Last week, we talked with the Addicted To Quack crew on their weekly podcast, and though they had just learned about / escaped from the NCAA Sanctions Oregon received in the WIll Lyles adventure, they were more than interested in discussing at some length the state of Oregon State football.
And in that spirit of sharing football information, they took time out from testing their new trash cans to give us an update on the details about what to expect this fall from the Ducks, as they embark on the days after the "Era of Chip".
Thanks especially to David, who helped make it all happen.
Last week we discussed how the difference between a difficult Oregon St. season 2 years ago and a top 20 run last year had a lot to do with injuries, or the lack of them, and how that's likely to be the story again this season. Oregon is expected to contend for the Pac-12 Northern and conference titles, and maybe a National Championship, and has the depth (and experienced reserves that big wins has afforded them) to do so generally, but there are still key spots. If Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota misses a couple of games or a month, which is a plausible scenario; several Pac-12 teams have quarterback injuries each year, and sometimes, the majority of conference teams do, what do the Ducks do, now that Bryan Bennett has transferred?
Well, we trust that Jake Rodrigues is talented and will step in a do a nice job. It was nice having an experienced backup in Bennett but, remember, Bennett had no experience when he stepped in for Darron Thomas and won games against Arizona State and Colorado in 2011. Just as Thomas had no experience when he won the starting job a year before. Obviously, you wish Bennett were still here, but fans are not freaking out about what will happen should there be an injury. History says that the Ducks are likely fine.
Even as well as he played, I feel Kenjon Barner was still under-rated and under-appreciated for the contributions he made. Now that he's gone, how comfortable are you with Byron Marshall at RB when De'Anthony Thomas, above, is split out wide or needs a breather, or its 3rd and 3 against Stanford? What kind of running game will we see in these situations this year?
Oregon fans are comfortable with the running back position. Barner is definitely under appreciated. However, Marshall was the highest rated running back on the west coast, and showed flashes of that potential in very limited carries last season. Five-star running back Thomas Tyner comes in as a freshman. And Thomas will see a number of carries a game. I expect the Ducks to pass somewhat more this season, as that seems to be Mark Helfrich's thing, but between Thomas, Marshall, and Tyner, there is a lot of talent at the running back position. Marshall and Tyner are both bigger backs who should be able to get those tough yards.
Switching to the defense, a glance at the roster reveals how Oregon has excelled of late; there are a lot of athletes at every position, and by playing most of them, they defense is rarely worn down. But there are still keys players who make the key plays. Who will not necessarily make the most tackles, but will make the big ones, stopping someone just short of a 3rd down?
I'm going to go on a tangent to your question just a bit, and talk about the defense in general. The secondary will be one of the top two or three in the entire country, anchored by cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell, and the defensive line returns a ton of talent as well. The key will be the linebackers, where Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso are both lost.
Bo Lokombo is a returning starter at SAM, but the keys will be Derrick Malone, Tyson Coleman, and Rahim Cassell. Its still a lot of talent, but probably the most unproven position on the field for Oregon. Linebacker play allows that defense to play as aggressively as they do. Those players have some big shoes they have to fill.
Who is going to be matched up with the opponent's hot receiver if there is a 4th quarter drive with the game on the line that has to be stopped?
Ekpre-Olomu, above, is a preseason first team All-American corner, but many people forget that he racked up the gaudy stats last season because nobody wanted to throw towards Mitchell. Both of those guys will someday be very high NFL draft picks, and the Ducks should feel comfortable with either blanketing any receiver in this conference.
The "Age of Chip" was undoubtedly the best stretch in Oregon football history, but though his mark will remain on the program for a while, how the "Era of Helfrich" is viewed will be determined by what Coach Mark Helfrich, and a lot of the same coaches that had a hand in the success under Mike Bellottti and Chip Kelly, decide to keep the same, and what they change in a changing world, both inside the Oregon practice facility and around college football. What key things do you see Coach Helfrich going to great length to not change, and what do you predict to be the things we see that are different going forward?
I don't think you're going to see wholesale changes. The system works, and the guys who are in place on the coaching staff have been successful within that system. Helfrich will definitely make tweaks to fit his personality: I think Oregon will pass a bit more (though by no means will it approach even 50-50). Helfrich is already much more cordial with the media than Chip was. And he's reportedly a much more aggressive recruiter. He probably won't be calling Will Lyles, but I don't anticipate any big changes.
In a similar vein, though with the NCAA Investigations behind, and knowing what the sanctions are, and in a real sense, aren't, what do you see the biggest challenges to come that Oregon must meet, and how will they do it? What are the areas of greatest strength you expect to be able to continue to leverage?
Oregon's biggest challenge will also be to recruit nationally. With there being such a small high school talent base in Oregon, they will always have to cast a wide net to reel in the type of talent available to a Florida, Texas or USC.
That's why working with Lyles was a gamble worth taking-it opened Oregon up to getting elite Texas talent. The Ducks are opening a new football operations center which is palatial in nature, and continue to push the button with uniforms. The Ducks aren't going to make BCS games every year in perpetuity. But they have attained the status of national power, making it a downhill proposition to keep recruiting at the level needed to stay there.
And to conclude, bringing it back to the here and now, consider this scenario: It could be UCLA, or at Stanford, or maybe not until the Pac-12 Championship game. It might even be at Arizona (complete with flying tortillas), or against the Beavers in the Civil War. Someone has found a way to not only hang with Oregon, they have a 36-34 lead late in the 4th quarter. But the Ducks are driving. However, its come down to 4th and 3 at the 30, and though Josh Huff got out of bounds to stop the clock, there are only 7 seconds left, and no time outs remaining. Do we see Alejandro Maldonado trot out with a Rose Bowl or National Championship Game trip hanging in the balance? Or will Coach Helfrich roll the dice on a flood-read option that gives Mariota at least 3 options to make the Sportscenter Play of the Night? And will your beer make it through the next 30 seconds as that drama plays out?
We have a freshman named Matt Wogan who was the No. 2 rated kicker recruit in the country. Lets hope he takes the job and runs with it.
Thanks again, David, for taking the time to talk about both programs. There's a lot of football to be played before the Beavers visit the Ducks on the day after Thanksgiving, but its never a bad time to talk about anything relevant to the Civil War.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)