Do you remember a week ago when we went into the Oregon Ducks’ season opener against Fresno State extremely excited, noting that we were finally going to get some answers to a slew of questions that had popped up during the offseason?
Man, were we young and innocent back then.
While some things did become clear in the Ducks 31-24 win over the Bulldogs — yes, it looks like Justin Flowe is the real deal — we are still left wondering many of the same things. Which freshman QB has landed the backup job? Who is Anthony Brown’s emergency WR? What is the Ducks’ plan at RB behind CJ Verdell and Travis Dye?
While none of those things got answered in what turned out to be a much more competitive game than we anticipated, a whole crop of new quandaries came about. Here are five new questions that we hope Oregon will answer against No. 3 Ohio State this weekend.
How healthy is Kayvon Thibodeaux?
This is a question that we are likely going to get a pretty general answer of pretty quickly; either Kayvon Thibodeaux is going to play, or he’s going to sit. Assuming he plays, though — which is a complete assumption, after Mario Cristobal’s comments on Wednesday — how much of an impact do we think Oregon’s defensive star can ultimately make? Will the Ducks trot him out there if he is less than 100%? Less than 90%? While it’s impossible to get an exact number on how healthy Thibodeaux might be, we can reasonably expect that he will have a major impact when on the field. At the very least, Thibodeaux’s presence on the line of scrimmage will force Ohio State to devote extra attention to him, and if he truly is healthy, we are likely to see him be destructive, just like he was last week against Fresno State. The Ducks are being coy about his availability because, well, it benefits them to do so. By guarding the health of their No. 1 player, Ohio State has to prepare for all options. In the end, I would say that it seems more likely Thibodeaux will play in the biggest game of the year, rather than stand by and wait to get back to 100% health. There is too much on the line to miss a primetime game like this.
Can Oregon’s passing attack get going?
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We went into Oregon’s first game of the season with extremely high expectations for the Ducks’ receiving corps, and it was one of the more disappointing groups on the day. The core-four receivers — Johnny Johnson, Mycah Pittman, Jaylon Redd, and Troy Franklin — combined for just seven receptions, 129 yards, and a touchdown. For a group of WRs that is arguably among the most talented that Oregon has ever had, that certainly isn’t going to cut it. Of course, you can’t blame the receivers for all of that. A WR is only as good as his quarterback, and even Anthony Brown will tell you that he wasn’t good enough last week. On top of that, the offensive line needs to be solid against the rush and give the QB time to survey the field. When you look at Ohio State’s defense, the secondary has the potential to be one of their weak spots. In Week 1 against Minnesota, they played without cornerbacks Cameron Brown and Sevyn Banks, and safety Josh Proctor got a bit banged up as well. We don’t know whether or not any of those guys will play vs. Oregon, but if the Ducks can get their passing attack under control and unleash some explosion plays, it will make an upset more more achievable than we may envision.
What impact will DJ James and Jamal Hill have?
The Ducks certainly picked a great time to have a couple of veteran defensive backs return to the lineup, this week matched up against two of the best wide receivers in the nation. While we can expect to see both DJ James and Jamal Hill back on the field, it’s fair to wonder if they will be playing at full strength. The two missed a good portion of fall camp because of their suspension and were forced to sit against Fresno State. With Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson spread out wide, Oregon’s secondary is going to absolutely have its hands full trying to contain the passing attack and limit explosion plays that we saw an abundance of in Week 1 against Minnesota. Luckily, the Ducks now have some depth at both the CB and Safety positions that can help keep players fresh and ready to run.
Can CJ Verdell/Travis Dye find a groove early?
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
The boxscore vs. Fresno State will show you that both CJ Verdell and Travis Dye had solid games, netting a combined 138 yards on the ground with two touchdowns. However, watching the game caused a bit of frustration, seeing as a majority of that production didn’t come until the fourth quarter, where Verdell rattled off runs for 11, 14, and 17 yards, respectively. If there’s one place where the Ducks can really stick it to Ohio State and assert themselves early on, it’s in the running game. Last week against Minnesota, we saw RB Mohamed Ibrahim rush 30 times for 163 yards and two touchdowns. Early on, he helped the Golden Gophers take a halftime lead before going down with a brutal season-ending leg injury in the third quarter. There has to be a real belief that if Ibrahim stayed healthy, Minnesota could have had a serious upset potential over the Buckeyes. If Oregon hopes to do the same thing, they will need to lean heavily on a strong rushing attack from Verdell and Dye, eating up the clock and keeping the ball out of CJ Stroud’s hands.
Will Anthony Brown show us more?
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After the win over Fresno State, Anthony Brown remarked that it wasn’t clean enough and that the offense as a whole needed to make some adjustments and get things right ahead of Ohio State. Now it’s time to see if they got it straightened out. Brown was far from terrible in Week 1, with 172 passing yards, 56 rushing yards, and two touchdowns. However, against a team that many expected the Ducks to blow out, we were hoping to see a bit more, and it’s fair to think Brown expected more from himself based on his comments after the game. Now, with another week to prepare and a reason to leave it all out on the field, we will get a chance to see what the super-senior quarterback can really do. “It’s kind of crazy to me because he’s super talented,” wide receiver Mycah Pittman said of Brown when addressing the slander his QB has received. “Even if you guys don’t think he had the best game, I’m telling you that he has so much potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.” To be the best, you have to beat the best, and Brown will certainly have a chance to do that this weekend against the Buckeyes.