The first article I ever wrote for FishDuck.com was about the issues Oregon would have against bigger receivers in 2018. It was an article that was proven right at times (see Stanford) and wrong at others (see Arizona State). Regardless, I felt the Ducks would be unable to overcome their lack of size at cornerback to be among the nation’s elite last season.
So, going into this season, what could keep Oregon from contending, or even winning, its first national championship? Let’s breakdown each side of the ball to determine what may spell doom for the Ducks in 2019.
This unit was a surprise in 2018, with the entire fan base expecting massive strides toward elite territory by the time Mario Cristobal coached in his first game in Eugene. The team shattered those expectations by being … average.
While there were instances of brilliance, the unit never came together and dominated. So what’s going to stop 2019’s unit from experiencing the same letdown? Spending another year in the same system.
For every true senior in the Ducks offense, this will be the first year of their college careers without any fundamental changes.
There is no new offensive coordinator to change the entire scheme. There is no new running backs coach changing the Ducks from a shotgun offense to a pistol offense — a transition with which both the QBs and RBs struggled during the 2018 season. There is no new offensive line coach changing the blocking scheme from zone to power. It’s mostly the same coaches.
The most significant change to the offensive coaching staff was the addition of WRs coach Jovon Bouknight. The Ducks struggled mightily at receiver in 2018, and the addition of some new blood to the coaching staff should provide a spark to the underperforming receiving corps.
All this in mind, the Oregon offense should see marked improvement over the 2018 offense. In fewer words: the 2019 offense should be a strength.
Oregon’s defense didn’t take a massive step forward like some expected in 2018.
In fact, it didn’t look like it improved at all over the 2017 group. While some aspects were better, others were weaker. The defensive line was too thin on players at times, and the linebacking corps simply ran out of bodies due to injury. The secondary seemed much better than expected, with Ugo Amadi putting together an incredible season that felt overshadowed by the shortcomings of the offense.
Why will the defense be improved in 2019?
Because it’s the deepest and most talented defense that the Ducks have fielded this decade. Plus, the unit raised its ceiling by recruiting and signing the most impressive defensive class in school history.
One of the best things to come out of the 2016 season was the emergence of Troy Dye at linebacker. Now a true senior and four-year starter, Dye has a chance to pass Tom Graham to become the program’s all-time leading tackler. Graham’s mark has stood since 1971, but Dye needs only 121 tackles in 2019 to surpass the 48-year-old record.
Talented juniors brought in by Willie Taggart in his rushed 2017 recruiting class were contributors all across the defense as true freshmen, and they’ll continue to see playing time after several years of steady development. Players such as Jordon Scott, Thomas Graham and Deommodore Lenoir should continue to set the pace for the talented Ducks defense.
An equally talented group of sophomores will continue to eat up playing time for the defensive unit that should set the pace for the Pac-12. Jevon Holland, Adrian Jackson and Popo Aumavae will command playing time due to their immense talent, and because of several holes left by departing seniors.
What’s more, the incoming freshman class is the best in history. Even as late as May of this year, Oregon was adding difference-making players — arguably program defining-players — on defense. The freshmen will certainly push all other position groups on the roster for playing time. Arguably, the only starting spots that they won’t push for are those held by the aforementioned Dye, Scott and Graham. Overall, the incoming freshmen should set the Ducks up for success on the defensive side of the ball for the next three to four seasons.
There was a major change made to the defensive coaching staff this offseason. The addition of Andy Avalos to replace Jim Leavitt at defensive coordinator might look like a step down on paper. Leavitt is one of the best defensive minds in the game, but it had been rumored that he was looking for an upgrade from defensive coordinator. The team should benefit from a coach who is not looking for an exit, and one who will likely bring more focus on the defensive side of the ball.
Long story short, Oregon’s defense will be a strength in 2019.
The special teams struggled at times in 2018. Fumbles marred the return units all season, and the punting game was inconsistent.
Tom Snee is a talented player, and should be more consistent as he gets more playing time as a punter. Longtime running back Tony Brooks-James has graduated, and after a disappointing senior season that featured far too many special teams fumbles, it almost comes as a relief to see him move on to a fresh start.
Fear not, the Ducks will have a much improved special teams unit in 2019.
After looking at the roster, there doesn’t appear to be any one position group that looks weak. Could a player or two underperform? Of course, but it feels like it would take a disaster of a season to win fewer than 11 games in 2019. I don’t know many fans who wouldn’t consider that a remarkable success for Cristobal and company, in just his second season.
Yuma, Arizona Top Photo by Harry Caston
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
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