Glaring questions about the Oregon Ducks and coach Dan Lanning remain as we head into this Saturday’s home game against No. 12 BYU. The Ducks have dropped their last four games against Top 25 teams. The question on everyone’s minds is whether or not the Ducks are going to show they can compete with a Top 25 team.
1) Bo Nix
This is a huge game for Bo Nix; he will be judged on this game. Throw out the Georgia game against an excellent defense, and the cupcake EWU defense. This game provides Nix with a quality opponent to show how good he can be in this loaded Ducks offense.
Nix needs to protect the ball, first off. Stay within the offense and not try to make a play that’s not there. Last week he did just that by throwing a pass out of the end-zone and moving onto the next play. But he also had a ball go through a defender’s hands in the red-zone that you expect a good FBS player would have intercepted. Nix also threw another dangerous ball on the run that he shouldn’t have thrown to the tight end at all.
Nix needs to play the calm ball distributor and let his skill guys make plays within the offensive scheme. These are all things Lanning has said he is watching with Nix. I’m looking for Nix to throw for around a 65% completion rate with more TDs than INTs. If Nix checks all these boxes, he will quiet his doubters and the Ducks will win this game.
2) BYU QB
Jaren Hall, the BYU QB, didn’t impress me against Baylor last week. The BYU offensive line also had some problems in protection, giving up two sacks and three QB hurries. Hall showed was prone to not trusting his pocket and was often flushed toward the sideline. Hall’s ability to extend plays means the Ducks will have to account for his running ability.
In terms of passing, Hall went 23-39 for 261 yards, with a 6.7 yard per pass average. While Hall hit some mid-range passes, he couldn’t consistently get the ball downfield for completions. Based on what I saw last week, if the Ducks get consistent pressure on Hall, his play will only be average.
3) BYU OL And Run Game
The BYU offensive line has been rated as a Top 10 unit in FBS this preseason. They are an experienced unit led by left tackle Blake Freeland, a possible first-round NFL draft pick. The other three starters across the middle are all veterans. Former Duck Kingsley Suamataia, who was almost a five-star recruit, won the starting job at right tackle. Both Freeland and Suamataia had key penalties in the fourth quarter against Baylor last week that they won’t want to commit on the road.
BYU struggled in the run game, rushing 33 times for only 83 yards. They posted a paltry 2.5 yards per rush average. It’s imperative the Cougars improve the run game this week. A successful running game on the road will let BYU possess the ball and slow the game down. It will also keep them ahead of the chains and out of third and long situations.
The Cougars are going to have to be better this week in the run game if they want to get a road win in Eugene.
4) Oregon Pass Rush
The Ducks’ front seven on paper this year could possibly be the best the Ducks have ever had. The first two games have shown the jury is still out on that sentiment. Through two games, the Ducks have whiffed on a few QB sacks and have only recorded two.
The pressures the Ducks have placed on opposing QBs have resulted in them throwing the ball away, or break contain. The sacks need to start coming and Lanning hasn’t shown many of his blitz packages. Look for the Ducks to deploy those blitzes this week as they get after the BYU QB. The Ducks are heading into the stretch of their schedule where they need their pass rush to excel in order to become a game-changing force.
5) Ducks’ Back Seven Pass Defense
Georgia attacked the Ducks with the passing game on the perimeter, and Eastern Washington attempted to do the same. I expect BYU to follow suit and see if they can find some of the same success. I expect most teams are going to do this until the Ducks show they can defend it effectively.
There were four main issues with the Ducks’ pass defense against Georgia: busted coverages, slow reactions to play reads, DBs getting caught up on blocks, and poor open field tackling. The Ducks showed improvement against EWU, but the real test will be this week against a Top-25 team.
A huge factor in this game is that not one BYU WR or TE would play for Georgia. The Ducks are not going to see the talent and size that overwhelmed them week one. Oregon has the talent to be effective against the BYU pass game if they execute.
Lanning has been all over the film review of the last two games with the back seven. He was active in game with the defense last week coaching them up in the game and reminding them of their keys. The Ducks have been working on tackling drills in practice. Reacting full speed after reads to flood players into the play, along with striking blockers early, then disengaging has also been a teaching point.
The biggest thing I’m looking for in this game is for the Oregon defense to start to play up to the Top 10 talent level they have. The telltale signs are going to be not making coverage busts, and the DBs flying up into the plays to make tackles. Better pass defense will cause the BYU QB to hold the ball longer, and we will see the pass rush getting more time to cause pressure and sacks.
This Oregon squad has been blown out in its last four games against Top 25 teams. Much of that blame I lay on former Oregon coach Mario Cristobal and his staff. Part of the problem has been the Ducks schemes on offense and defense last year.
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I find it an indictment on Cristobal and his staff that a team with Top 10 roster talent wasn’t competitive in those games. The Cristobal staff did “less with more” talent. That’s indictive of a development of players problem, along with the scheme.
Lanning and staff have installed new schemes for this year. After the Georgia loss, Lanning was able to quickly highlight issues that needed fixing. Lanning has implemented a plan to coach his players up and address those issues.
This Saturday we are going to see if Lanning and staff have been able to turn this program around in short order. If the Ducks can compete with a Top 25 team, then this game is a success, and we can expect the Ducks to keep improving.
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Top Photo by Craig Strobeck
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in SLC, Utah.
I was born a Cali kid and my uncle is a USC Alum. Remember going to an SC game when I was like 5 with him. I moved to Oregon in 77 when I was 6 and became a Duck fan long ago. I remember Reggie Ogburn OB days, so it was before the Ducks got good. I’ve been a sports nut since I was a kid.
I went to Tigard High about the same time as linebacker Jeremy Asher did, and I watched him team with Rich Ruhl on the inside of the Gang Green defense.
Lots of Ducks memories, Danny O’Neil’s passing in 1st Rose Bowl, Kenny Wheaton, Joey’s comebacks early in his career and how jacked up he got!
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