The fast and physical Ducks look to surprise the Buckeyes this Fall
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Many around the nation are already writing off Oregon's chances against Ohio State. You'll see the Buckeyes in all of the College Football Playoff projections and most will have a variation of Ohio State vs Alabama or Clemson in the 2021 National Title. VegasInsider.com lists the odds to win the National Title as 1. Clemson, 2. Ohio State, 3. Alabama. ESPN's FPI metric has Ohio State 2nd in the country behind Clemson as well.
It's easy to understand why this is. Ohio State and Clemson return the two best quarterbacks in the country. Justin Fields threw 41 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions last season for the Buckeyes. Ohio State is also one of the most consistent programs in college football. They've finished in the AP Top 6 each of the past 6 years.
With all this said, it sounds insane to think the Ducks can win, right? The scenario seems especially daunting when you consider that Oregon lost a top 10 pick at quarterback. But, once you dig deeper you'll see a lot going in the Ducks' favor for this September 12th matchup.
Let's start with the Oregon defense. The Ducks were fantastic in Andy Avalos' first season as the Duck DC. Oregon ranked 9th nationally in points allowed and played a disruptive brand of defense while leading the Pac-12 in TFL's, sacks, and interceptions.
2020 should feature an even better defense in Eugene with virtually every starter returning & three 5 star recruits coming to campus this Fall. ESPN's SP+ ranks the Duck defense 2nd nationally for 2020. The Defense is stacked at all levels.
The secondary has been lauded by Pro Football Focus as the best in college football. At cornerback, the Ducks will have 4 of PFF's top 25 corners in the country & 2 of the top 5. At safety, Oregon has 2 of the top 11 in Brady Breeze and Nick Pickett. Anthony Treash at PFF wrote "The number of impact players the Ducks return to their secondary is unlike anything we have ever seen." PFF's Wins Above Average Metric has Oregon with the most talented secondary in the College Football Playoff Era, ahead of 2016 Alabama. The Clemson defense in 2019 finished 2nd nationally in passer rating allowed and was able to limit Justin Fields in the College Football Playoff last year. The Tigers held Fields to 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions and allowed a passer rating of just 122.1. This Oregon secondary is better than Clemson's and should be able to limit the Buckeyes through the air in a way other teams can't.
Moving to the front 7, Oregon loses two starting linebackers in Bryson Young and Troy Dye. Their contributions will be missed but the Ducks were able to land two 5 star linebackers in Justin Flowe and Noah Sewell who are expected to make an instant impact. The defensive line will be led by Kayvon Thibodeaux, the #2 recruit nationally in the class of 2019. Thibodeaux dominated as a Freshman on his way to 9 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. As a sophomore, he should be nearly unblockable in his pursuit of opposing quarterbacks and is already receiving hype as the #1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Mase Funa was another freshman standout for the Ducks in 2019. Funa, a 6-2 260lb linebacker, registered 8.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. The interior of the defensive line will be anchored by 325lb Jordon Scott, 302lb Popo Aumavae and 293lb Austin Faolio.
Throwing against the Ducks won't be a winning strategy for anyone and we will likely see the Buckeyes try and dominate on the ground behind their experienced offensive line. At running back, Ohio state lost JK Dobbins who totaled 2250 yards in 2019 and 23 touchdowns. His replacement will be Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon who rushed for 385 yards for the Sooners last season. If the Ducks can contain Sermon and corral Justin Fields when he scrambles, the Ducks will be in business.
Offensively, the concern for the Ducks will be the performance of Tyler Shough and their ability to replace 4 offensive lineman. Shough was a 4 star recruit out of high school and has impressed enough in spot duty to be projected as the 13th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft by Walter Football. Oregon has recruited well along the offensive line and Cristobal is one of the best offensive line teachers in all of college football. Under his tutelage, you would expect the Ducks to always have one of the most talented lines in the country. The Ducks can also lean on LT Penei Sewell who is currently the projected 2nd overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft by Walter Football.
Oregon's running back and wide receiver units should be two of the most talented in the country. At running back, the Ducks will return CJ Verdell and Travis Dye. The two combined for 2,162 yards in 2019 and should be the focal point of the Duck's offense this season. The wide receiver unit has Johhny Johnson III (836 yards in 2019), Jaylon Redd (475 yards & 9 touchdowns), Mycah Pittman (#94 Recruit Nationally in 2019), and USC transfer Devon Williams (#40 Recruit Nationally in 2018).
Oregon's offense will be inexperienced in some key spots next season but Ohio State's defense will face similar concerns after losing 7 starters to the NFL Draft. 3 Buckeye defenders were selected in the top 20 of the Draft. The defensive losses for the Buckeyes consisted of 3 defensive lineman, 3 defensive backs and 1 linebacker. Cristobal values a run heavy offense and we would expect to see him give the Buckeyes a heavy dose of the run while easing in Shough. The Ducks ran wild against the nation's 3rd ranked run defense in the Pac-12 Championship when they totaled 239 yards on 41 carries against the Utes.
This brings us to the final key in favor of the Ducks and maybe the most important of all. The game will be played at Autzen Stadium on September 12th in front of a rowdy sold out crowd. Autzen has consistently been named one of the loudest stadiums in the country.
Here's a sampling of some famous quotes from opposing coaches and players who visited Autzen:
Lloyd Carr - "That's the loudest stadium I've ever been in."
Barry Alvarez - "They're right on top of you and they're relentless."
Adrian Peterson - "It was like some sort of crazy torture in the movies. How do people do that so long without taking a breath? I think my ears are still ringing."
Keith Jackson - "The loudest stadium in the history of the planet."
Oregon results against Top 25 Big 10 opponents at Autzen Stadium since 1998:
1998 - Oregon 48 vs #23 Michigan State 14
2001 - Oregon 31 vs #22 Wisconsin 28
2003 - Oregon 31 vs #3 Michigan 27
2014 - Oregon 46 vs #7 Michigan State 27
Score Prediction: With College GameDay in Eugene, a swarming Duck defense creates scoring opportunities for the offense and a relentless crowd helps lead the Ducks to a 20-17 win over Ohio State as they stun the nation.