Andrew Greif, who covers the Oregon Ducks for the Oregonian and OregonLive.com, was kind enough to answer five questions about Saturday’s game between the Huskies and Ducks at Husky Stadium. Here’s what he said.
1. The Ducks still run the ball really well and score a lot of points, but there seems to be a consensus that this is a different Oregon team than most are used to seeing. As someone who has watched them play for a few years now, what looks different to you?
Greif: “The run-heavy offense Oregon is using this year is really the rule, not the exception, when you look at UO’s history of running the read-option since 2007. Marcus Mariota was so good as a passer that he tilted the play calling percentages more in favor of passing plays just by himself. But no matter who’s been the quarterback, they’ve been able to beat teams downfield while running uptempo. This year’s team is remarkably one-sided on offense at the moment without Vernon Adams Jr., and the pace isn’t on-par with the “blur” nickname that’s been associated with Oregon. Defensively, the Ducks are still forcing a decent amount of turnovers — they ranked in the FBS top 10 in turnovers gained three of the past five seasons — but the UO offense hasn’t done much with them.”
2. If Vernon Adams is indeed healthy enough to play, how do you think that changes Oregon's offense?
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Greif: “A healthy Adams instantly upgrades the Ducks’ downfield passing game. In the past three games, Oregon has completed 3-of-14 passes thrown 20 yards or more downfield. In the same span, they’ve attempted 40 passes nine yards or shorter, which tells you why defenses are more comfortable keeping players in the box now with less of a threat of being beaten over the top. I think people believe Adams is a runner on par with Mariota; he’s not, and has said he’s not that comfortable running the read-option. Stretching the field vertically is his specialty, and this is the most talented group of receivers Oregon’s ever had.”
3. What have been the biggest issues defensively this season? Opposing coaches still rave about Oregon's front seven, and there's obviously still a lot of talent there.
Greif: “The issues start with the inexperience in the secondary. Oregon’s going to line up this week with a sophomore at corner, a redshirt freshman at the other, a sophomore safety and another safety who is also playing receiver. Their two most-experienced defensive backs (safety Reggie Daniels and corner Chris Seisay) have been hurt or ineffective. Offenses learned early they could pick on the secondary and haven’t stopped since. The other issue is that Oregon is having trouble with the fundamentals, such as tackling in space and getting aligned properly pre-snap. Defensive coordinator Don Pellum simplified his scheme prior to a win at Colorado and had seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss last week against Washington State, but couldn’t get stops when he needed them.”
4. Any talk among players and coaches this week of Oregon's winning streak over the Huskies? I've heard Mark Helfrich is really into external storylines.
Greif: “Talking about a rivalry around the Oregon football facility will draw a blank stare from most. Since Chip Kelly took over in 2009, the Ducks have de-emphasized the emotional aspects of traditional rivalry games as a way of keeping guys even-keeled throughout a long season. ‘They need to focus on technique and execution and confidence and that happens by having a great Tuesday,’ Helfrich said this week. ‘Not worried about what happened in 1978. That's not to discount 1978, I'm sure it was a great year — but we have to improve right now.’”
5. Do you have a sense of what Oregon's perception is of this Washington team?
Greif: “Offensive coordinator Scott Frost has raved about the defense. I asked him about Budda Baker, the onetime Oregon commit, and he praised him but quickly pointed out how much he’s been impressed by the secondary at-large. Helfrich said the defense plays “with a ton of confidence and great scheme.” Defensively, the Ducks don’t seem to be reading the news coverage about Washington. I asked middle linebacker Rodney Hardrick about whether Jake Browning resembles a freshman to him, and he had no clue Browning was less than a year out of high school. There seems to be much respect for UW’s packages of trick plays. Outside linebackers coach Erik Chinander said UO has a video cut-up dedicated just to gadget plays.”