This week is a pretty important week for Wyoming, if I do say so myself! Wyoming has only ever played Oregon once, and that was four years ago.
So instead of doing a ton of research myself, I decided to talk to Sean Larson, the managing editor for Addicted to Quack, Oregon’s SB Nation Blog.
MWC Connection: Oregon will be one of the most dynamic offenses Wyoming plays this year. What does Oregon do best on that side of the ball?
Addicted to Quack: Oregon is blessed with an embarrassment of riches at RB. They have three guys (Royce Freeman, Tony Brooks-James and Kani Benoit) that could start for most programs, and they all see significant playing time with speedy Brooks-James and Benoit bringing a change of pace from workhorse and Human Tank Royce Freeman. While the running game is the engine of the Oregon offense, sophomore QB Justin Herbert has shown significant promise – if the defense commits to stopping the run, Herbert can often make them pay in the form of play action. Oregon’s Offensive Line has also looked to be an early strength, although they have not yet been tested by particularly good defense.
MWCC: What have teams done to slow down the Ducks offense?
ATQ: Nebraska had very good luck stacking the box and stopping Royce Freeman last Saturday and when they managed that, the whole offense stalled. For like, the entirety of the second half. Clearly Nebraska coach Mike Riley holds a grudge against Oregon fans and wanted to make us relive nearly every moment of the 2016 Alamo Bowl. As a true sophomore, QB Justin Herbert is still relatively inexperienced and will occasionally force an ill-advised throw into coverage when under pressure, although so far this year the OL has generally given him plenty of time to work.
MWCC: Royce Freeman has been a staple of the Ducks offense for the last four years. He ran rampant against Nebraska last week. What has he done to improve between this season and last?
ATQ: Royce Freeman spent much of 2016 dealing with nagging injuries that limited his productivity to its lowest level since joining the Ducks. This season he is healthy, rejuvenated and ready to make his mark on Oregon football history. He has also embraced his role as team leader, as one of Oregon’s captains he is leading by example and mentoring Oregon’s younger players. As is the case with most all the players, Freeman also seems to have shaken off the bad vibes and low morale of 2016, has embraced this new coaching staff and has bought into what Willie Taggart is selling.
MWCC: Let’s say you’re the new head coach of the Oregon Ducks. Congratulations! What’s your plan to stop Josh Allen?
ATQ: Well that big arm of Allen’s is probably giving Coach Tag nightmares, and it is certainly inspiring PANIC in Duck fans everywhere. The Oregon secondary has not been the strength of the defense, and while we saw some flashes of brilliance by true freshman Thomas Graham (two interceptions vs. Nebraska) the unit is generally inexperienced and not particularly long on talent. Oregon may need rely on being opportunistic, making big plays and creating turnovers wherever possible, while reducing the number of bonehead penalties.
MWCC: What unit on defense is Oregon’s strength?
ATQ: I feel like this is a trick question, have you met the Oregon defense?
MWCC: I can’t imagine very many Wyoming fans (myself included) that look at this game as a guaranteed win. What would need to happen in an absolute doomsday scenario where the Cowboys pull off the upset?
ATQ: Oregon has a lot of talent on offense and has shown again this year that they are going put up big points. Stopping Oregon’s run game will put stress on the offense and Justin Herbert, so that is certainly the place to start. While they have shown signs of improvement early this season, Wyoming is going to want to keep Oregon’s more suspect defense on the field as they are prone to both penalties and giving up big plays.
MWCC: It’s only been two games into the season, but has Willie Taggart changed the culture at Oregon at all? If so, how?
ATQ: Absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt. In the last year of Mark Helfrich’s regime, the Oregon players had become apathetic, with some players calling others out for not working hard in both practice and games. There were indications that some players felt a sense of entitlement – with all of Oregon’s recent success, the haute couture uniforms and shiny facilities, they lost sight of what it took to get to the top. Willie Taggart has rebuilt the culture and esprit de corps of the program and the genuine enthusiasm and love of the game is back. So is the hard work, which has Oregon fans hoping that the down year of 2016 turns out to be an anomaly.
MWCC: What’s your prediction for the game?
ATQ: We’re hoping for a safe and exciting game - 40-28 Oregon! Good luck Cowboys and Go Ducks!