After a tough season of Oregon Football, it’s safe to say fan emotions are all over the map. Some are trying to stay optimistic, understanding this season could very well be a “growing year”. Others are disgusted and ready to see a complete overhaul, at least at the coaching level.
The common denominator: Disappointment.
This has not been the season any Ducks fan wanted to see but it’s still game day and there’s a bunch of Trojans in a coliseum to beat. . .hopefully.
Oregon will face off against USC at 4pm today for the first time since 2012 when Oregon brought the “W” back to Eugene (62-51). Sure, those were different times, but as they say, but this is college football. It’s also November.
Anything can happen.
Both teams had a rough start to the season but USC has had a recent turnaround. After early-season losses to Alabama, Stanford and Utah (and one win against Utah State), USC has managed to win its last four contests (Arizona State, Colorado, Arizona and Cal). A win against Oregon would make USC bowl eligible.
On the flip side, Oregon has sputtered this season, winning only 3 of its last 8 contests. Adding to the sting, two of those wins came in non-conference games against UC Davis and Virginia. To become bowl eligible, Oregon needs to win 3 of its next 4 contests, a scenario very unfamiliar to modern-day Oregon Football.
The road to victory for Oregon today will be a rocky one, make no mistake. Despite it’s record the past few seasons, USC is on the upswing and always has a plethora of talent. Also, the only Pac-12 teams both teams have played this year are Arizona State, Colorado and Cal. Both teams beat Arizona State, USC beat Colorado and Cal. Oregon didn’t.
The one thing these teams do have in common is that both teams made quarterback changes a couple games into the season which seems to have provided a spark for both teams. Both quarterbacks are freshman (USC’s Sam Darnold is a redshirt freshman while Oregon’s Justin Herbert is a true freshman).
Clearly, Darnold will have the home field advantage today, but don’t sleep on Oregon’s Justin Herbert who has been making a clear statement over the past few weeks. Despite the team’s win/loss record, Herbert, who is the first true freshman to start at Oregon since 1983, has already started tying and breaking decades-old records. Just last week, against Arizona State, he tied the single-game passing yards record set by the legendary Bill Musgrave in 1989. That performance also earned him Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week and Manning Award Quarterback of the Week honors.
No matter what, both defenses will have their hands full today.
Defensively, USC will have a very clear advantage (Duh). Oregon’s defense again is one of, if not the, worst in the country. Yes, Oregon Defensive Coordinator, Brady Hoke, was brought in this year to turn things around but so far, the growing pains have been excruciating. Perhaps the worst pain coming against Oregon’s most hated conference foe, the Washington Huskies, in a 70-21 embarrassing loss at home. Maybe the Ducks had it coming after beating the Huskies 12 straight times, but the wound is sure to bleed for months to come.
Despite the dismal defensive performance this year, there is still reason to hope for brighter days. First of all, there have been signs of life in recent weeks, including some important stops on 3rd and 4th down. Second of all, one of Hoke’s first recruits, true freshman, Troy Dye is leading the team in tackles. As an added bonus, Dye, who is the first true freshman to start a season-opener in 38 years, is just one of only 5 freshmen, nationally, to lead his team in tackles this season.
I wouldn’t expect a miraculous defensive turnaround today but it’s fair to assume the group will show some improvement- this season’s overriding theme. Hopefully, the secondary will have improved enough to contain USC’s stud receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster. Unfortunately, that’s probably way too much to ask right now, but one can hope right?
Oregon has one the last 5 of 7 contests against USC but there’s no sugar-coating it, this group of Ducks will have their hands full in The Coliseum today. One thing is certain though, there are signs of life and with Justin Herbert leading the way, today’s odds, look a little bit better.
So does the future.