20 in the NCAA (I might be projecting w/ Arizona State a little bit, but we'll discuss that soon enough). A brutal stretch for a team with a weakness in its Secondary...
Follow the jump to see if I can focus on just this week!
What can I say that you don't already know? They went undefeated last season to earn a spot in the National Championship game, only to lose against the Auburn Tigers. They've been going through an incredibly tumultuous offseason, with rumors of recruiting violations and the Willie Lyles situation and suspensions to two starters, including all-everything, Junior CB Cliff Harris. Now, however long Harris and linebacker Kiko Alonso are out for, there's a good chance they'll both be back well before the Ducks make the trip to Boulder, so I wouldn't worry about that. What I would worry about is getting stomped on and outgunned in every way by a very talented and disciplined team. We are lucky that we get them at home, though they are the best conditioned team in college football, so I don't know if the altitude will have a huge effect on them. But they just might wear themselves out by the fourth quarter. The only question will be how many touchdowns are they winning by at that point?
This is the mother of all offenses. Not really, but head coach & offensive overseer Chip Kelly has done a masterful job in creating something that is really difficult to stop. Their primary goal isn't to score points, it's to keep the defense off-balance (and they're incredibly good at both). Unlike most teams who will regroup after an offensive play has been run, the Ducks sprint to the new line of scrimmage and are snapping the ball before defenses can substitute, get a read on the offensive formation, figure out what the down & distance is or catch their breath. And they have recruited the perfect players for this system. In a conference full of talented quarterbacks, Darron Thomas might be the most underrated. The season he put together last year was truly incredible and it should really get talked about more. Now he's still a little shaky on his deep bombs (thank goodness!), but otherwise, he is the complete package. He's smart, he knows that offense inside and out, and he's bulked up to make himself an even bigger running threat. Great. Just great. With him in the backfield, is the nations best stable of running backs, led by Heisman finalist LaMichael James, who easily led the Pac-12 in rushing last season. Not to mention the multi-talented Kenjon Barner as the #2 guy, and the hightly touted (and controversial) Lache Seastrunk who might be the most talented of the three. Truly, it's not fair. These guys are all incredibly fast, and the offense plays right into that, with some option reads, lots of zone blocking and about a million different ways to get these guys to cut against the grain and get out in space. The only thing that could give us hope in this game, is that they lost three starters from last season. But that statement isn't quite as good as it sounds, because they have plenty of guys with game experience and who have started games competing to fill those spots. The fulltime starters they return are Weems and York, on the left side, while the guys who will start on the right have plenty of game experience. They will, however, be breaking in a completely new center. I have a feeling, though, that by this point in the season it will be a moot point. We'll know by now if we stand a chance at gumming up their run game: that defensive tackle rotation will either be working or it won't. If it is, we might be able to slow them down just enough to keep them from scoring 50 points...
And I thought I was the optimist...
But speaking optimistically, they are replacing a number of talented wideouts, including leading receiver Jeff Maehl. But they've got a bunch of young talent waiting in the wings and this is Chip Kelly's offense we're talking about. I have no doubt that they'll have their weapons all figured out by now. Plus, they've got tight end David Paulson as a guy who can stretch the defense down the middle of the field, so yeah, they'll be just fine. But this means the big matchup will be the Oregon run game versus our front seven. That is something I'm looking forward to seeing. This will be a game where Kanavis McGhee will earn that paycheck of his. I think Tui will have those guys on the inside holding their ground, but if McGhee can teach his guys to effectively hold the edge to allow Jon Major and Doug Rippy to flow to the ball, we might actually be able to hang with the vaunted Oregon offense. That is asking a lot of our guys, but it's not completely out of the question.
Now on defense, Oregon is replacing 5 starters. Not only are they replacing those 5 starters, but everyone they lost was in their front seven. That is a LOT of guys to be replacing, especially in a defense that was as good against the run as they were last year. It helps that they've been working under essentially the same coaching staff since all of them got there (the defensive coordinator is only in his 19th season at Oregon, though they weren't all consecutive). The defense at UO has evolved these last few seasons into a very dangerous thing. They've added that nasty, versatile 3-4 alignment that they can switch into at any time, and they have a ton of team speed on that side of the ball (both sides of the ball, actually). In the middle, we're going to have to run around the enormous Heimuli. He's not as big as former Duck, Halti Ngata, but he's almost there, and quick as all get out. He's powerful, and they can either surround him with other big bodies, or with smaller, quicker guys who absolutely love to terrorize opposing QBs. Plus, with defensive ends like Brandon Hanna who can just as easily stand up and cover guys downfield, they can confuse the heck out of an offense. They bring pressure from everywhere and they have a knack for taking offensive players out of their comfort zones. But we should completely fear them. Eric Bieniemy comes from the NFL and spent the last few seasons playing a team that also likes to blitz and bring funky pressure packages in the Green Bay Packers. Having him up in the booth for this game will hopefully allow us to discover and exploit the occasional breakdown or soft coverage that result from bringing added pressure. Plus Rodney Stewart and Brian Lockridge's abilities in the screen game might afford us some opportunities to score in this game. But I'm not 100% sold.
They return their kicker and punter, though they rarely needed either of them. No kidding, they only attempted 13 field goals last season (he made 10, if you're wondering, and led the Conference in FG%) and the Punter was only called out 40 times. They had very good coverage units, and Cliff Harris, if he's allowed to return, was a phenomenal punt returner. Kick returns boast a couple of guys who have big play potential, but they didn't quite live up to it on special teams last year. This is yet another area where the Ducks are far better than we are going into the season.
These are the defending Pac-12 Champions, they are the #3 ranked team in the preseason Coaches Poll, and they made the National Championship game last year. They return the important pieces of an absolutely stellar offense, and they are crazy-aggressive on defense. I know we've managed to beat one ranked team in Boulder each of the last few seasons, but I have a hard time believing this game will be close. The Ducks win big on this visit to Folsom Field, so hopefully we can get them the next time.