Well, quack. Looks like Oregon Ducks football is officially in off-season mode.
This was quite a season to watch. Seeing this team rise and fall and rise again? I loved the rollercoaster, but honestly, I’m a bit glad for the break.
Despite our season not ending how we wanted it to in the PAC-12 championship and beyond, there’s a lot to be excited about with these Ducks. Even with heavy expectations coming into the season and a lot to overcome with a tough opening schedule, I liked what I saw from the team overall for the majority of the season.
Particularly, there were a few areas where this team performed really well under Dan Lanning, much better than I or any Oregon fan should have expected. Here are a few areas I enjoyed watching with Oregon through the 2022-2023 season, and expectations I have moving forward.
The Recruiting Power of the Ducks Isn’t Going Anywhere
When the Ducks lost Travis Dye this offseason, one of Oregon’s most productive players ever, you’d expect a dropoff on the offensive side of the ball. Less of a ground game, weaker passing attack, the whole shebang. Almost serving as a Christian McCaffrey role, his efficiency wasn’t ever going to be easily replaced.
Regardless of where Dye is now, you know how many beats this Oregon team missed on the ground without him? Zero. They might have even picked up the tempo with a slew of extremely-efficient rushers.
In the offensive backfield and beyond, Lanning has outdone himself this season by molding talent into productive players. Now, he just needed the recruiting to back it up.
Fortunately, he’s nabbed one of the most outstanding recruiting classes (in terms of star power) that Oregon’s ever had. He’s already nipping at the heels of recruiting guru Mario Cristobal, who only had the recruiting numbers to show for his time at Oregon instead of talent development. Looks like Lanning aims to bring all three components together: team building/molding, culture, and winning.
Oregon’s Offensive Line Is Elite on a National Level
How many weeks did Oregon make it without allowing a sack, again?
The offensive line has become a fan-favorite position group for this squad over the last several years, and really has been one of the few constants under every coaching regime. Again, I think this just comes back to good recruiting. Even when one recruit or two doesn’t pan out, third-year players can come up and fill the role with the action they’ve seen in their time with the team.
Overall, the line is going to do what this team needs: create stability for an offense with a returning starting quarterback. That’s going to bode well for Nix in 2023, and maybe even allow him to hit another gear in his last season at the college level. The Ducks’ pass protection is increasingly dominant, and when it comes to running the ball, these hog mollies are just as fierce.
The great thing is? Oregon’s newest recruits and transfer group might be even better than the last crop.
Wide Receivers are Stepping Up
Finally! Some deep passing offense to enjoy. Yes, the Ducks are a running football team first (who wouldn’t be with how extraordinarily this team played up front, anyway?). I loved what I saw though from this group to actually add the threat of deep passing as an asset to the offense, and with significant contributions from the tight ends in the redzone? This offense became nearly unstoppable in 2022.
For me, it’s about dang time Oregon had a top-tier receiving group not only play like one, but put up numbers like one. We didn’t quite have a receiver get to 1,000 yards this year. Troy Franklin got close, though, and it wasn’t clear he was the go-to deep threat from the jump. He earned that spot through his play and chemistry with Nix.
New superstar Jurrion Dickey looks to take that next step with Franklin opposite him. I love what I saw from Nix and Franklin for the latter half of the season, and I expect a whole lot more once Dickey starts earning a role.
Defense Needs a Ton of Work
The defense was a rollercoaster this season from top to bottom. Even with elite play from the secondary in stretches thanks to Christian Gonzalez, Trikweze Bridges, and others, there wasn’t nearly enough pressure up front consistently, and the Ducks’ weakness at linebacker should have been a strength.
Oregon needs to flip the script on this side of the ball with how effective the offense played this year. Owning the time of possession again in 2023 should keep the defense fresh enough to start making bigger splash plays and turnovers regularly. Thankfully, Lanning and co. were able to successfully land Matayo Uiagalelei as a top-rated edge player this offseason, as well as some big splashes in the secondary with Daylen Austin, Kodi Decambra, and several other strong recruits as well.
Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell are both moving on to greener grass, and on the defensive line, Oregon’s going to need some pass-rush help immediately. Kayvon Thibodeaux was sorely missed this year, and it’s a premium position at the next level for a reason.
Whether the Ducks look to the transfer portal, the current roster, or recruiting, this team needs a win at the edge spot. If Uiagalelei or any of the other recruits aren’t ready to contribute, Oregon’s going to need to use one of these other routes to solve the issue fast. I don’t care if little Timmy from down the street shows up. If he can hit the quarterback, give him a jersey.
Regardless of who steps up, this team’s identity is still forming on defense, and is going to be in flux again with several starters moving onto the pros/completing their eligibility. I believe with the combined recruiting power and molding talent Lanning possesses, he has a great opportunity to turn this program’s defense into something special. It’s still going to take a lot of work from the staff, but I’m impressed by some of the things we’ve seen so far.
Dan Lanning Is Our Coach of the Future
The Ducks entered the year with some certainty at key positions which was a good start, there was just a whole bunch of uncertainty as well. On top of that, consider that the Ducks’ potential next quarterback didn’t click into this offense just yet, and you’d think this team would be struggling with a transfer in his first season on the team, right?
We closed out the season on a high note in the Holiday Bowl, which was a HUGE success for Lanning to pull this group together and compete for momentum leading into next season (thank you, Chase Cota!). Oregon won some of the most important games of the year, and lost a few too. I consider that as something to build on. It isn’t where we want to be, but it’s a step in the right direction.
We didn’t expect Lanning to work right away. Sure, we could hope for it. But I wouldn’t have dreamt of the College Football Playoff in the spring. Now, I expect it next season, and that’s directly on the shoulders of what Lanning’s been able to accomplish in only his first season with the Ducks.
Overall, I love what I saw from Oregon this year. They fought hard in every game and if it weren’t for a handful of mistakes that a hungry young coach like Lanning will correct, we’d probably be having a different conversation this week as a fanbase. 2023 is bright. Let’s see what this team can do in January next year.
Enough from me, though, Oregon fans. What do you think about the Ducks in 2023? What did this season tell you about Lanning and the future of our program? Let us know in the FishDuck Forum with decorum!
Los Angeles, California
Top Photo By: Mike Snow
Alex Heining is an Oregon alumni from the graduate class of 2021. After studying sports business and media studies, he has moved into the field of digital marketing as a copywriter and content manager in the Los Angeles area. Still, he loves his Ducks and goes to local high school games all over the Los Angeles and Orange County area to check out new recruits of the future (and a SoFi game or two with the pros). On any given Saturday, expect to find him doing martial arts, playing the guitar, or screaming at the tv over a missed holding penalty.
FishDuck Going to Articles on Monday and Tuesday Only…
Our off-season schedule begins, and we move from publishing articles seven days a week to Mondays and Tuesdays only. Same great group of writers, and we will have an article on other days on occasion.
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