12 burning questions for the Ducks to answer in Week 1 vs. Portland State

It’s been a long offseason for the Oregon Ducks that has been full of changes. While the first year under Dan Lanning was successful, there is a hope and desire from the fanbase that 2023 will bring even higher heights to the program now that the coaching staff is more established in Eugene, and more of Lanning’s players are on the roster.

We saw over half of the roster from last year replaced by incoming recruits or transfers, so there are a lot of new faces to watch on Saturday against Portland State in the season-opener. While we got a look at most of them in the spring game back in April, none of that will compare to the action that we see on Saturday afternoon.

If you’re like me, then I’m sure you have a ton of questions about this team going forward, from offense to defense, to special teams.

Here are some of the most important things that I think we need to find the answers to.

Will the Pass Rush Get Home?

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Question Explainer: One of the biggest frustrations for the Ducks in 2022 was the defensive line’s inability to get pressure on the QB. Oregon ranked 122nd in the nation when it came to total sacks (16) on the year, which had a ripple effect throughout the defense in pass coverage. Will that change this year?

Analysis: If the Ducks want to be as good of a team as they plan in 2023, the defense is going to need to be much improved. That starts up front with the ability to put pressure on the QB and make it so opposing passers don’t have all day in the pocket to pick apart the secondary. Last year, the corners and safeties received a lot of heat for their inability to cover. While they definitely share part of the blame, some of it has to go on the pass rush as well. With additions like Jordan Burch and Matayo Uiagalelei this season, plus the return of Brandon Dorlus and Popo Aumavae, Oregon should be improved in this facet of the game. We will see if that can start on Saturday by getting after a Portland State team that shouldn’t pose much of a test.

How Does the Offensive Line Gel?

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Question Explainer: The Ducks are replacing four starters from an offensive line in 2022 that was among the very best in the nation when it came to run blocking and protecting the QB. With so many new faces up front, will the same success be there?

Analysis: Despite Oregon losing so many faces from last year, that doesn’t mean that they are inexperienced up front. You have a number of projected starters who have played a lot in their careers, be it in rotational spots at Oregon or on other teams as incoming transfers. The talent and experience shouldn’t be a question, but rather the cohesion in Eugene. The number one thing that I will be looking at on Saturday is a lack of presnap penalties and missed assignments from the big men up front. If they can play a clean game against Texas Tech, then I’m confident that hey can keep up the standard of play set in 2022.

What is the WR Rotation?

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Question Explainer: There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen at the WR position. From Troy Franklin, Traeshon Holden, Tez Johnson, and Kris Hutson, to Gary Bryant Jr., Kyler Kasper, Justius Lowe and Jurrion Dickey, QB Bo Nix has no shortage of weapons at his disposal. How will that many players rotate in and get playing time?

Analysis: I don’t know that we will get a perfect answer to this question against Portland State because there is an expectation that the starters will be pulled from the game around halftime, allowing the younger guys on the roster a chance to show what they can do. However, I will be looking closely throughout the first quarter to see which guys are on the field, and which guys are rotating where. We know that Troy Franklin is going to be a starter, but beyond him, I’m open to any outcomes.

Cornerback; Who Starts?

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Question Explainer: The Ducks lost CB Christian Gonzalez and brought in transfers Khyree Jackson (Alabama) and Nikko Reed (Colorado) at the position. They also have returners in Trikweze Bridges, Jahlil Florence, and Dontae Manning. So who starts for Oregon?

Analysis: This may be among the biggest questions for me because I could be convinced of anything at this point. I feel confident that we see Khyree Jackson starting, but outside of him, I’m not sure who else we will see out there on the first drive. In the end, I think that Oregon is going to rotate early and often through their many guys at the position, but I hope we get a semblance of an answer so we can know more going forward into Texas Tech in Week 2.

Safety; Who Starts?

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Question Explainer: Similar to the CB question, Oregon lost S Bennett Williams in the offseason but brought in both Evan Williams and Tysheem Johnson. The Ducks also have Steve Stephens IV and Bryan Addison returning. So who gets the nod as the starting duo?

Analysis: Based on what we’ve heard out of fall camp, both Evan Williams and Tysheem Johnson have been really impressive this fall. I find it hard to believe that they won’t be the starting duo, but I know that both Stephens IV and Addison are solid players and have reportedly made strides this offseason. There is also the nickel position to think about, where the Ducks have a number of capable players moving inside and playing that third safety position.

Is the Secondary Improved?

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Question Explainer: This is an overarching question that combines answers from a few other queries we had in this article. If the secondary is improved, it will likely have to do with the pass rush getting home, and the starters finding a rhythm in their spots. So do we see overall success from the back seven?

Analysis: Let’s not act like Portland State is going to come out and threaten to throw it all over the Ducks on Saturday. It’s not going to be hard for Oregon’s defense to look stellar against the Vikings because they are playing an FCS team and quite frankly, they should look stellar against them. But I want to see a sense of cohesion in the secondary and a lack of explosion plays throughout the day on defense. If we get that, I will feel confident in the defense going into Week 2 against Tyler Shough and Texas Tech.

Is Tez Johnson DAT 2.0?

Question Explainer: Based on what we saw from Tez Johnson in the spring game, expectations should be high. He’s lighting quick and has that unique ability to take it to the house any time he touches the ball, much like an Oregon legend that fans are familiar with. Do we see more glimpses of that on Saturday?

Analysis: Johnson grew up idolizing De’Anthony Thomas, so it should come as no surprise that he emulates him a bit on the field now that he’s in Eugene. They are similar sizes and possess similar skill sets. From what we’ve seen of ‘Tezmania’ so far, I think that Oregon’s new WR can occupy that type of home-run hitter role for the Ducks in 2023, but I want to see more of a sample size before we start calling him DAT 2.0.

What can Ty Thompson Show Us?

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Question Explainer: The Ducks hopefully won’t have to worry about how good QB Ty Thompson can be in 2023 because they get another year of Bo Nix under center. Next year, though, it’s a different story. So can Thompson show something in the garbage time minutes against Portland State to give fans confidence going into next year?

Analysis: Thomspons’ performance in the spring game was solid, but there are a lot of Oregon fans who still want to see more before they can be convinced that he is the future at the QB spot for the Ducks. His game-time minutes in the past couple of years have left a lot to be desired, but not all of that is on him, either. I want to see Thompson get in on Saturday and have a full playbook at his disposal, showing an understanding of the offense, and increased awareness, and an ability to unleash his powerful arm. If we get that, I think a lot of Oregon fans can put some concerns to rest.

Do Will Stein Wrinkles Show Themselves?

Question Explainer: Oregon’s offense thrived last year under OC Kenny Dillingham. With Will Stein now in as the new OC, will we see anything different?

Analysis: In an interview with John Canzano earlier this week, Lanning was asked about Stein’s offense, and how it may be similar or different to what the Ducks did a year ago.

“I think when you watch it you’ll see something that reminds of similarities you saw last year, but every once in awhile you’ll say, ‘OK I didn’t see that last year.’”

I’m very curious to see what those wrinkles look like. Will it be new formations? New playcalls? Trick plays? Who knows. This will be a good game to show a little bit of flash in because the risk of it going wrong is low, but you also want to keep a lid on the playbook and now show too much before Texas Tech in Week 2.

Is the Jurrion Dickey Hype Real?

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Question Explainer: Jurrion Dickey is a 5-star WR, the No. 2 WR in the 2023 class, and the highest-rated WR to sign with Oregon since Cameron Colvin in 2004. The expectations are obviously through the roof, but is the hype real?

Analysis: Dickey was not able to join the Ducks for spring ball, so he only has a little over a month of college experience under his belt. Because of that, I am unsure how much we will see him early on in this season, but I hope that we at least get a few looks at what he can do. Watching him in practice, it’s jarring how big he is, and how quick he is for his size. He may not get a ton of looks early on, but it won’t take much to recognize that he is the real deal going forward.

Is the Matayo Uiagalelei Hype Real?

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Question Explainer: EDGE Matayo Uiagalelei was one of the highest-rated players in Oregon’s 2023 class, and has been drawing rave reviews out of practice so far. Do we see him have an impact right away?

Analysis: The Ducks need to get better at rushing the passer and getting pressure from the defensive line, and Uiagalelei might have a hand to play in that. While Jordan Burch is the expected starter at the EDGE position, there is a belief based on buzz coming out of camp that this true-freshman has what it takes to play a big role in his first year and get some major minutes, not just in Week 1 vs. Portland State. If he can get some pressure on Saturday and show what he’s capable of, we will be well on the way to propping him up as the next big thing in Eugene.

Can Special Teams be a Strength?

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Question Explainer: Almost every facet of Oregon’s special teams in 2022 left a lot to be desired. The team has worked hard to improve that over the offseason, so do we see any changes?

Analysis: Whether it’s better punting, better kick coverage, better kick returns, or better punt returns, the Ducks need to be better in all facets of special teams this year. It will be hard to get a great feel for how much better they are on Saturday alone since special teams come in small sample sizes and is more about consistency than anything. However, if it’s bad once again, we will likely know quickly.

Story originally appeared on Ducks Wire