As a fan of the Oregon Ducks, you may have a lot of questions about the season going forward.
Will past performances on the road against Arizona State, or recent history against Oregon State plague this team? Will the final month provide enough stats for Bo Nix to continue his run toward the Heisman Trophy? Can the Ducks get the little bit of help they need elsewhere to have a guaranteed spot in the College Football Playoff should they win the remaining games on their schedule?
These are all things that we won’t know the answers for another few weeks, at the minimum. However, going into this weekend’s game against the USC Trojans, several unknowns will likely be answered within the next 48 hours. That feels like a more entertaining timeline to operate on.
Here’s a look at our biggest questions for the Ducks going into Week 11:
Does Grinch Departure Lead to Improvement?
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
By just about any metric you care to use, the USC defense has been downright awful this season, ranking as one of the worst units in the nation through 10 weeks. Of course, that led to the firing of their defensive coordinator Alex Grinch last weekend.
While it was the right move for the team, a lot of Oregon fans are probably asking themselves the same question — is this a good or bad thing in the interim?
You could argue that there’s no way the Trojans’ defense will immediately take a step forward and all of a sudden turn into a unit that is capable of stopping Bo Nix and the Ducks. I absolutely agree with that. However, you can also argue that without Grinch — a coach who had reportedly lost the defensive locker room over the course of the season — the players will be envigorated, playing more freely.
In the end, I’m not sure it’s going to matter a ton, since no team so far this year has shown an ability to slow down Oreogn’s offense. It is something that’s worth considering, though.
How Impactful Can Ground Game Be?
There’s a real chance that the Ducks break their season record for rushing production this season, which came in Week 1 against Portland State with 338 yards. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if they did that again this week against USC, who has the 118th-ranked rushing defense in the nation.
Last week against Washington, the Trojans gave up 318 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground, allowing an incredible 199 yards before contact to Huskies’ RB Dillon Johnson.
No disrespect to Washington or Johnson, but I’m under the impression that the Ducks (No. 10 rushing team in the nation) have a better rushing attack than the Huskies (No. 98 rushing team in the nation.
This is a game where Bo Nix will be able to put up stats if he wants them, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Bucky Irving and Jordan James turned loose and run free.
Does Caleb Cut Loose?
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The Oregon Ducks defense is going to be one of the best units that Caleb Williams has seen all season, so it’s going to be interesting to see how effective they are against the reigning Heisman winner. One thing that Oregon has mildly struggled against this season is rushing quarterbacks, so it’s fair to wonder how much success he might have in that realm.
At this point, I am also curious to see how much hero ball is played by Williams. The Trojans’ high preseason expectations are no longer attainable, so one could see a world where Williams starts choosing to protect himself more, rather than lay everything out on the line in a world where the Trojans are realistically playing for a spot in the Alamo Bowl, at best. I’m not suggesting that Williams will pack it up and mail it in, but rather it’s only human nature to play more conservatively and avoid risk when the high ceiling is no longer there.
Autzen at Night or Pac-12 After Dark?
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports
There will be two incredibly strong forces competing against each other this Saturday: Autzen Stadium at Night vs. Pac-12 After Dark.
The Ducks always have a strong home-field advantage when playing in Eugene thanks to the difficulty that Autzen presents to opposing teams, and that’s not expected to be any different this weekend with the USC Trojans visiting for the first true night game of the season. However, we also know that crazy things happen when two Pac-12 teams meet after much of the East Coast audience is getting ready to go to bed.
So which otherworldly force will have the last laugh on Saturday? Time will tell.
The Secondary Impact
(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
One thing that Caleb Williams does better than almost any QB in the nation is improvise and buy time back in the pocket, allowing receivers to go off-script and get open in the secondary. This forces the defensive backs to cover for long periods, which is incredibly hard to do. That has been an emphasis for the Ducks’ secondary this week, making sure that they can stick on their men and not get beat should Williams escape the pocket and keep plays alive. Guys like Khyree Jackson, Jahlil Florence, and Tysheem Johnson will be asked to do a lot on Saturday, so we will see how they stand up to the test.
Does Pettiness Come into Play?
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
The Washington Huskies beat the USC Trojans 52-42 a week ago.
I have a feeling that Dan Lanning and the Ducks want to do better than that. Of course, winning the game is step number one, but I definitely think there is a world where Oregon is going to keep their foot down on the gas pedal for a bit longer than might be necessary, simply to pick up some style points, and more importantly, to let it be known that they had a larger margin of victory than the Huskies did a week ago.
What is the Heisman Impact?
(Photo Courtesy of Ethan Landa)
It will be very interesting to see what Oregon’s offensive gameplan will be on Saturday. By all means, it seems like this is a game where they can opt to run the ball 50-plus times and have all of the success in the world. However, when you have a quarterback as good as Bo Nix, you don’t simply take the ball out of his hands.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the contract, actually. On a big stage with the Heisman Trophy race coming down to it in the month of November, I could see another big statistical game from Nix where we know that points are going to be on the table. We saw that last week against the California Golden Bears when Oregon’s QB racked up 386 passing yards and six total touchdowns on the day, vaulting up to the top tier of the Heisman odds.
The same type of scenario would not surprise me on Saturday.
How Chaotic Can Saturday Be?
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Once again, some big-time games are going to take place on Saturday that could have some massive impacts in the College Football Playoff race.
You’ve got Michigan vs. Penn State, Washington vs. Utah, and Georgia vs. Ole Miss, among others. Should any of those games end in upsets, it would go a long way in moving the Ducks up the rankings and bettering their chances at a spot in the CFP. With a late-night kick in Eugene, this will provide a great opportunity for Oregon fans to sit back and watch the action throughout the day, rooting for some chaos.