The Oregon Ducks answered many questions last week with a dominant win against the UCLA Bruins.
They showed that, despite the early season loss to the Georgia Bulldogs, they belong in the conversation of the best teams in the nation. They proved they can beat a good team in a dominant fashion. They displayed that the man under center — QB Bo Nix — may be playing as well as any player in the country right now.
All of that has led them back into the national spotlight, where the Ducks are now the topic of debate as a potential College Football Playoff contender. While that’s not something Dan Lanning and his squad are concerning themselves with, there are still things they have left to prove this weekend against a California Golden Bears team that has given past versions of the Ducks a bit of trouble.
Both the numbers and the betting lines show Oregon is a big favorite in this game. Will that bear out on the field, and, if so, how will the Ducks look in the process? Here are some things that we hope to see from Lanning’s squad on Saturday:
Can the 3rd Down Defense Improve?
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The Oregon Ducks have the 129th-best third-down defense in the nation. That’s out of 131 teams.
Through seven games, Oregon is allowing teams to convert 50.5% of the time on third down. Granted, that number is skewed because of what the Georgia Bulldogs did in Week 1, going 9-for-10 on third down. Still, it’s certainly not pretty, and one thing that the Ducks really need to clean up. Last week against UCLA, Oregon held the Bruins to 6-for-12 on third down, which seems like par for the course. However, on two of the downs where the Bruins were stopped, they picked up the first down on a fourth-down conversion.
I’m curious to see if that will change this week. Cal’s offense doesn’t do much that will frighten you, so it feels like a game where Oregon’s defensive unit can really gain some confidence and get right in a lot of areas.
Will the Pass Rush Get Home?
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The Ducks have been pretty middle-of-the-road this season when it comes to getting after the quarterback, totaling 13 sacks on the year, which ranks No. 83 in the nation. A lot of that is because they’ve faced some extremely mobile quarterbacks, going up against Cameron Ward, Jayden de Laura and Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
That will not be the case this week against Jack Plummer, who is prone to stand in the pocket and let his arm do the work, rather than his legs. I think that presents an opportunity for Brandon Dorlus, D.J. Johnson and the rest of the Oregon defensive line to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback.
We know that Cal loves to throw the ball; it averages 37 passing attempts per game and had 52 attempts against Colorado two weeks ago.
I said earlier this feels like a game where Oregon’s defense can really get some confidence and right a lot of wrongs. That feels especially true when it comes to the pass rush.
How Much Does Dominance Matter?
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If you’ll allow me to look big-picture real quick, then understand that it doesn’t matter just that Oregon wins the rest of the games on its schedule. It matters how they win them.
If the Ducks want to be taken seriously as a College Football Playoff contender, they need to take every opportunity to show they’re a different team than the one we saw line up against Georgia down in Atlanta in early September. That means they need to blow out opponents.
Oregon was successful against then-No. 10 UCLA last week, and the Ducks get another opportunity this weekend against a Cal team that, if we’re being honest, doesn’t have high hopes of keeping this thing close. It will be in the second half where we see if this matters to the Ducks. Do they press on the lead and try to make the margin of victory as big as they can? Will Bo Nix stay out there for an extra drive or two once the game is in hand to make sure that a statement is made? How hard does the defense play late in the fourth quarter when it’s clear that the game is put away?
Of course, in order for all of these things to take place, Oregon needs to get out to a big lead in the first place, which I feel confident they can do. How they handle the game afterwards, though, is what I will be paying close attention to.
With the win over UCLA last week, the world started watching Oregon again. What are the Ducks going to show next?
Will Ty Thompson Find His Confidence?
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Again, this question is based on the notion that Oregon is going to get out to a big lead and put this game away sometime in the third quarter, allowing a bunch of backup and depth pieces to see the field and get some valuable experience. If that happens, which I think it will, then my eyes will go to QB Ty Thompson, along with almost every other Duck fan.
It’s been tough sledding for the highest-ranked QB commit in Oregon history, but that doesn’t mean he should be labeled a bust yet. He simply needs more experience, and more than that, he needs some confidence.
In the minimal action we’ve seen from Thompson this year, it hasn’t been too inspiring. The redshirt-freshman is 10-for-18 for 80 yards and 2 INTs. You could argue that those picks weren’t his fault, but it’s still clear he’s seen very few things go right when on the field, leading to questions about his future with the program.
Wouldn’t it be nice to see him lead some drives and get into the end zone? To take some shots downfield and utilize that arm talent that we’ve heard so much about? I simply want to see Thompson play with some confidence and show that he has a ceiling close to what we thought it would be when he came to Eugene as a five-star recruit.
If the Ducks go up big, it seems likely Thompson will get in the game against a defense that can be had, especially through the air. Will he be able to make a few plays and get some confidence back?
What Does RB Time-Share Look LIke?
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It was overshadowed a bit in Oregon’s big win over UCLA, but we may have seen something particularly notable on the Ducks’ offense. Bucky Irving might be pulling away in that running back timeshare he’s had with Noah Whittington all year.
Irving finished the day with 19 carries for 107 yards, by far the most production we’ve seen from him this season. Contrarily, Whittington had 12 carries, which he turned into 75 yards. That’s the biggest disparity we’ve seen between the two backs this season.
Until this point, the two backs virtually split carries 50-50. That changed this past week, and I’m curious to see if the disparity was an anomaly or something that we might see more of going forward.