The Ducks have officially wrapped up their non-conference schedule with a 2-1 record. The first three weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster, with a disappointing loss to Auburn week one and a strong rebound in the following weeks in front of the Autzen faithful. With conference play set to begin next week at Stanford, there is a lot to like about this Oregon football team — especially the freshmen.
Before the season began, there was a lot of curiosity among Oregon fans on how well the highest-ranked recruiting class in Ducks history would perform. Last year, we saw freshmen like CJ Verdell, Travis Dye and Jevon Holland step up and make big plays. A prime example of this was Verdell’s overtime touchdown to defeat the rival Huskies.
Freshmen have such a small sample size, or what coaches call “tape,” that it’s important to look at instances where these players shined to get a look at what the future holds. A number of freshmen have stepped up in the early part of the season and have been turning heads. Three freshmen in particular have had an immediate impact for the Ducks thus far.
Coming off a knee injury. which kept him out of his senior season at Mater Dei High School, it was difficult to define expectations for Funa. The four-star recruit and fourth-ranked linebacker in the country put up impressive numbers during his junior season, but the transition to the college game is a difficult one, even without an injury.
Funa has not missed a beat and has been an impressive addition to the Oregon front seven. The six-foot two-inch 260 pounder is quick for his size and has been a presence as an outside rusher. He has disrupted opponents’ air attack and should probably start paying rent for how often he’s in opponents’ backfield. The true freshman had a particularly strong game against Montana, finishing with three tackles and one sack. This gives him eight tackles and three sacks on the season.
In his post-game press conference after the win over Nevada Coach Mario Cristobal said of Funa, “He’s just a very physical player and he’s heavy handed, he’s light footed, instinctively you saw that, and he’s a lot bigger than he was in high school. He’s tipping 265, around that area right there.” Even with his hot start, Funa is still not content with where his is physically. Funa spoke to Erik Skopil of 247sports and stated, “Right now I’m not as athletic as I used to be, because I was playing at 245 back in high school.”
It is safe to say, there is still more to come from Funa.
With graduate transfer Juwan Johnson, senior Brandon Schooler, fall freshman standout Mycah Pittman all on the revolving injury list, the Ducks’ depth at wide receiver has been thin to say the least. This has provided opportunities for young players to get on the field and make an immediate impact. Redshirt freshman Bryan Addison has risen to the occasion and has done a fine job filling in the gaps. He had a big game against Nevada, in particular, with 58 receiving yards and a touchdown.
However, the main reason he is on this list is because of his incredible hustle play against Auburn. After a huge return from Holland, which took the ball deep into Auburn territory. The Ducks squandered the opportunity with a fumbled exchange between Justin Herbert and Verdell. An Auburn defender picked up the ball and was off to the races. Herbert and tight end Ryan Bay were giving chase, but they were not about to catch him.
Addison fought through blocks and at one point was as far as 20 yards behind the ball carrier. He caught up to the Auburn defender and made a touchdown saving tackle at the Oregon two yard line. The Ducks’ defense was able to stuff the Tigers and held them to a field goal. An incredible hustle play from the redshirt freshman.
If you want to talk about explosion off the line, watch this kid on the ball for a couple snaps and you’ll see plenty of explosiveness. That stats don’t reflect his play making abilities just yet, but in his first game at the Autzen Zoo, he made a huge play that riled up the Oregon faithful. The Nevada punter botched a snap, and Thibodeaux rushed into the offensive backfield to sack the punter and give the Ducks a short field. Although the final score was 77-6, this play essentially put the nail in the coffin, and the Ducks never relinquished the momentum after it.
Thibodeaux has a bright future and is building himself a great foundation on the Ducks’ defense. We’ve seen a glimpse of what he can do when given the opportunity, like that play against Nevada. He also played a solid all-around game against Montana, disrupting Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed numerous times and recording two tackles.
Honorable Mention: Verone McKinley III
McKinley, the redshirt freshman out of Carrollton, Texas has quietly been putting in the work on the defensive side of the ball. Playing safety alongside Nick Pickett, McKinley has played consistently over the first three games. His third-down play has been exceptional, breaking up numerous passes in third-and-long situations.
McKinley’s role just became that much bigger due to an injury to Thomas Graham Jr in the second quarter of Saturday’s game against Montana. McKinley and fellow freshman Mykael Wright will have to take turns filling in for Graham.
The true and redshirt freshmen have definitely showed up to Eugene ready to perform on the big stage. A lot of times, freshmen need time and repetitions to be fully integrated into college ball. In the case of these freshmen, however, they are fully prepared to play “next man up” football. They have made their presence known in non-conference play and will be an essential part to Oregon’s quest for a Pac-12 championship.
Eugene, OregonTop Photo by Eugene Johnson
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in digital marketing in Chicago, Illinois.
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