As the Ducks face off against the Beavers tomorrow in the 118th Civil War, they will look to avoid that age-old saying, “The higher the climb, the harder the fall.”
Sitting at #2 in the nation and chasing a Natty with a Heisman Hopeful leading the way, the Ducks know very well there is a whole lot on the line. They have climbed very high and a fall could be very, very hard.
On paper, Oregon is expected to steal another victory against its in-state foe. But as any good football lovin’ Oregonian knows, paper means nothing when it comes to the Civil War. As my dad reminds me EACH Thanksgiving, just before the big game, “Throw out all the records, all bets are off when it comes to the Civil War.” And, he’s right. Consider last year when the Beavers came into Duck territory and nearly stole the show until Marcus Mariota and Josh Huff saved the day in the final seconds of the game. Call them the Ducks’ little brother all you want, but there’s a reason the Beavers are very good at playing spoiler and have rightfully earned the nickname, “Giant Killers”. Just ask 2008’s USC team who suffered their only loss that season to the Beavers. Heck, if you need a more recent tale, look at Oregon State’s very unexpected win against #6 Arizona State just two weeks ago.
When the Beavers have a rough season and lack something major to play for, it seems they turn to spoiling others’ dreams. Make no mistake though, this year they’ll be fighting to keep their season alive (a win will make them bowl eligible), but more importantly, they’ll be fighting to beat the Ducks and prove they aren’t just Oregon’s cute little brother. And If nothing else, they’ll be playing to send their quarterback, Sean Mannion, off in style- with his first win against the Ducks in his last game at Reser Stadium.
All that Giant-Killer-talk being said, the Beavers certainly have a tall order. Despite sustaining a number of injuries all over the field, Oregon has rallied, fought through adversity and is playing at an all time high. They are in many ways seemingly unstoppable, especially with #8 at the helm. For the team and its fans, a national victory is so close they can almost taste it. . .almost.
To avoid a “hard fall”, the Ducks will have to be prepared for everything the Beavers have. Call it cliché, but the Ducks will get the Beavers’ best shot, whatever that looks like.
Here are gridirongirl’s 4 keys to an Oregon victory:
1. Oregon’s Secondary
Although Oregon State’s backfield has all but been wiped out by injuries, quarterback, Sean Mannion is lethal with the deep pass- something all Ducks fans know is something the Ducks struggle to defend. Though improvements have been made, the Oregon secondary currently ranks very poor nationally. Look for the Beavers to exploit that weakness. On that note, I believe Eric Dargan, who currently ranks 12th nationally in Interceptions will be the most critical player on the field, next to Mariota of course.
2. Penalty Battle
Let’s face it, Reser is no Autzen. That does not mean the Beaver Nation will not be out in full force. This is their “big” game right now, much like if the Arizona Wildcats returned to Autzen Stadium. A desperate desire for revenge will fuel a relentless roar and of course, the always lovely piped in chainsaw noise.
In an emotional and rowdy game with so much on the line, it’s easy for players to make a lot of mental mistakes. Should the Ducks fail to stay focused amongst the chaos, penalties will be inevitable. They may survive some setbacks but too many flags could prove costly.
3.Winning 3rd down battle
Coming into this match up, both teams bring a little baggage- allowing opponents to convert on 3rd down. Much. Too. Often. The two teams who have been able to beat Oregon in the past two seasons have done so by converting over and over again, keeping Mariota and Co. off the field. If Oregon is going to win, their defense will have to do their part to hold the line and force punts.
Freeman continued to shine last week against Colorado as he set a new Oregon record, becoming the first true freshman to run 1,000 yards. After the game, Freeman told reporters he never really set any goals at the beginning of the season other than to do what he could for the team. Apparently, that approach is working. As he looks to be the leader in the backfield tomorrow, Freeman’s role will be vital against the Beavers. Keeping the run game alive is the yin to Mariota’s passing yang and absolutely critical to the Ducks’ lightening speed offense. So Royce, continue to roll. Who said goals were important anyway?
Keep climbing with your Ducks, Oregon fans. There’s no need to worry about a hard fall yet. If by chance it does come though, I’ll do my best to catch as many of you as I can with a little “cheer-me-up” football analysis. . .right after I stop crying of course.
Here’s to an Oregon Victory and a “Marcus Mariota for Heisman” show!
Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl