The Oregon Ducks fended off a late rally by the Nebraska Cornhuskers last weekend to remain unbeaten on the young season. With his home debut in the past, Willie Taggart faces a new test in how his team responds on the road against the Wyoming Cowboys.
In the first half last weekend, Oregon’s offense shined brightly once again by overwhelming Nebraska’s defense. A 42-14 lead at halftime looked comfortable enough for the Ducks to continue the momentum into the second half.
Instead, a close game ensued with Oregon holding on for a 42-35 win over Nebraska. Second half adjustments were going to be made by Mike Riley and the Cornhuskers who provided a scare amongst Ducks’ fans and excitement for their fans in attendance at Autzen Stadium. Turnovers proved costly in the end for Nebraska with four during the game and Oregon only committing two turnovers.
Credit Coach Riley for weathering the storm in the first half and regrouping his team. Conservative play calling was alarming by Oregon after starting the season off strong in a 77-21 victory over Southern Utah. Instead of pushing the tempo, the Ducks went stagnant and got shutout in the second half by the Cornhuskers.
The lesson Coach Taggart should take away from the second half against Nebraska is not to take the foot off the gas pedal. Such a performance will not fly when conference play begins in two weeks.
For now, the focus this week is preparing to go on the road for the first time in hopes of improving to 3-0. The Ducks head to Wyoming to face the Cowboys from the Mountain West Conference. War Memorial Stadium will be near capacity as an opportunity arises for a rising quarterback.
Josh Allen came on the radar after reports of the Wyoming quarterback being a potential top-10 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He is ranked alongside other quality quarterbacks such as Pac-12 quarterbacks Sam Darnold of USC and Josh Rosen of UCLA. Allen has a good arm and is mobile which NFL scouts want to see.
Allen’s stats have not been too impressive compared to other potential quarterbacks expected to enter the draft. The junior quarterback threw for over 3,000 yards for 28 touchdowns last season but had 15 interceptions. Against stronger opponents, Nebraska and Iowa, Allen threw a combined seven interceptions (two against Iowa this season).
Perhaps the hype is too early around Allen as he tries to focus on helping the Cowboys get better and block out the unexpected noise coming from his draft stock. Despite getting banged up in the opener against Iowa, Allen bounced back last weekend with a 27-0 win over Garnder-Webb. He threw for 328 yards and two touchdowns as the defense shut out an opponent for the first time since 2010.
Jim Leavitt and the Oregon defense were going to be tested against Nebraska and came out strong in the first half. The second half was a challenge as the defense stepped up to help secure a win after the offense struggled. Leavitt will face a similar opponent in Allen with his pocket-passing ability. Receivers Austin Conway and C.J. Johnson are Allen’s primary targets as both scored touchdowns last weekend and combined for 265 yards receiving.
Wyoming’s run game is where the game could favor Oregon in seeing the ball more on offense. In two games, the Cowboys have only rushed for 124 yards as the offensive line is unable to provide blocks to get the rushing attack working. Against a revamped Ducks’ defense under Leavitt, the pressure will be on Allen to keep the offense moving. Kellen Overstreet must find a way to break through on the ground to keep Oregon’s defense on their toes.
Troy Dye will look to disrupt the Wyoming offense all game as the sophomore is coming off an excellent game against Nebraska. Dye had 11 tackles including a sack last weekend and look to continue the trend upward before conference play begins.
Miscues in the second half led to Oregon going conservative where the execution was not as crisp from the first half outburst. Justin Herbert threw for 365 yards and three touchdowns although the sophomore could have added more to his stats. Herbert could have his way on Saturday as the Wyoming defense has seen a little action from opponents throwing the ball. The Cowboys though are currently ranked third in the nation in passing yards allowed.
The defensive coordinator for Wyoming, Scottie Hazelton, should expect a steady dose of air attacks by Herbert. Led by Charles Nelson, the Ducks’ receiving core was a question coming into the season. So far, players have stepped up to become difference makers in providing a threat downfield. Brenden Schooler is just one example of an emerging threat after a spectacular catch to open the scoring last weekend.
Royce Freeman flashed his old form once again last week showing no signs of injury from last season. Despite losing the ball on a fumble, Freeman rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns. Unlike in the opener where the running backs ran wild, backups Tony Brooks-James could not get going as Freeman took most of the carries.
Altitude is another element facing Oregon when heading into the matchup against Wyoming though one small factor will not stop the offense from going fast. Non-conference play will conclude for the Ducks after Saturday as next weekend will start conference play at Arizona State.
Coach Taggart makes his debut on the road with concerns on how the Ducks will respond after a poor second half last weekend. Saturday’s contest will certainly provide some answers on how Oregon may fair this season on the road.