Here at House of Sparky we wanted to learn more about the Ducks before the Sun Devils headed up to Eugene for Saturday’s game. Robert Stewart of Addicted to Quack helped us out.
Brady Vernon: The Ducks got out to a hot start starting 5-1 (Should’ve been 6-0, but you probably don’t want to talk about the Stanford game), but now they’ve lost 3 of their last 4, what has changed?
Robert Stewart: The quick answer to what has changed is “We began Pac-12 play”.
We had one of the easiest nonconference schedules in the country. I literally cannot remember a weaker Oregon nonconference in 25+ years, so a 3-0 start was basically etched in stone. Even when those wound up having relatively comfortable margins, there were still some HMM THIS IS A BIT UNSETTLING moments – Justin Herbert’s sub-50 completion percentage in two of those games, some pretty dubious defensive performances, WRs that dropped passes & could not get open even against terrible secondaries, etc.
We’ve also been hit hard by injuries, particularly on OL and at LB. When star freshman LT Penei Sewell was lost for the season (probably) vs Washington, that started a chain reaction of OL reshuffling that has never really settled down. Even some of the guys who are still in the rotation are obviously playing hurt, and the results speak for themselves.
When you’re on your 3rd coach in 3 years, it’s a rebuilding season. It was always going to be one. I think some Ducks fans got a little overconfident after the easy opening slate and then decent performances against two rivals in UW & Stanford who wound up being not all that good themselves.
BV: In his first full season, what is your opinion on Mario Cristobal?
RS: I’m pretty much 100% on-board, but it’s going to be a multi-year process. Fan are most excited about his apparent recruiting prowess, but it will take a while to gather & develop the type of players needed for our transition from a more finesse-based approach to the power offense Cristobal envisions.
Part of his challenge will be to establish a culture of accountability & leadership. Sounds so boilerplate & cliché when you write that out, but it was really a problem under Helfrich (because he was our least inspiring coach in recent memory) and Taggart (because he bailed on the team after 1 season and was dishonest while doing so). Thus far Cristobal seems like a great fit in that area, but time will tell.
A lot of Ducks fans are complaining about OC Marcus Arroyo’s supposedly predictable & ineffective playcalling, but when you actually look at film it’s more just basic execution issues. Still bears watching whether he’s around next season.
BV: When you talk about Oregon this season you generally go toward Justin Herbert, what do you think he does after this season. Does he stay or head for the NFL?
RS: I’ve always thought he was a bit overhyped relative to his actual accomplishments. A lot of NFL draft guys and commentators crowned him with the #1 QB in the 2019 Draft title in the offseason, and then IMO Oregon fans latched onto this just because, well, hope springs eternal.
He’s always been a guy who can beat anyone at his best, but he’s also always been extremely inconsistent week-to-week. He still has trouble adjusting to pressure, still tends to stare down his main WR option (i.e. Dillon Mitchell), and still doesn’t really exhibit the leadership qualities you want to see from your field general.
From a pure football & development perspective, he should return to Oregon next year. But from an economic perspective, if some NFL team wants to gamble a high draft pick on a 6’5” QB with a live arm and still lot of question marks, he should take the millions of $$$.
Word on the street is that he’s strongly considering staying though. I wouldn’t be surprised. He’s one of those guys who seems to genuinely enjoy the college experience, especially playing for his hometown team.
BV: N’Keal Harry and Dillon Mitchell have some of the best stats for Pac-12 wide receivers, what makes Mitchell so dangerous?
RS: Mitchell’s stats are a little inflated because we have zero other consistent WRs, and he’s been Herbert’s security blanket all year. He’s got over 3x more yards this season than our 2nd leading receiver, who happens to be TE Jacob Breeland.
Dillon’s good though and will probably wind up playing on Sundays. He excels at making catches in traffic – the Herbert-Mitchell pairing is one of those “No, don’t do it bad decision…. Nooooooo YESSSSS!!” type partnerships. Without him this year we probably would not be bowl-eligible.
BV: I ask this ever week, but how should the Ducks go about trying to limit Harry’s production on Saturday?
RS: Good question, any suggestions? We don’t really have the secondary to cover him, so I imagine it’d be more a matter of pressuring Wilkins & hoping we can rattle him into a shaky game. Unfortunately Oregon’s had trouble generating much of a pass rush lately. So if we’re going to win somehow, look for DE Jalen Jelks (who has had somewhat of a disappointing year up to now) to have a good game.
BV: Score prediction and why?
RS: The Ducks have played MUCH better at home this year, but the Sun Devils offense is a horrible matchup for us. I’m going to go with ASU winning 45-35, but again, if we can magically start pressuring the QB that margin probably shrinks.