In any week during the college football season, we will have spent several days previewing and breaking down the Oregon Ducks and how they might fare against their next opponent. As it happens, for the opening week of the season, we’ve been focused on this game against Fresno State for much longer than just a few days, having September 4th circled on the calendar for quite some time.
As will happen every week of the season, the managing editor of Ducks Wire, Zachary Neel, will convene with staff writers Don Smalley and Andy Patton to preview the game, set expectations, and ultimately make a final prediction.
Here’s what Ducks Wire thinks about the game against Fresno State:
What to expect from Anthony Brown
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Question: A major big-picture question for Oregon this season is how good QB Anthony Brown will be. Just from a fan’s point of view, do you think we will be leaving Autzen on Saturday feeling impressed with his performance or left wanting more?
Zachary Neel: I think that any reasonable Oregon fan trusts the coaching staff when they say that Anthony Brown is the right guy to lead this team, and they aren’t holding unrealistic expectations over his head. However, those people who are expecting a massive stat-line against Fresno State will likely be disappointed. Rather than throwing for 300-plus yards and 4 touchdowns, I think we should be happy to see 2-3 solid quarters of play (hoping Brown does not need to play much in the second half) with a handful of touchdowns and no turnovers.
Don Smalley: What’s the old saying? The backup QB is the most popular guy in town. Perhaps unfairly, fans are going to want to see what Ty Thompson has to show. I think no matter how well Anthony Brown does, fans will look for any little excuse to see Thompson. I think Brown is going to play very well in this game. As long as he isn’t a turnover machine, which he’s not, he’ll be the main guy for the entire season.
Andy Patton: I think Brown will be good in this game; he has plenty of weapons around him and assuming he limits turnovers he should complete his primary task, which is to win a football game for his team. However, I don’t anticipate him doing much to completely wow or win over the crowd, and I don’t think the Ty Thompson supporters will necessarily be convinced after this performance.
Who will grab the RB3 role?
Question: Both CJ Verdell and Travis Dye are the main events at the RB position, but Oregon has a good amount of depth and talent behind them, though we don’t quite know who has earned the RB3 role just yet. If you had to guess who will be declared the winner after this game, who do you choose?
Neel: There seems to be a lot of positive momentum towards Trey Benson grabbing the RB3 role — Mario Cristobal recently said that he was looking good after dealing with an injury and should be ready to go full-speed — but I’m not sure if I can trust that he will be the guy yet. Instead, my money is on Seven McGee to handle a big share of the workload. We’ve seen him a lot in camp, and he has looked healthy and dynamic. Of course, I would not at all be shocked to see Benson be the guy.
Smalley: Trey Benson is going to get the first crack at it, but after the game, we’re all going to be talking about Seven McGee’s speed in open space. At 215 pounds, Benson is more of the power runner, but McGee is the more dynamic runner who fans will quickly fall in love with.
Patton: Seven McGee has so much talent and speed that I think he’ll be the one folks want to see behind Verdell and Dye. Benson’s skills as a power runner may be more complimentary to Verdell and Dye, so he is probably the more logical choice, but McGee’s pure talent and excitement as a player may net him the part.
Darkhorse Defensive MVP
Question: We know we can expect big games from Kayvon Thibodeaux, Noah Sewell, Mykael Wright, and Justin Flowe. If you take those four players off of the board, who do you think will be the Defensive MVP for the game?
Neel: There are two guys who I really want to give this award to, and I’m having a hard time choosing between DE Brandon Dorlus and FS Verone McKinley III. In the end, I think I will choose McKinley III, because Fresno State will likely have to air it out while playing from behind, giving the veteran ball-hawk ample opportunity to fly around and make plays. However, don’t be surprised to see Dorlus have a breakout day on the defensive line.
Smalley: At 6-foot-3, Trikweze Bridges is going to get an interception. With Wright on the other side, Bridges is going to get a lot of opportunities to make plays and he’s going to make it very difficult for DJ James and Jamal Hill to get back on the field with any regularity.
Patton: Verone McKinley is an elite playmaker in the secondary, and has a great chance to once again lead the conference in interceptions in 2021. It could all start with a pick or two against Fresno State this weekend.
Which kicker gets kicked to the curb?
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Question: Camden Lewis and Henry Kattleman both get chances to kick; which one looks better?
Neel: You know what? I’m going to say it… I think Camden Lewis has the better day. Yes, the fan base is in love with Henry Kattleman after his perfect 4-for-4 season in 2020, and there is a good chance that Lewis hears some boo’s when taking the field on Saturday, but there has to be a reason he’s stuck around this whole time instead of transferring. All reports out of camp are that this kicking competition is extremely close. If we trust the coaching staff when it comes to picking Anthony Brown, then we might need to trust them when it comes to Camden as well. Just like a divorced guy getting back into the dating scene, I am ready to be hurt once again.
Smalley: If Lewis finds his accuracy, the job will be his. He’s always had a strong enough leg. According to reports out of camp, he’s been doing well. One of the main storylines coming out of this opener is going to be the return of Camden Lewis.
Patton: This job is Camden Lewis’ to lose, so long as he doesn’t miss some gimme kicks I think he will be the guy this season – and I expect him to grab hold of the job in Week 1.
A wide-receiver showdown
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Question: Johnny Johnson, Mycah Pittman, Jaylon Redd, Troy Franklin. Who has the biggest day out of those four WRs?
Neel: The most fun answer to this question is true freshman Troy Franklin, for sure, but I think that in the end, it will be Johnny Johnson who steals the show. He may only get a couple of quarters to show his stuff, but I expect there to be a strong connection between No. 3 and No. 13 this season.
Smalley: I have to go with the super-senior Johnny Johnson. He returned to Oregon in order to have a monster season and increase his draft stock. It begins with Fresno State. But Pittman needs to have a good start to the season. With his injury history, a lot of up-and-coming receivers, like Franklin, are in the program and they could surpass Pittman for playing time if he gets off to a slow start.
Patton: Pittman is my choice. This is such a make-or-break year for him that I think he comes out crisp and really turns some heads in Week 1. Johnson is a good bet as well, thanks to his experience.
Choose your outcome
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Question: If I told you that Oregon was going to win this game by a score of either 63-21, or 31-3, which would you rather see and why?
Neel: I really want to see the defense be absolutely dominant in the one, but to be honest, I think a 63-21 victory would give me more confidence going forward. We know that in Week 2 against Ohio State, points are going to come at a premium and it could easily turn into a shootout, so I want to see the Ducks prove that they can score points at a high clip. Give me 4 TDs for Anthony Brown. Let QB Ty Thompson add on a few. Take the bubble-wrap off of CJ Verdell and turn him loose. Welcome fans back to Autzen Stadium with a good old fashion Oregon blowout.
Smalley: Depends on how the Bulldogs reach 21. Is it two late scores against the scrubs or do they score 21 against the starters before the Ducks figure some stuff out? More likely, it’ll be 31-3. Oregon’s offense isn’t built to score 63. Too much ball control and clock usage. Holding Fresno to just a field goal would be a huge statement for Tim DeRuyter’s guys and will make Ohio State take notice.
Patton: It would be nice to see the defense hold Fresno State to just three points, rather than 21, but hopefully 31 points occur early in the contest and it’s backups against backups for the second half of the game.
Final Score Prediction
Question: What do you think the final score of the game will be and why?
Neel: In the end, I think that Oregon will win this game handily, but it might be a little bit short of a Chip Kelly-style blowout. The defense will hold solid early on, but I think some late scores might make it more respectable. Give me Oregon, 42-17.
Smalley: Most likely, something in between those two extreme outcomes. 45-13 sounds right. Oregon might get off to a slow start with the return of fans. They’ll be so amped up at the beginning that Oregon might not be able to execute on a couple of things. Once everything calms down around the second quarter, the Ducks will get on a roll and cruise to an easy victory.
Patton: I’ll take a similar score to Don, I think it ends up 38-10. Oregon gets a chance to see the starters in action and some big time plays from Verdell, Johnson, etc. while the backups get to play a fair amount at the end of the game as well. DeRuyter’s defense takes care of business and holds the Bulldogs off the scoreboard for most of the game, giving fans a lot of optimism heading into Week 2.