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It’s fair to have a lot more questions than we have answers right now about the Oregon Ducks. Though they boast a 4-0 record and are ranked as the No. 3 team in the nation, the way that they’ve gotten to three of their four wins may not be convincing. The scoreboard shows dominance, with an average winning margin of 19.25 points, but they had to pull away late in three of those games, with the only exception being Week 2 against Ohio State.
As we head deeper into the conference schedule, the Ducks are going to be tested, especially this week as they travel down south to take on the Stanford Cardinal, a frisky and physical team that is highly capable of knocking them off of the top step in the Pac-12 north.
Will Oregon be capable of staying perfect and continuing their unscathed march towards the Pac-12 Championship and potentially the College Football Playoff? We can hope so, but we need to get the answers to these questions first in order to be sure.
Will Inconsistency Come Back to Bite?
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The Ducks have gone through some massive swings so far this year. Week 2 against Ohio State was a high that few Oregon fans have ever experienced, but there have been some low moments as well. Take the fourth quarter that was spent trailing Fresno State, or the first half against Stony Brook where the Ducks failed to surmount a big lead.
It seems like this team is good at riding waves of momentum, which could potentially be deadly in the end. Against teams that are perceived as their equals, they show up ready to fight, and they look like an elite team in the country — this is why I believe that they are going to put it to Stanford this week in Palo Alto. However, against lesser competition, like Stony Brook or Arizona, they seem to do just enough to get the job done. We can’t fault them for that in the end, because a win is a win, but we can be a bit frustrated at the lack of consistency.
What is the most troubling about this is the fact that many Pac-12 teams are going to be perceived as inferior to the Ducks as far as competition goes, but teams that are still good enough to catch Oregon if they give them their best shot. The Ducks have a target on their backs in the conference and are going to get the maximum effort from every opponent left on the schedule. Nobody is overlooking a chance to play giant-killer. We’ve seen it in the past with the Ducks, and this feels like a team that is ripe to give up an upset somewhere down the road.
They’ve gotten by okay thus far, but each Saturday presents a new opportunity to stumble.
Will the Wide Receivers Ever be Dominant?
(AP Photo/Andy Nelson)
We do an exercise every week here at Ducks Wire where the staff writers get together and predict what is most likely to happen during the coming game. Every week so far, we’ve been asked to predict which receiver is going to break out and maybe take on the role as WR1, fortifying himself as the guy that Anthony Brown is going to trust when times get tough.
Four weeks into the season, and we still don’t have an answer.
That’s not to say that the WR room has been bad this year, but rather inconsistent. Johnny Johnson has had a couple of nice games, Mycah Pittman has flashed, and Jaylon Redd showed up for a big score last week. Against Ohio State, Devon Williams came up with some clutch catches, and the two true freshmen Troy Franklin and Dont’e Thornton have been worthy of seeing the field as well.
But we really want to know who the top guy is, and it’s becoming clear that this is something we aren’t going to get.
Anthony Brown is in his first season as the starting QB for the Ducks, and it may be too early for him to have built a solid rapport with one single guy. It also may be that the receiving room is so deep that the Ducks don’t need to key in on any one particular guy, and instead are spreading the ball around by design to keep the defense true. It also has been the case that the running game in Oregon has been so good that they don’t need to throw the ball much, and are doing fine without a massive passing attack.
Down the road, though, there will come a time when the Ducks need some big completions in order to get out of a jam. It’s just hard to know where the ball will be going when that happens.
Can the Defense Stop the Run?
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
The Arizona Cardinals entered Week 4 with the worst rushing offense in the Pac-12, averaging under 80 yards per game.
The Ducks allowed them to run for 202 yards on Saturday night.
For a defense that was expected to be the best in the conference and among the best in the entire nation, that’s a pretty terrible look. Of course, they were without their leader in Kayvon Thibodeaux for much of the game, and injuries have surely played a factor in the depth, but that should be no excuse for a team that recruits as well as Oregon. On top of that, LBs Keith Brown, Mase Funa, and Adrian Jackson all returned to the game, but still, the Wildcats were able to get what they wanted on the ground.
This poses a potentially massive problem against Stanford this week. The Cardinal are a physical team that likes to beat you on the line, and you can bet that head coach David Shaw saw where Arizona had success this past week, looking to mirror that and punch the Ducks in the mouth. If Oregon continues to get beat around the edges and between the tackles, then they are certainly on upset watch in Week 5. The secondary has been tremendous this season, but it’s time for the front-seven to step up and get in on the action.
What Happens When Camden Lewis is No Longer Perfect?
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Camden Lewis is currently experiencing a comeback story that none of us thought was going to happen. After losing his job to Henry Katleman a year ago and entering the offseason as the No. 2 kicker, Lewis decided to ride things out in Oregon and simply work harder.
That hard work got him his starting job back, and so far on the season, he is perfect on the field, going 5-for-5 on field goals and 20-for-20 on extra points.
How long can we expect that perfection to stick around, though?
To be fair, Lewis has not faced many tough kicks yet this season, though he did drill a career-long 43-yarder on Saturday against Arizona. But what is going to be interesting to watch is how the team, and more importantly the fanbase reacts when one of his kicks eventually drifts to the side and a drive ends empty-handed. Lewis has battled with misses before and knows what it’s like to lose confidence. As he told us last week, it only takes one to set things on a downward spiral.
We just have to hope that he’s learned enough and built up his confidence to the point that a missed kick isn’t going to send us into a rumor frenzy about his abilities once more.
How healthy is Kayvon Thibodeaux in Reality?
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Kayvon Thibodeaux played his first snaps in a game since Week 1 on Saturday, and he looked alright doing it. Thibodeaux didn’t record a tackle in the game vs. Arizona, but it was enough to see him in pads and running around on an ankle that was rolled up on in the first half of Oregon’s first game of the season.
It was encouraging, until we saw him exit stage left and spend much of the second quarter sitting on the bench with a wrap on his foot. Many of us believed that he may have re-aggravated his ankle injury, but head coach Mario Cristobal assured everyone after the game that this wasn’t the case, and Thibodeaux was instead on a 6-10 play pitch count, and his night was over at a set time.
Should we believe that or not, one of the major questions facing the Ducks, and Oregon’s defense in particular, is about how healthy KT really is. If No. 5 is back to full strength and ready to give it his all, then there should be no worries that the defense can soon be as dominant as well all expected, with numerous QB pressures every game and a load of forced mistakes that are bound to ensue. However, if Thibodeaux continues to linger around 80-90% health, a lot of questions could come up.
How willing is he going to be to play and risk more serious injury when his first-round draft status is on the line? That’s not something that any of us can answer ourselves, but definitely a major storyline to watch as we move forward.