Another big game faces the Oregon Ducks on Saturday night. That goes without saying. After the loss last week to the Washington Huskies, Oregon is now in a scenario where another loss will greatly damage its chances of making it to the Pac-12 Championship game and could tank its season altogether.
When you throw into the mix the fact that this Saturday’s game comes against the No. 10 Utah Utes, a team that tanked Oregon’s season a year ago, both in the regular season and again in the Pac-12 Championship, it makes this matchup that much spicier.
Oregon needs a win, and it may have to get one without its starting quarterback and best player, Bo Nix. After Nix suffered a leg injury last weekend, it’s unclear whether he will play, but his presence or absence will be a huge factor in who wins.
There are also several other factors that will play into the outcome of this one as well. Here are our five biggest questions that the Ducks need to answer on Saturday:
Will Bo Nix play?
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This is obviously the biggest question everyone has going into this game. If Oregon quarterback Bo Nix is unable to play, then it will drastically change the outcome, leaving redshirt freshman Ty Thompson to play in his stead.
At the moment, we don’t have a clear answer to this question, and it’s likely that we don’t find out for sure until players take the field on Saturday afternoon to warm up. Based on what we’ve heard from head coach Dan Lanning, Nix is preparing as if he can play. Based on what we’ve heard from WR Kris Hutson, it’s next man up, and Thompson will be the guy.
This is such a big question because the answer swings the game completely. I have confidence that Oregon can win the game if Nix gives it a go. If Thompson is out there, my confidence drops quite a bit.
What type of heart do we see in Eugene?
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The emotional circumstances going into this game are certainly grand. After a pair of brutal, season-defining losses at the end of the 2021 season, this game against Utah has been circled on the schedule for months. You know the players who experienced those defeats last year are out for vengeance. On top of that, you have the loss to the Washington Huskies last week that derailed Oregon’s College Football Playoff hopes and put its path to the Pac-12 Championship in question.
I’m curious to see how much heart and fire the team comes out with, having those two things on their minds. It’s possible we see a group of veterans lead the way and make an early statement that they are out for blood. There’s also a real chance the Ducks are unable to weather the storm of injuries and heartbreak felt in the past week and look flat.
If Nix is unable to play, I think the latter option is far more likely. We’ll see on Saturday night.
What changes in the secondary?
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Something has to, right?
Oregon’s pass defense is among the worst in the nation, and it truly let them down last week against the No. 1 passing offense, the Washington Huskies. QB Michael Penix Jr. threw for 408 yards and had his way throughout the game, picking apart Oregon’s zone defense and easily making his way downfield time and again.
Does something change schematically for the Ducks? Is there a chance we see certain players moved around to new places in the secondary as this defense works to find the secret sauce to success? I’m not sure, and obviously, I don’t have the answer to making things work. I just know that what Lanning and Tosh Lupoi have been trying to do over the past few weeks isn’t working.
How aggressive is Dan Lanning?
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Since coming to Eugene, Dan Lanning has made it clear that he is going to be an aggressive coach who isn’t afraid to make bold decisions in the game, like going for it on fourth down in his own territory or trying an onside kick in the first half.
Last week, we saw that come back to bite him.
Does that mean that he’s going to shy away from the aggressive nature? I would be surprised since his comments after last week’s game suggested that he is very well aware of the downside to aggressive coaching, but I’m going to be interested to see how bold Laning is feeling on Saturday night if an opportunity to be ultra-aggressive arises.
Can the rushing attack shoulder the load?
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Whether Bo Nix is healthy, it seems Oregon’s running game is going to be absolutely imperative to the Ducks finding success. In case Nix can play, he will likely be at least somewhat hobbled and unable to rely on his legs as we’ve seen this season, so it’s crucial to let Bucky Irving and Noah Whittington shoulder the load.
If Nix is unable to go, and it’s Ty Thompson under center, I think it goes without saying the Ducks are going to need to find a lot of success on the ground in order to keep this game close. Hold onto the ball, chew up the clock, and keep control of the game.