The date Oregon fans have had circled on the calendar for an entire year has almost arrived and wow! what a difference a year makes.
Last year, former Head Coach, Mark Helfrich took his flock of Ducks to Lincoln, Nebraska to face the Cornhuskers in a game that very well may have sealed his fate at Oregon. The 32-35 loss that many believe may not have been if Helfrich hadn’t called for 5 two point conversions was the first of several painful losses the Ducks logged last season.
Had nothing changed, The Cornhusker fan base may be feeling very optimistic heading into Autzen Stadium tomorrow. Unfortunately for them, a whole lot has changed in Eugene and looking at message boards in Nebraska territory, it seems Cornhuskers fans have taken notice.
With a new coaching staff in place, led by Head Coach, Willie Taggart, the Ducks seem to be moving upward on onward. The entire vibe has changed for the better and the 2016 season may soon be a distant memory. This Oregon team is bigger, faster and stronger. Perhaps the biggest change, however, is how much energy and swagger they have. This is a team that, if nothing else, is having a lot of fun.
Last week, Autzen got a quick introduction to the Taggart era, as players were seen dancing in unison aka “Swag Surfin’,” before each kick-off. The excitement continued throughout the 77-21 annihilation of Southern Utah. Sure, it’s easy to be pumped in that kind of game but something tells me this is just the beginning and Mike Riley and Co. should definitely be on notice.
In short, the Ducks have clearly turned the ripped pages of last year’s ugly chapter.
In what is sure to be a good show, the Ducks and Cornhuskers kick off tomorrow at 1:30pm in Autzen Stadium. For those who are wondering, here are 5 things I’ll be keeping an eye on. . .
1. Tony Brooks-James
By far, the most common theme in articles written in Nebraska territory is Oregon RB, Royce Freeman. He is clearly their most-feared athlete on the Ducks’ squad.
And with Reason.
Undoubtedly, the Nebraska defense has been working all week trying to figure out a way to stop Freeman and make no mistake, they will be swarming him. Although he should still be able to do a lot of damage, look for RB Tony Brooks-James to have some good opportunities and a break out game.
2. Big Numbers on the Score Board
If these teams have one thing in common it’s the fact that their defense is their weakest link. Although the Ducks’ defense showed some glimmers of hope last week against Southern Utah, they clearly have a lot of room for improvement and they will definitely be tested by Nebraska’s offense.
Meanwhile, Nebraska fans have to be pretty worried about their own defense after it struggled to contain Arkansas State last week, despite pulling out a 36-43 win.
On the flip-side, both teams have decent offenses that should be able to put a lot of points on the board a la the run game. This game very well may come down to who makes the least mistakes and whose defense made the most improvement this week.
3. Stomp Out Cancer Sights and Sounds
Tomorrow, the Ducks will debut their “Stomp out Cancer” Nike uniforms in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness month. The uniforms were designed with the help of three local pediatric cancer survivors.
Nike partnered with Doernbecher’s Children’s Hospital in Portland, OR to design the uniforms and fan gear from which all proceeds will go to support the hospital’s fight against pediatric cancer.
Look for the “Stomp out Cancer” fan gear to be on full display in the Autzen crowd (Did you get yours)? Chances are there will also be a number of video and on-the-field tributes to bring more awareness to this great cause.
4. Nebraska Fans and Fashion
Typically, visiting fans make up a very small portion of Autzen Stadium. That will not be the case tomorrow. One thing is certain, Nebraska fans travel well. All day, my phone has been blowing up with friends seeing those Cornhuskers in the airport and all around town.
Ducks fans, make sure to bring your cheering game with you because it’s going to be needed to drown out all the corn husking. As an added bonus, I’m told their game day fashion sense is pretty entertaining.
5. Swag Surfin’
Last but not least, look for a very fun atmosphere tomorrow, complete with a lot of “Swag Surfin’.” Last week, Oregon players danced in unison to a song called “Swag Surfin.” After the game, several players talked about this new trend and Royce Freeman even called on fans to learn how to Swag Surf as well. Look for at least the student section to join in. I’m 100% sure they’ve been practicing. For the rest of you, here’s a lesson….
In the words of Coach Taggart, “Buckle up,” this one is going to be fun!
Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl