To preview Washington’s 4:30 p.m. Saturday game at Oregon, I asked five questions of Andrew Greif, who covers the team for the Oregonian. And what do you know, he answered them. Here are my questions and his responses.
1. What's your take on the quarterback situation, and what is the general opinion of Justin Herbert within the Oregon program?
Greif: “While Mark Helfrich and Oregon’s assistants still gave no clue Thursday as to whether Dakota Prukop or true freshman Justin Herbert will start, Helfrich did say his players are crystal clear on what’s happening inside the program. And it’s pretty clear that’s true, because a handful of players have come out and called Herbert their starter this week. Herbert is very quiet and is extremely well-regarded within the program for how quickly he gets the ball out of his hand and his poise, despite the fact he graduated from Eugene’s Sheldon High just four months ago. You never get the sense the moment seems too big for him. All you have to know is that some coaches described how quickly he picked up the offense during fall camp as Mariota-esque.”
2. Is Oregon doing anything better defensively under Brady Hoke than it did a year ago?
Greif: “Hoke switched Oregon from a base 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 in part because Hoke cut his teeth in college football coaching defensive line and loves getting bodies at the line of scrimmage. Oregon uses a more traditional, “downhill" MIKE linebacker now, as well. Generally, Hoke tends to blitz more than former coordinator Don Pellum — who remains on staff as linebackers coach — though last week against Washington State, he sometimes opted to rush just two, a decision that burned Oregon despite its extra men in coverage.”
3. How much does The Streak mean to Oregon's players and coaches?
Greif: “The meaning of The Streak depends on which generation you’re from at Oregon. Former UO player and current offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, whose history with the Huskies goes back to 1977, stirred things up this week when he guaranteed the streak would continue to a 13th game, and you could tell his pride has been a bit contagious within the players in the days that followed. The message since: “We’ve got ‘Wood’s back.” But because Oregon pulls recruits largely from California to Florida, and because the past two head coaches have downplayed the sentiment of any traditional rivalries, the meaning of a Husky game has been dulled.”
4. Do you think Oregon's offense changes much if Herbert is indeed the starter?
Greif: “I think Oregon would run a simplified version of its offense, almost like what Vernon Adams Jr. ran last season. Dakota Prukop has been learning the offense since January while Herbert arrived in late July, and though coaches raved about how quickly Herbert learned the playbook, there surely are nuances he isn’t yet comfortable with that Prukop is, by virtue of his two years starting at Montana State. Perhaps that means taking one half of the field away from Herbert in passing situations, to limit his reads? I’m not entirely sure, but it would seem to be to any freshman's benefit to streamline the playbook, at least initially.”
5. What's the mood in Eugene right now? Is the sky falling? Or has it already fallen?
Greif: “Well, my inbox and Twitter mentions are full of the mostly “Fire Helfrich!” crowd, but I’m not sure it’s a representative sample of what Oregon AD Rob Mullens and his constituents are thinking. Like the significance of the Oregon-Washington rivalry, the debate surrounding this season’s turn of events also is generational. Most of the older crowd I’ve spoken with realize the situation is at a critical moment but take the long view that says while programs inevitably dip, they can go the right direction again if provided strong leadership. Meanwhile, many I’ve spoken with who were raised or became fans during the Joey Harrington era and later only know Oregon as a perennial Top 25 team, and seem to have never accepted Helfrich as the right man for the job after Chip Kelly left. Of course, the only thing that really matters is whether people in Beaverton, at Nike headquarters, believe the sky has fallen. Whenever serious matters involving Oregon athletics are up for debate, Phil Knight’s opinion puts the proverbial thumb on the scale.”