Oregon vs. UC Davis Preview: Will Oregon’s QB Gamble Pay Off?

All eyes on Quarterbacks and Defense for Oregon's Season Opener

“I’m sure I’ll get a little more energy once I run into Autzen”- Dakota Prukop

The wait is over, Ducks fans. Oregon Football is finally here.

Tomorrow, the Ducks will open their 2016 season at Autzen against UC Davis. On paper, the match up looks to be an easy win for Oregon but as any good fan knows, nothing is promised college football. Just ask #9 Tennessee, who nearly lost last night against Appalachian State.

Again, nothing is promised, especially in a year when Oregon football faces more questions marks than solid answers in an era with so many expectations.

Aside from the skill positions, nothing is tested. There are two new coordinators, a new quarterbacks coach, a new defensive scheme and a ton of young players.

Adding to all of the changes and team youth, Oregon will be led by a new starting quarterback, graduate transfer, Dakota Prukop, and a true freshman back-up quarterback, Justin Herbert.

Yes, you read that correctly.

In a surprise move, at least to those outside of the program, Oregon recently announced that Prukop would be the starter while recent Sheldon High graduate, Justin Herbert, would serve as back-up.

Herbert, the newest quarterback to arrive to Oregon, received rave reviews throughout fall camp but it was redshirt freshman, Travis Jonsen, who was said to be in a tight battle with Prukop for the starting gig. Few fans questioned the “close battle” after watching Jonsen do very well, and perhaps better than Prukop, in Oregon’s Spring Game scrimmage.

Suddenly, Jonsen is now sitting in the fourth spot on the depth chart behind Prukop, Herbert and true freshman, Terry Wilson Jr.

Confused? You’re not alone.

With Herbert named #2, it signaled that perhaps Oregon has a promising future at quarterback. Unfortunately, it also sends a message to Jonsen, and perhaps Wilson, both highly recruited quarterbacks, that Oregon coaches probably see Herbert as that future. Sure, competition is always ongoing but one has to think Jonsen, especially, may feel the hill is too high to climb. At this point, would anyone blame him?

So far, Jonsen is still a Duck and fans should be grateful and quite frankly, Oregon Coaches should be too.

With Oregon’s quarterback development already facing intense criticism, leap frogging a quarterback like Jonsen could have been, and may still be, a huge gamble. At the end of the day, Oregon just sacrificed a guy who has been with the program, shown solid talent that rivaled that of Dakota Prukop (albeit in a scrimmage). All for a true freshman who was still in high school during Spring Practice.

Let’s hope that gamble pays off.

With only hours standing in the way of kick-off, here are the top two things to keep your eye on as Oregon faces UC Davis:

Quarterbacks (of course)

Dakota Prukop says he feels 100 percent comfortable with the Oregon offense. He also told gridirongirl this week that he doesn’t get pre-game jitters and is feeling “really calm” about the season opener.

“I haven’t felt overly excited or anything,” Prukop said. “I’m kind of going to treat it like I’ve been treating every practice so far. I’m sure I’ll get a little more energy once I run into Autzen”

As far as pre-game traditions go, Prukop said he will simply try to get “a good night’s sleep” and if anything, try not to be “too calm.”

Will Prukop show he can help Oregon silence the critics? And perhaps more importantly, will he pad the score and open the door for hometown hero, Justin Herbert, to show why has quickly climbed the ranks?

The Defense

Over the last couple of weeks, Oregon lost two solid defensive players. CB Chris Siesay departed the program and has enrolled at Portland State University where he will play wide receiver and LB Torrodney Prevot was suspended indefinitely last week for a violation of University and Department of Athletics code of conduct.

With Brady Hoke now leading the way defensively, a new defensive scheme has been implemented. Not only has he demanded a more aggressive approach, but he has also shifted from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 which will heavily rely on playing multiple defensive backs. Though the team has had a full Spring and Fall to officially implement the changes, the defensive group is very young and has received tough criticism (to say the least), from Hoke as of late. Less than two weeks ago Hoke said,

“We have a long ways to go if we’re going to have a defense that’s going to be effective in this league .”

Coach Helfrich immediately attributed at least part of Hoke’s criticism to the defense’s mentality, something that has reportedly improved over the past week or so. Helfrich indicated yesterday the team had turned the page so-to-speak and improved quickly in that area. Time will tell of course, but if there’s any hope to cling onto for the next few hours, it is this. . .

When asked this Summer about what fans might be most surprised about this season, running back, Royce Freeman, simply said, “I think the defense will surprise you guys this year.”

So many questions, yet so many expectations. It is modern day Oregon Football after all.

Want a crash course in Oregon’s preseason happenings? 

Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl for live game reports, player interviews and breaking team news.

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