Chip Kelly’s decision to close practices makes sense from a competitive standpoint. The Ducks are working on wrinkles, innovations and subtle changes to their offense for LSU, and with the blogosphere, Twitterverse, cell cameras and loose lips out there, no sense giving anything that Les Miles and his staff will have to adust to on the fly in Dallas.
But the absense of news and updates leaves way less to react to, and it makes it a challenge to have daily takes on a fan blog.By now we’ve talked about both teams in detail, profiled every new player and waxed optimistic about every unit on the team. Haven’t talked about special teams much. The Oregon special teams are special, with two experienced, reliable kickers in Rob Beard and Jackson Rice. Cliff Harris won’t suit up at Jerry World, but the Ducks have an awesome array of talented speedsters to fill in for him. Kenjon Barner, as a reliable hand, gets first crack. He broke a punt return for an 80-yard touchdown against Tennessee in 2010, and shocked USC with a big kickoff return early in the game in 2009, ran another back for a 102-yard touchdown against UCLA that year (officially 100 yards, but ever confident, he took it two yards deep out of the end zone.) Fans remember the awful hit Barner took against Washington State last year, but he’s an explosive and capable returner who takes good care of the football, generally. Many people are looking forward to the first time De’Anthony Thomas returns a kick, but that’s a lot to ask of freshman in his first game.
The Duck special teams also benefit from a core of players who make their mark there, like Bo Lokombo and Brian Jackson, athletic guys who are working their way into the lineup, but put a lot of effort into making plays on kickoffs and punts. Expect young stars-to-be like Derrick Malone, Eric Dargan and Avery Patterson to join that list this year. One key decision; who replaces Jeff Maehl as the gunner on punts. Maehl excelled in that role, downing one or two a game it seemed sometimes inside the ten. One good candidate for that assignment would be wide receiver/cornerback Dior Mathis, with 10.4 speed in the 100 and good tackling skills. Assuming the Ducks ever punt again. Chip Kelly seems to hate punting or settling for field goals, going bold whenever possible.
Adam Jude of the Register-Guard reports that Kiko Alonso left practice in a purple Scout Team jersey, which means he’s probably not suiting up against LSU. You could say Oregon, minus an All-American cornerback and a big, physical linebacker, breaks even with LSU in the attrition department as the Tigers will be missing starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson and wide receiver Russell Shepard. If SEC fans want to call it a push that’s fine, but Harris is one of the best big-game players in the country, and Alonso is Oregon’s biggest and most physical linebacker at 6-4, 240. Meanwhile the Tigers lose a quarterback who threw seven touchdown passes last year against 10 interceptions, and a wide receiver who caught 33 balls for an average of 7.7 yards per catch. That’s some anemic production. Call it a push if you want, but the Ducks are losing more here. Which is okay–it makes it impossible for the dreaded asterisk of perception to come into play.
At the end of the year, this game will be a win or a loss, The yeah buts and we didn’t haves won’t amount to a hill of beans. If Oregon wins, they’ve started their season in the right way, and maybe they’ll earn the right to face another SEC team in January. win both of those games, and it sets the SEC excuse meter back to zero. Expect ESS EEE SEE fans to provide lots of spin anyway if LSU falls in The Cowboy Classic.