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Opponent Q&A - The Oregon Ducks

Auburn somehow finds itself in the midst of the biggest game of opening weekend.

I hate how far in advance you have to schedule college football games, and yet this is one of the instances in which I can actually remember when a game was scheduled as we approach kickoff. It was only four years ago that Auburn and Oregon announced the meeting in Arlington for the Kickoff Classic event, instead of the 10-15 year notice that we now get for other non-conference matchups.

When that game was scheduled, we were obviously ecstatic. Auburn was poised for a huge year (uh..) and Oregon was coming off of another national runner-up season and their first Heisman Trophy winner.

Things change, and Oregon’s not the same team as they were when we met in Glendale for the national title in January of 2011. Auburn’s different, but largely the same. We just don’t have Cam Newton, which sucks. The Ducks, however, have no longer ascribed to the speed game they did for over a decade, and they’re more of a pro-style team across the board. It feels weird, but we have plenty of information about Oregon courtesy of Adam Chimeo of Addicted to Quack.

Learn about the opening opponent below!

While we’re breaking in a new quarterback, the Ducks have one of the top potential picks in the 2020 NFL Draft in Justin Herbert. Which QB of the past does he compare to? What’s his biggest strength? What’s his biggest weakness?

That’s a good question. I actually would compare him to Oregon Legend Joey Harrington, though there are a couple huge differences between the QBs: Herbert is bigger and more athletic than Harrington, he also has a stronger and more accurate arm, but what he hasn’t yet developed is Joey “Captain Comeback” Harrington’s killer instinct.

Herbert has all the tools needed to become one of the season’s best quarterbacks, it’ll all come down to whether he can turn in clutch performances on the road (Oregon has won just 3 of their last 10 true road games) meaning he’ll need to develop a new go-to receiver as soon as possible.

One of the matchups that everyone started talking about as soon as last year ended was the Auburn defensive line against the Oregon offensive line. We may have the best front four in the land on our side, where does the Duck offensive front stand among the rest of the country?

The Ducks’ offensive line returns 153 starts, making them the most experienced O-line in the country. Not only do they return standout veterans like Shane Lemieux, Calvin Throckmorton and Jake Hanson (seniors entering their fourth year in starting roles), they also return sensational sophomore Penei Sewell. Even with all the talent and experience on this unit, Sewell proved to be the MVP after the Duck offense slumped during his midseason departure due to injury.

What should concern Duck fans is this squad’s lackluster production in the rushing department (54th nationally). If Cristobal wants to become a power-rushing offense then this team will need to produce more on the ground. I imagine the match-up between the lines will live up to the hype, the Duck faithful can only hope that the passing game is there to complete the one-two punch.

When we last met, it was hurry-up, no-huddle, speed, speed, speed on both sides. The narrative has shifted a good bit with Mario Cristobal running the show. What’s his basic philosophy on both sides of the ball? Do you think his time at Alabama will pay dividends going against Auburn?

On the offensive side of the ball Cristobal has elected to transform the Ducks into a downhill, power-running offense; a task that would seem dubious if not for his rapid success in recruiting. Even in the wreckage of Willie Taggart’s departure, Cristobal managed to land the 13th ranked class in 2018 and followed that up with the 7th ranked class in 2019, the highest in program history.

Outside of recruiting, which is really what is generating the excess hype for this Duck squad, Cristobal immediately re-established discipline both mentally and physically on the team after years of bad culture that was allowed to grow during the Mark Helfrich years.

Defense, on the other hand, is a much more complicated puzzle to solve, though the pieces individually look rather impressive. Two years after Oregon made a big splash with the hiring of Jim Leavitt as defensive coordinator, Cristobal established that this is his team by letting him go. Former Boise State DC Andy Avalos showed the Ducks just how lethally chaotic his defense can be by embarrassing them in the Vegas Bowl, Cristobal’s first game as our head coach. Expect some intriguing looks from what will most definitely be a multiple defense.

Despite a bit of a disappointing season in 2018, Auburn fans got to head into the offseason with some optimism based on the bowl blowout of Purdue. Oregon scraped by Michigan State and the offense didn’t do much. What were the initial thoughts on 2019 as we turned the page from last year?

I think I can speak for most Duck fans when I say that the Redbox Bowl, while incredibly painful to watch at the time, felt like a huge step in the right direction. A non-Rose-Bowl bowl win is nice and all, but the ultimate payoff is the extra practice time. Sure, we looked like hot garbage out there on offense for about 97% of the game, but in the end we broke our bowl losing streak and beat a team that had at least one elite side of the ball.

Also, we beat Washington and Oregon State. So good season.

5. Word from fall camp is that wide receiver is going to be a thin position due to some unfortunate injuries. How much will that affect what Oregon wants to do on offense in Arlington?

Pull up a chair and let me tell you about our injuries at receiver: Senior projected starter Brenden Schooler is out 6-8 weeks with a foot injury, standout freshman Mycah Pittman is out 6-8 weeks with a shoulder injury, and JR Waters is out due to foot surgery- all taking place in fall camp. This leaves us with a projected lineup of SR Juwan Johnson, JR Jaylon Redd and JR Johnny Johnson III; not an elite unit, but at least a good combination of experience and skill, though one more injury could be disastrous for this group.

Going into the offseason, the main goal was to find a replacement for Dillon Mitchell, by far Herbert’s favorite target and the program record holder for yards in a single-season (1,184).Progress seemed to be made with the emergence of Penn State grad transfer Juwan Johnson but it’s worth noting that one of his main flaws was drops, which is not what you want to hear coming from a unit that suffered through 52 of them last season.

Long story short, I don’t think the issues at receiver will necessarily change the strategy, however I do think it will diminish our ability to take advantage of the stacked box. Cristobal is likely to stick with what he knows is a strength, which could prove fatal if we aren’t able to establish the deep ball as a threat.

Which offensive skill players will play and have a big impact on August 31st?

Justin Herbert will be desperately searching for someone to catch the damn ball. Tight ends Jacob Breeland and Cam McCormick have been excellent in the pass game when healthy and Jaylon Redd was one of the few pass-catching bright spots outside of Dillon Mitchell last season. Duck fans will be praying that Juwan Johnson can provide a reliable outlet for Herbert.

CJ Verdell and Travis Dye will once again be the two-headed monster, the former providing the angry downhill style and the latter the straight speed. If these two can find consistent success on the ground, I think the Ducks possibly run away with this thing, though Auburn’s horrifying D-line makes that much easier said than done.

With Herbert and the offensive line taking much of the publicity, we haven’t heard as much about the Duck defense. What are they capable of doing and which names should we pay attention to?

I believe that this defense has the potential to cause a lot of chaos in a lot of backfields, thanks in large part to Andy Avalos and his brand spanking new system which is built on confusion and constant pressure. If things click quickly for this experienced front seven, Bo Nix could have a really rough debut.

Troy Dye is the cornerstone of this unit. He’s led the team in tackles for the last three seasons and is currently 121 tackles away from becoming Oregon’s all time leader in the category. Jordon Scott (AKA Fat Mac) has been an incredible nose tackle ever since his freshman year: Avalos will need to find a modified role for him now that the team will rely less on the 3-4, but Scott has the rare combination of size and speed to adjust.

The starters in the secondary will hopefully take a collective step forward with the leadership of junior cornerbacks Thomas Graham Jr. and Deommodore Lenoir. Jevon Holland is coming off of a stellar freshman campaign and will look to add to his five interceptions now that he’s locked down the starting safety position.

Then of course there’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, the nation’s no. 2 overall recruit of 2019, who will definitely see the field, most likely in the STUD position. If you really want to know a name that will seemingly pop out of nowhere, senior Bryson Young has been talked about a lot at STUD. A strong offseason and a change in scheme has put Young into the perfect position to really make a name for himself at the end of his Oregon career.

What’s Oregon’s ceiling this year? Are they a potential Playoff team? New Year’s Six? Conference champion? What are Oregon fans feeling in terms of a final record?

Games like the 2016 Alamo Bowl versus TCU and the Stanford meltdown of last season have turned this Duck fan into a very pessimistic person. Despite that blackhole in my heart, I am still pretty high on this Oregon team. Are they a playoff team? Most definitely not. A New Year’s Six contender? I suppose if absolutely everything goes perfectly, why not. That would require either a PAC-12 championship or a close loss to playoff bound Utah/USC.

The general consensus seems to be that 9-3 would be perfectly respectable, while 8-4 would be a bit of a letdown. The homer in me has them going 9-3.

What’s keeping the coaching staff awake at night right now?

A recurring nightmare where endless, consecutive receivers drop a perfectly timed pass from Herbert and then fall to the ground clutching their knees. Occasionally Derrick Brown makes an appearance in the especially nasty nightmares.

Prediction for this game?

Unfortunately, I don’t think hometown hero Herbert will be able to avenge our loss in the 2011 National Championship game (side note: Dyer was down!). I think both teams will be able to walk away from this game with their heads held high, but ultimately I don’t think Oregon will be able to exorcise their road demons this early in the season.

Auburn 27 - Oregon 21


Kickoff Saturday night from Arlington. 6:30 pm CST... War Eagle!