The Oregon Ducks are coming to Pasadena this weekend after an abysmal 49-7 loss to Stanford. Oregon has struggled in the last few years with losing Heisman winner Marcus Mariota and mediocre coaching by Mark Helfrich. Willie Taggert is now at the helm and the Ducks continue to struggle with penalties and the passing game. However, Memphis and Arizona both started back ups that put up amazing numbers and brought home wins for their teams simply because the UCLA defense can’t get it together this year.
Backup Braxton Burmeister has struggled the last two weeks after taking over for Justin Herbert, who is out with a fractured collarbone. Herbert has practiced with the team and has thrown the ball around a bit, but isn’t returning anytime soon. According to Duck Territory:
In Herbert's place, the Oregon offense has struggled heavily. The Ducks led the country in points per game at 49 with Herbert at the helm, but in the two games he hasn't played, the Ducks have scored just 17 total points. Oregon recently passed for just 33 yards against Stanford and could only muster 12 first downs against one of the nation's worst defenses statistically.
It is also possible we will see Senior Taylor Alie in the quarterback position as coaches try to create the best possible scenario for the Ducks. Both Burmeister and Alie played last week, with neither having much success. One of the things that has really held these quarterbacks from gaining momentum on offense is repeated penalties (sound familiar?). The Ducks are the most penalized team in the country and gave up over 100 yards in penalties to Stanford last week. I do recall that they also had this problem when Mariota was their quarterback. When UCLA was racking up penalties, a few years ago, Oregon was right with them. The difference was that Oregon moved at a pace and had a talented quarterback that could cover that issue up. Now, not so much.
Before the season started, Oregon’s offensive line was touted as one of the best in program history. To start, senior left tackle Tyrell Crosby, the team's best offensive lineman who missed 10 games last season mostly due to a broken foot, is back in action. Additionally, the Ducks return four redshirt sophomores who saw starts last year, including Center Jake Hanson, guard Shane Lemieux and tackle Calvin Throckmorton (yes, for you Penguins fans, Crosby and Lemieux are playing together again). Add in guard Jake Pisarcik and you’ve got a stacked line with a lot of experience. This unit is really going to have to step up and protect a less than stellar quarterback.
Senior Nelson Charles is the big name wide receiver but also kind of an unknown as far as what impact he will have on this week’s game. He missed three games with an ankle injury, and only recorded a few rushing yards against Stanford last weekend. With quarterbacks struggling to make passes, I imagine we’ll see wither Burmeister or Alie handing it off a lot (see the next section for my reasons why). Oregon has only recorded 10 receiving touchdowns this year, and their top four receivers have anywhere from 200-243 yards. Johnny Johnson III, Dillon Mitchell, and Jacob Breeland will be the names you’ll see Saturday afternoon.
Here’s where I worry. We’re going up against yet another team that struggles with passing and likes to keep it on the ground. While the Ducks only have 10 receiving touchdowns, they have 26 on the ground. Royce Freeman is by far their go-to guy, with 133 carries for 797 yards. Additionally, we’ll have to watch our for Kani Benoit, who, while he doesn’t have nearly as many yards as Freeman (less than half at 361), averages over seven yards a carry. In Oregon’s case, you don’t have Khalil Tate’s legs to contend with, but you still have a strong run game to stop.
Stop the run. Please. I’m tired of saying this. While Oregon is coming off a pretty bad loss, we have YET ANOTHER back up quarterback coming to town that has a pretty good chance of having Heisman numbers by the end of the game, only because this seems to be UCLA’s modus operandi this year. I want to be wrong and I want the win, but nothing is for sure this year.