Coaches’ Answer To: “Is Oregon in Trouble?”

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials

While I am known for being a Sunshine-Pumper when it comes to my beloved Ducks, the team of coaching consultants at are much more grounded and can give a realistic assessment concerning the state of the Oregon football team after one game. Yes, you have seen opinions from sportscasters who are not any better at knowing things than the fans (but they write better than you and I), and you will get my view of things in this article.

But coaches, those who deal with the game every day, know so much more than the fans and I and thus can offer far more informed feedback than you will get anywhere else. Forget the other fans and pundits; you will not get better football minds offering their unfiltered thoughts on Oregon football as you will see below.  Charles Fischer

I heard the rumblings leaving Autzen stadium, as I’m sure you did. “If Oregon plays like that next week -we’ll lose to Virginia.” “We (Oregon) are in BIG trouble.” Those remarks I overheard were confirmed by chatting with another older, well-dressed and knowledgeable Duck fan (I don’t know his name) in the grocery store. When I asked him his opinion of what he saw. “Are the Ducks in a position to grow a ton, or is this team not very good?” He said, “This team is not very good and we are in big trouble.”  

Wow. That surprised me, even though I was disappointed with what I saw. So I began thinking about how at we have a resource that few other media do – a team of coaching consultants who assist with analysis articles. Why not ask them their opinion?

Grizzled Ol’ Coach Remarks:

Man, how I hate football speculation, especially after the first game.

Mike Morris

Mike Morris

“If we looked that bad against  _______, what’s gonna happen when we play _________?” Think back, Duck fans, and you’ll be able to fill in those blanks very often.

It seems I’ve heard that lament every year, and that’s just coming from Duck fans. Well, you’re definitely not alone; almost every team in the nation has a significant fan-base who’s disappointed in them after that first game. Why? Because NO football team plays very well in their first game. I could give zillions of examples, but I’ll let you check your memories.

In college football, the greatest growth that takes place occurs between the 1st and 2nd games. As much time as those guys spend practicing, it takes playing against an unknown opponent and having your actions evaluated on tape to REALLY learn what to do. Also:

  1. The coaches learn a lot about the capabilities of their players.
  1. The coaches learn a lot about themselves, their schemes and how well they’ve prepared their players.
  1. Before the 2nd game the coaches actually have videos to show their players about what their opponents will try to do. First game preparation is just speculation [There’s that word I hate, again].

Will the Ducks be better in Week 2? Duh. Will Virginia be better in Week 2? Double duh. Do I know how good the Ducks will be based on how they played against UC Davis? Triple duh. OF COURSE NOT! One thing I REALLY enjoyed about coaching football for 30 years was the film session after the first game, and then, the practices – with a new sense of purpose – that followed.

Be patient Duck fans.  By mid-January you’ll be able to realistically evaluate this team.  Mike Morris


Well – while that is sage advice, it also doesn’t help me with my concerns of upcoming games. I’m a fan and I want to know if we can beat Nebraska!

Reactions from coach Ruskin Fiegenbaum:

Coach Ruskin echoed many of the same thoughts as the GOC above and offered that, “With so many young, new players – it takes time to jell. Fans don’t realize how big a piece having so many young players and first-time starters alters performance from what we are used to from the past seasons.” He believes that, “The ceiling is very high for this team, but so is the floor, or potential decline. This team’s upside is enticing and a tease to fans, but it is hard to extrapolate what the season’s results will be from the first game.”

In response to my typical fan plea to understand more about this team from what we saw? He reluctantly gave us an indicator to consider:

“We’re going to learn a lot about this team in the very next game. The progress, the adjustments, the growth of the team will be evident and very telling against Virginia.” 

Coach Ruskin Fiegenbaum

Coach Ruskin Fiegenbaum

He felt that the next game will reveal much more about the future of the team than the last one, and while it won’t be 100% in predictability – it will offer more clues about whether this team can improve and make the corrections necessary.

At times he, too, was frustrated with some defensive shortcomings, but overall he liked the aggressiveness, right down to using press coverage by the corners to make teams make great plays against Oregon or make them punt. When we spoke of the crazy stats of freshman LB Troy Dye in his first game ever as a Duck? Ruskin brought up a good point …

“It is nice to see a play-maker on defense again!”

You will hear more from coach Fiegenbaum in our analysis articles on Tuesdays.

Comments from the “Big Fish” on 

On Offense:

I was thrilled to see a first-time starter at quarterback, Dakota Prukop, complete 70% of his passes for 3 TDs and no interceptions. I thought coach Ruskin’s comment of “he is not flashy, but efficient” was very apt. It was a tremendous first outing that hints, like the rest of this team, of the high upside left.

I actually felt that playing with four new starters the majority of the game on the offensive line gave us better production than most would have thought. I noted that graduate transfer Zac Morgan came in at left tackle for much of the game, and when Hunt went down – an experienced player in Doug Brenner helped to stabilize that side of the line – the blocking and holes opened up more as the game went along.

Dakota Prukop

Dakota Prukop

I was uncomfortable seeing Prukop run so often after what happened in the first game last year. Yet I recognize that it was a purposeful ‘tell’ for future opponents, that we have a running quarterback – so you better guard the backside on the Zone Read or he’ll eat you alive. This is going to set up the running game at Oregon for better results in future games from this introduction.

One of the differences in the Oregon offense from the new offensive coordinator Matt Lubick, and quarterback coach David Yost was the advice to “take the easy 5-yard throw” that we read about often in the local media.

In this game we noted Prukop throwing short instead of downfield even on third down, and I was getting annoyed by mid-second quarter. The Ducks have the most savvy, talented and deep receiving corps ever at Oregon and throwing downfield is a high percentage play with this measured QB and elite WRs.

Thankfully the Ducks began to throw vertical in the second half and big plays began to materialize; I am sure that as more confidence in game situations is gained by our newbie QB – more passing touchdowns will follow.

Defensive Surprises

I admit to expecting more of the defense than what I saw, but as I go into my positive-spin mode – some truths do come from a sunny approach. The Ducks only started one senior Saturday, with a bunch of underclassmen playing and making an impact. They are young, but making eight tackles-for-loss is amazing. Have we gone whole seasons without making that many? It suggests that once the other aspects are improved (like frickin’ long-ball defense), this side of the ball could make a larger impact in games than what we witnessed in Autzen.

I will save my thoughts about the play at linebacker and safety until I see more games to note whether the anticipated improvement is taking place.

Troy Dye

Troy Dye

However, the biggest surprise from freshman starter Dye was not the stat line that everyone else reported, but rather the underlying issue with the defense that Dye disclosed is being solved in his remarks. As Duck fans – we have watched for years as new linebackers would be in the system for two years, and still not know the defense well enough to be fast in their diagnosis of keys and pursuit.

What we heard was how first Nick Aliotti borrowed from so many sources, that it became complex. We were given the impression that last year under Don Pellum, there could have been conflicting themes within the defense, thus the intent or philosophy became muddled.

It was reported that Oregon defensive coordinator Brady Hoke instituted new verbiage and could effectively dump all of the past defensive ways of operating since he was moving away from the 3-4 defense and into a new 4-3 that is effectively entirely coach Hoke’s creation.

I about fainted when I read Dye’s comments that he knew the playbook and knew what he could do, so he played fast. You’re kidding me – a freshman in his first game had that kind of confidence in his knowledge of the Oregon defense? I never thought I would read that about the Ducks, and I’m still wondering if that quote is just a dream from one tasty Oregon-brewed IPA too many. No … I still can’t wrap my head around that quote (BTW … don’t wake me up as it is quite a Summer Dream!).

That remark has a bigger impact on the future of the Oregon defense than anything we watched on Saturday. My sunny-side sensibilities are renewed …

What will be SPECIAL about THIS season?

Michael Fletcher making people miss...

Michael Fletcher making people miss …

Forget the Charles Nelson fumbles for a moment; did you see the stunning return yardage in the final stats? Did you feel the rising confidence of those Special Teams as the game progressed, knowing that Nelson could pop one anytime for big yardage?

It reminds me of when Michael Fletcher made such an impact on the 1998 team returning punts for touchdowns. The return teams then worked hard for that extra block that could pop Fletcher free, and I sense the same urgency this year as Nelson offers a similar threat.

I pondered further thinking about how the Special Teams have impacted past teams – 2010 comes to mind as Kenjon Barner and Cliff Harris changed games with their huge plays on kickoffs and punts.

Where would that year have ended without the punt return for a touchdown against Cal? For some, the UC-Davis game indicated trouble for the Ducks, while for others of us – it revealed possibilities from Special Teams that did not exist in other Oregon teams.

We learned a ton of good things this week, and it fuels the drama and entertainment that this season holds for 2016.

Bring it on!

Charles Fischer  (FishDuck)
College Football Analyst for
Eugene, Oregon


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