Oregon fans are breathless with excitement and anticipation for football season and the opener against the SEC’s Auburn Tigers. Some have the Ducks as the favorite, others the Tigers, but this game will be won by the team whose quarterback plays the best and whose team has the best play calling.
That would seem to favor Oregon at quarterback, as coach Mario Cristobal has Justin Herbert, a Heisman candidate and “sure thing” NFL first-round draft pick. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ coach Gus Malzahn will send Bo Nix, a raw freshman quarterback, out to start his first game.
Auburn’s play caller is Malzahn, who came back from a two-year absence in their bowl game against Purdue, a victory in which the Tigers scored 63 points and set a variety of offensive records in the process. Oregon’s play caller rung up 37 yards rushing and 166 passing; good for seven points and 11 punts in the Ducks’ 7-6 win over a mediocre Michigan State team in their bowl game.
Purdue did not feature a great defense, but Malzahn’s play calling success reminded of the Ducks’ dazzling 59-20 victory over Florida State in the 2015 Rose Bowl, one of Oregon’s all-time best offensive performances and a gem of offensive play calling.
Here is a list of issues Oregon fans can track in this first game and throughout the rest of the season:
1. Play calling in conjunction with quarterback Herbert and the offense itself — will there be any attempts at creativity or deception, or is this just a year of “smash mouth” football?
2. The new defensive coordinator’s influence in uniting staff and players behind a new system that promises more deception and aggressive attack.
3. Is there a field goal kicker in the house? In 2018, Oregon had the 11th-best field goal kicker in the PAC-12 and this area greatly affects late game, Red Zone, and overtime situations.
4. Can the Ducks win on the road? Oregon’s road record the past three years is 5-14 and is broken down as follows:
2016: 1-5; PAC-12: 1-4
2017: 1-5; PAC-12: 0-4
2018: 3-4; PAC-12: 2-3
5. Is the offensive line really “arguably the best in college football?” The O-line is the foundation of any exciting and productive offense. This year’s starters struggled last season to put Oregon fourth in the Pac-12 in pass offense, fifth in Red Zone offense and fifth in rushing; this after 10 years of the Ducks leading the league in rushing from 2006 to 2015.
The Ducks were fifth in sacks allowed, with 16 sacks in 294 attempts. (Compare that to WSU’s 9 sacks allowed in 452 attempts.) Oregon’s anemic ground game was held to under 100 yards in three games.
6. Will Oregon demonstrate noticeable improvement in its game through the recruiting success it has achieved the past two years?
7. Herbert’s Pac-12 win-loss record is 7-10 in games he started and finished. Can Herbert lead first-time victories over Washington State, Stanford and USC?
8. Will the Ducks’ receivers be up to catching balls from a Heisman candidate? Last year Herbert had a 59.4% completion rate while his receivers dropped an astounding 52 passes. Had those been caught, his percentage would have been 72%.
These are important challenges for Cristobal, his team and Oregon fans this season. There may be others, unknown at this time, such as injuries, penalties and newcomers who will get their first look as Ducks. In this area, Cristobal can look forward to plenty of talent as a result of his staff’s impressive recruiting the past two years.
It will be fascinating to watch all this fall in place and should serve as a confidence boost in the seasons ahead, although it may not be so much this year.
Coach Ken Woody
Eugene, OregonTop Photo by Ahsan Awan
Want to learn from Coach Woody in person? He will be analyzing the prior game each week this season at the 6th Street Grill in Eugene on Wednesdays from 6:00 to 7:30 PM with video analysis and opening it up for questions. Join him and learn more football! Charles Fischer
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
Mike Bellotti, ESPN analyst and Former-Oregon coach: “Ken Woody’s ability to break down the game with interesting, entertaining insights comes from a career as a college player and coach, influenced by some of the top coaches in football. Woody spells it out in a simple, refreshing, humorous manner.”
Dan Fouts, NFL Hall of Fame, Oregon Ducks quarterback: “Entertaining and easy to understand.”
“Every Oregon fan should have a copy to learn from as I do.” Charles Fischer
Buy the book here to learn from Coach Woody, or give a gift of football, a great gift for the fan who wants to learn and enjoy more of the Duck (or whoever your favorite team is) football experience.
Ken Woody is a former Fox Sports football commentator who played defensive back, receiver and kicker for Oregon from 1966 to 1970. He coached college football for 18 years, including stints as an assistant coach at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State, and was head coach at Whitman College and Washington University-St. Louis. He writes x’s and o’s, a weekly column in the Register-Guard, RG online coverage of Duck football and is the author of “After Further Review—an inside look at what’s really happening on the football field.” Woody is on KUGN (590 am) 2:45 before kickoff and 30 minutes after each game with coaching and game analysis.
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