Itâ€™s time for my annual Duck Football preview. Nothing too technical here so if you are a casual football fan keep reading. If you are a die-hard, lives for football season, kind of fan there are some things here for you too. First off, we will take a look at some of the major changes and after that Iâ€™ll introduction some of the new players you will want to look for. Read to the end to see a humorous video prediction for tomorrows game against South Dakota.Â So lets get started.
In some respects nothing has changed since last year, but in reality a lot has changed. The biggest overall change is that long time linebacker coach Â Don Pellum was promoted to Defensive Coordinator after the retirement of Nick AlliottiÂ who had filledÂ the position since 1999. 15+ years I suspect. Many Duck fans always believed Alliotti had a natural tendency to play not-to-lose once the Duckâ€™s had a lead. Frustration all around resulted and no game ever seemed safe. That philosophy changed somewhat when Chip Kelly was here. So how will things look like with Don Pellum in charge? I expect a very disciplined defense that will be aggressive, but not reckless. I have written in the past that Chip Kellyâ€™s coaching philosophies are very John Wooden like. Both coaches emphasis fanatical repetitious practice of what they consider the one best way to do something. The idea being that there is one most efficient way to do a football related activity such as blocking, handing off the ball or the footwork required by a blocking lineman. The idea is to Â practice it quickly, over and over, until it becomes second nature. Both Wooden and Kelly were very even tempered and Â matter of fact coaches. Don Pellum approach is very much the same. Lastly both Chip and Wooden were great at molding their team around the talent that they had at any give time. These are all philosophies that Pellum has displayed over the years. Overall I predict Don Pellum will be a better coach than Aliotti although it may take a couple of years to fully see it.
There has also been a change in philosophy regarding the offensive line. Â These of course are the guys that make the rest of the offense look good. Training and diet was modified this year to add 10-20 lbs of bulk to each offensive lineman. In the past Oregon has had difficulty with large defensive lines (Think Stanford, Auburn and LSU) The potential problem with this is that Oregonâ€™s offense requires mobile and quick lineman who often are expected to make secondary blocks 10-15 yards from where they started. The goal is to add bulk without losing significant quickness. How that works out will be tested in week two against Michigan State who has one of the best defenses in college football.
One more change; look for quarterback Marcus Mariota to take some snaps under center instead of 5-7 yard behind the center. This is something that he has never done while at Oregon. Â I expect to see this mostly on 3rd and short yardage and down near the goal line. When the QB takes a direct snap from the center it speeds up how quickly the ball gets to the running back and gives less time for the defense to adjust too where the play is going. It takes a powerful running back to pull this off and Oregon has the ability to pound the ball this Fall due to a new arrival.
Speaking of running backs. Oregon has wealth of running back talent. In fact so much talent that any of the top three would start for just about any team in country. Having two 1,000 yard rushers is almost a given but it is possible that all three could pass the thousand-yard mark. Something Iâ€™m not sure has ever happened in college football. So, who are these guys?
Byron Marshall who started last year and played extensively two years ago. He is not flashy but he reads his blocks well and has the moves and speed to get downfield for big gains. Iâ€™ve always liked him. But the truth is he now working to keep his starting spot against two guys who have NFL written all over them.
Thomas Tyner the home state recruit rushed for
over 1,000 711 yards on only 115 carries last year in his freshman year. In HS he rushed for over 600 yards in just one game. Physically he is blessed like few players could ever hope to be. Last year he picked up on the skills necessary to succeed at the college game faster than I expected. Unfortunately, as the year concluded, reports were that he wasnâ€™t a hard, or disciplined, worker and was struggling. Some thought he would not be with the program this fall. But something happened early in the new year and a light bulb went on resulting in an new attitude towards training It will be exciting to see how this transfers to his running game. I have no idea what to expect. He is an incredible talent and time will tell if he performs to his potential.
Royce Freeman is a true freshman. He seems to have it all. In fact people that I trust are saying that coaches believe he has the potential to become the best Oregon running back ever. Smart, extremely hard working and great football skills both physically and mentally. At 235 lbs. he, like LeGarrette Blount in the past, has the ability to run over people and has done just this in fall camp. The photo on the left is from his Junior year in HS. Players are usually guarded in what they say but veterans on the defense have said they have never seen anything like him. Oregon likes to use two running backs because of the pace they play. I expect Tyner and Freeman to be the starters by the 3-4 game and expect to see Marshall on the field with one of them at the same time some times playing receiver.
Charles Nelson – He could turn out to be a DeAntony Thomas replacement. When 4-star Â recruit Budda Baker defected last year and signed with the Huskies — poor judgment in my opinion – Oregon quickly pursued Charles Nelson. Now it turns out that he very well could make people say Budda Who? Coaches are grinning ear to ear as they didnâ€™t realize just how talented a player Charles Nelson is. He is lightening quick and shifty and Oregon will be looking for ways to get him the ball in the open field.
Last but not least is Devon Allen. I have always had a hunch about this kid who will be catching passes from Marcus Mariota. In fact I wrote about him for the FishDuck.com (click here) while he was still in high school. He is probably the fastest player to ever put on a Duck uniform and that is not an exaggeration. How fast is he? As a 19 year old freshman 110 meter hurdler on the Duck track team he won, in six weeks time, the Pac 12 championship, the NCAA college national championship and then, amazingly, the US national championship beating several professional and multiple olympic medal winners in the process. And the word is, when it comes to football, he is more than just fast; he is a great football receiver. Here is a crazy prediction; by the end this first year he will be the best Duck football player not named Marcus Mariota.
Speaking of Marcus Mariota, I consider him the best player in college football at the moment. And the key to Oregonâ€™s season. The loss of Mariota would be the loss of the Oregon season. For the first time in a long time Oregon doesnâ€™t have a proven backup. They do have two potentially great QBâ€™s but one is a true freshman and one is still in high school.
Predictions – All this is based on Mariota not getting a major injury. Last year the Ducks had another heartbreaking loss to Stanford followed by a terrible loss to a mediocre Arizona. I believe this was the effect of complacency following several years of success. In the long run it will be a blessing in disguise as it was a wake up call to players that they lost their focus.
So Iâ€™m predicting that Oregon wins the Pac-12 Conference and makes the 4-way national playoff. The new playoff format is good for Oregon because if they get past the first game their opponent in a national championship game would only have one week to prepare which would be a giant advantage to Oregon.
Potential stumbling blocks. Michigan State in week two, UCLA and Stanford. Game of the year (regular season) will be the away game at UCLA.