Oregon faces what will most likely be their stiffest test of the year in only the second week of the season, as the Ducks are traveling to Columbus, Ohio, to take on the vaunted Ohio State Buckeyes at the Horseshoe. In the first matchup since the Ducks defeat at the hands of the Buckeyes in the 2015 National Title Game, Oregon fans everywhere are hoping for some revenge against one of college football’s premier programs.
If the Ducks wish to continue their ascent to being recognized as one of the nations best teams, on the level of the Buckeyes, it’s crucial that they leave Ohio with a win. Football is a game of inches, but there are many factors that could contribute to both a victory or a defeat for the Ducks, and I’ve detailed a few that we could expect to see come Saturday.
5 Reasons Why They Will Win
Pass Rush (Kayvon Thibodeaux)
We all saw the difference KT made when he was on the field versus off against Fresno State. He looked every bit the Top 10 pick he’s projected to be when he eventually declares for the NFL Draft. Thibodeaux absolutely drilled FSU’s QB Jake Haener, forcing a fumble that set up the Duck’s first touchdown. Not only is Kayvon one of the best pass rushers in college football, but his mere presence demands constant attention, helping create opportunities for the rest of the Ducks pass rush.
Ohio State’s O-Line looked good in their win over Minnesota, but CJ Stroud is still a freshman and at times looked uncomfortable. If Thibodeaux and Co. can get some pressure on Stroud, it could go a long way towards helping Oregon pull off the win.
The Ducks ran the ball early and often last week against the Bulldogs, toting the rock 49 times for 186 yards. While their 3.8 ypc won’t wow anyone, the formula is there for success against the Buckeyes. Mohamed Ibrahim gashed Ohio State’s defensive line, which is supposed to be one of the strengths of the team, to the tune of 163 yards and 2 TDs. While Ibrahim might be better than any of Oregon’s runners, the game showed that success can be found by running the ball.
Running the ball means controlling the clock and controlling the clock means keeping the Buckeye offense off the field. If you can limit Ohio State’s scoring opportunities, then the Ducks have a real shot at keeping it close.
Remember when Oregon forced two fumbles in the first quarter last week and converted them into touchdowns? They ran out to a fast 14-0 lead and looked like they were going to dominate. Then down 3 in the fourth quarter, Justin Flowe managed to knock the ball free from Haener on a run, giving the Ducks the ball back. Oregon tied the game and stole the momentum away from the Bulldogs.
CJ Stroud overthrew a receiver resulting in a pick for the Golden Gophers, which gave Minnesota the lead going into halftime. The Gophers couldn’t ultimately pull off the upset, but if the Ducks can force mistakes similar to what they did against Fresno, the game becomes that much easier to win.
This was something we didn’t see a ton of last week, but could turn out to be a huge difference maker for the Ducks. Anthony Brown Jr. didn’t stretch the field often, but when he did he found some success, especially when targeting Johnny Johnson III, finding the senior for a 32 yard TD late in the first half. Brown also found Johnson for a big gain on their game-winning TD drive, and had success throwing Mycah Pittman’s way.
Part of this could be explained by Oregon’s very conservative play calling, they likely didn’t want tOSU to have a lot of useful film to study ahead of this matchup. Opening up the playbook and letting Brown chuck it downfield would add a dimension to the Duck offense they lacked against Fresno State, and that could go a long way against the Buckeyes.
This may not be the high-scoring fast-paced Oregon Ducks of the Chip Kelly area, but the fast start the Ducks got against the Bulldogs would serve them well this weekend if they could find a way to replicate it against Ohio State. Getting off to a good start could force the Bucks to throw the ball more. Combine that with Oregon getting DJ James and Jamal Hill back this week could bolster the confidence of a young but talented Oregon secondary.
If the pass rush can bring the heat, this combination could make for a long day for the Buckeyes offense.
5 Reasons Why They Won’t
Given what we saw from both teams last week, Ducks fans can’t be feeling too confident that they’ll be victorious if this game turns into a high-scoring, back and forth affair. The Ducks got off to a quick start against Fresno State, but for most of the game the offense looked lackluster. Ohio State started slow against Minnesota, going into halftime down 14-10 against the Gophers, but brought the heat in the second half, scoring 35 points to take a 45-31 win.
Oregon played fairly conservatively against the Bulldogs, but at this point we haven’t seen enough of the Ducks offense to feel confident they could keep up if Ohio State starts reeling off touchdowns.
Ohio State’s Receivers
Earlier I mentioned that Oregon is getting DJ James and Jamal Hill back and how that is a good thing and that’s true. However that still might not be enough to slow down the dynamic duo that Ohio State boasts at receiver, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. The pair combined for almost 200 yards receiving and three touchdowns. There might not be a defense in college football that can effectively contain these two and if Oregon can’t find a way to keep the ball out of their hands, it’ll be a long day for the Ducks defense.
Ducks Offensive Line
This is a situation where I’m hoping that the Ducks O-Line was just rusty against Fresno, otherwise Anthony Brown could be in for a long day. He was under constant pressure against the Bulldogs, and while Ohio State’s defensive line didn’t dominate Minnesota like most expected, that line is way more talented than Fresno State’s and bound to look better this week with a game under their belts. Hopefully the same can be said for Oregon’s O-Line and they just needed to shake the rust off/find some cohesion as a unit, because if not, Brown will be running for his life, and not in a good way.
Conservative Play Calling
I know, I know, this was most likely because of this matchup, but I still didn’t like how vanilla Oregon’s offense looked against Fresno State, especially when the game was close in the second half. We didn’t see much of the creativity from OC Joe Moorhead’s offense that many expected, and I was ready to pull my hair out every time the Ducks just ran it up the middle. The Ducks need to unleash the offensive side’s potential in this game if they expect to keep up with the Buckeyes, one of college football’s perennial powers who typically scores a lot of points regardless of who’s under center.
Time of Possession
Now this could be a big factor in whether Oregon wins or loses Saturday. Despite outrushing Fresno State, the Bulldogs held onto the ball longer than Oregon, often sustaining longer offensive drives than the Ducks. The Ducks defense, who looked ready to dominate early on, slowly got worn down as the game went on, as the offense struggled putting together substantial drives, which in turn gives the defense time to catch their breath and re-energize.
If Oregon can’t sustain long drives on offense, they’ll not only be helping Ohio State, but they’ll also hurt their talented defense, who will certainly be necessary to pull off an upset at the Horseshoe.
The Ducks head into Saturday’s game as two touchdown underdogs, and rightfully so. They struggled in many aspects against Fresno State while the Buckeyes shook off a slow start to roll a solid Minnesota team. If Oregon has any chance of pulling off an upset, they’ll need a lot of things to go their way. While that may be difficult to achieve, it certainly isn’t impossible.