The Oregon Ducks are what most people would agree have been the most successful Pac-12 program in the last decade. Although a national title has eluded them twice since 2009, they have been a force to be reckoned with nonetheless.
The 2016 season was the first losing season for Oregon since 2004. The Ducks went 5-6 before beginning their impressive 11-year run of winning seasons that ended a year ago along with now former head coach Mike Helfrich’s run in Eugene. Looking to return the program back to what it was with Chip Kelly and Helfrich at the beginning of his tenure, the Ducks brought in head coach Willie Taggert from South Florida to right the ship. Taggert has certainly gotten them off on the right foot as the Ducks are currently ranked 24th in the nation and sit at 3-0 heading into their first Pac-12 matchup against the Arizona State Sun Devils (1-2) this weekend.
Justin Herbert - Sophomore QB
Most ASU fans will likely remember this name from last year’s ASU Oregon matchup. As a true freshman facing the Devils last year, Herbert completed 31 of 42 passes for 489 yards and four touchdowns. He only started seven games in 2016 after taking over for graduate transfer QB Dakota Prukop, but he made the most of his opportunity throwing for just shy of 2,000 yards, 19 touchdowns and added another 161 yards on the ground with two more scores. This season, the Eugene, Oregon native hasn’t slowed down. Herbert has completed over 70 percent of his passes for 897 yards and nine touchdowns to go along with 73 rushing yards and another score.
Ten total touchdowns through three weeks is good enough to land the 6-foot-6 gunslinger on many Heisman watch lists. Although he may not be much older than the young ASU secondary, Herbert’s experience and weapons at his disposal could make him a nightmare for the devils.
Royce Freeman - Senior RB
Possibly one of the most well-kept secrets in the NCAA, Royce Freeman has quietly put himself just one rushing touchdown away from tying LaMichael James for the most career rushing touchdowns in Oregon history. Freeman already has 82 carries for 460 yards and nine touchdowns on the season to go along with six receptions for 109 yards. Although the Devils contained Freeman pretty well when these two foes met in Eugene last year (holding him to just 38 yards on 17 carries) Freeman roughed them up in Oregon’s triple-overtime win over ASU in 2015 with 147 total yards on 18 touches and two scores.
Considering the rushing numbers a great back like Rashaad Penny put up on ASU this season, Freeman could be a very dangerous weapon at Oregon’s disposal this year as the Ducks look to win a seventh straight in Tempe.
Troy Dye - Sophomore LB
The biggest weakness for Oregon in 2016 was their defense, allowing just over 41 points per game. This season; however, they have gotten off to a much better start averaging just 23 points per game thus far. A large part of their defensive success this season has been sophomore inside linebacker Troy Dye. A native of Norco, California, Dye leads the team with 25 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and is second on the team in sacks with two and interceptions with one. His versatility and size has made him a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks this season and with a struggling ASU offensive line, Dye could have a big day in Tempe making life hard for QB Manny Wilkins.
Unable to bounce back last week on the road against Texas Tech, the Sun Devils will look to get back on track this week at home against the newly ranked Oregon Ducks. In order to do so, they’ll have to do something they couldn’t do last year or the year before, stop Herbert and Freeman, otherwise it could be another hitch in the road to a winning season.