Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CFI Countdown: #19 Oregon Ducks

2008 Record: 10-3 (Pac-10: 7-2)
Bowl Game: Holiday Bowl vs. Oklahoma St. 42-31
Location: Eugene, Oregon
Stadium: Autzen Stadium (54,000)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Overall: 0-0 (1st season)
@ Oregon: 0-0 (1st season)
Link to Oregon Football Page

Chip Kelly has been absolutely splendid as an offensive coordinator and quarterback guru since arriving in Oregon from New Hampshire. With Mike Bellotti moving up to the athletic director’s job, we will learn if he can be as effective as the headman. His first job isn’t going to be an easy one. Not that the Ducks aren’t talented, they are, but they lost a lot of key components and have high expectations. How Coach Kelly handles his duties will go a long way in deciding which way they go.

When the Ducks Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Mark Helfrich (1st season)
Scheme: Spread Option
Starters Returning: Five
Key Losses: C Max Unger, RB Jeremiah Johnson, OT Fenuki Tupou, OG Mark Lewis, WR Jasison Williams, WR Terence Scott

With junior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli returning, Kelly has a nice building block. By the end of the 2008 season Masoli was among the most exciting players in the country, quite a meteoric rise from fifth string. Masoli, who won’t wow the NFL scouts with his measurables, stole the show versus a star-studded Oklahoma St. offense in the Holiday Bowl and comes into 2009 as one of the nation’s most dangerous quarterbacks. He’s an absolutely fierce runner in the open field but could use some more polish as a passer. Lining up behind him is a beast of back in senior LeGarrett Blount who will never be confused for a scat back. Blount is built like a bull and he runs like one. Tight end is also a position of strength led by senior Ed Dickson, an offensive weapon in his own right. As for their depth and experience at wide receiver and the offensive line, well…there really isn’t any. Gone are three of their offensive linemen from a year ago, including four-year starter Max Unger. The 2009 line will be hard pressed to approach last year’s unit as far as production is concerned. The Ducks’ top wide outs have left the nest as well, and a lot of hope is being placed in USC transfer Jamere Holland, who has the speed but has never really put it together.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) RB LeGarrette Blount (SR), 2) TE Ed Dickson (SR), 3) TE/FB Malachi Lewis (JR)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Nick Aliotti (12th season)
Scheme: 4-3
Starters Returning: Five
Key Losses: CB Jairus Byrd, S Patrick Chung, DE Nick Reed, DT Ra’Shon Harris

They look to be set at linebacker with Mike Casey Matthews and WILL, Spencer Paysinger—a pair of juniors—back at their respective positions and ready to do damage. No one has a better pedigree than the hard-hitting Mathews, while Paysinger brings speed, athleticism, and tremendous instincts. Sophomore SAM Eddie Pleasant moves into the starting lineup with JC transfer Bryson Littlejohn expected to see the field as well. They will miss the departed starters along the front line, as the Ducks will need to replace space-eating tackle Ra’Shon Harris and pass rushing end Nick Reed. The clear-cut leader of the D-Line is senior Will Tukuafu, who has a knack for getting into the backfield, especially against the run. Even with the surprising loss of Darius Byrd, Oregon returns Walter Thurmond at corner and T. J. Ward at free safety—a ball hawk and a head-hunter, just what every secondary needs.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) CB Walter Thurmond (SR), 2) LB Spencer Paysinger (JR), 3) LB Casey Matthews (JR)

The Schedule

It gets real interesting, real quick for the quack attack. They kick off the season on Thursday, September 3rd on the blue field of Boise St., and will be looking to avenge a 37-32 loss from last season. Two weeks later, they play host to the Utes. Oregon has a chance to derail two BCS Busters who combined to go 25-1 in 2008. After Utah, they have another big home game with Cal coming to town the following Saturday. But that’s not the one the Autzen faithful have circled on their calendars—that would the Halloween date with the Men of Troy. Oh yeah, they get to play the Civil War versus Oregon St. at home as well. Two road games Oregon can’t overlook in November—at Stanford (11/7) and at Arizona (11/21).

Pivotal Point

It’s all about the trenches. Not many have the backfield combo of Masoli and Blount, while the back seven appears to be in good hands on the defensive side of the ball. However, it all begins at the line of scrimmage and how they replace losses along each line could make or break this season. Left tackle Fenuki Tupou, center Max Unger, and defensive tackle Ra’Shon Harris were all NFL draft choices last April. Nick Reed was an All-Pac 10 performer. They also lost three of their top subs on the offensive line and the two starters that did return—tackle C. E. Kaiser and guard Bo Thran—had an injury-riddled spring. Thran in particular seems to be injury prone. These big boys played a significant role in Masoli running for a school record 718 yards from the quarterback position and Blount crossing the goal line a school record 17 times.

CFI Final Analysis

With home games against both USC and Cal, could the Ducks end the Trojans run atop the Pac-10? Could they fall to BCS Busters Boise St. and Utah before they even play a conference foe? The answer to both questions is “yes” and ultimately, the final result will likely lie somewhere in between. One thing is for sure—if you haven’t had the pleasure to watch Masoli play, do your best to change that—the kid is a throwback who is just as likely to run over a defender as he is to juke him.

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:
The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes

Photos Courtesy of John Giustina

Contact Daniel Mogollon via email