No. 6 Oregon enters Tempe this weekend looking to stay on its tedious path to a possible College Football Playoff bid. The Ducks are full of firepower, and ASU is hungry to attain bowl eligibility.
Can ASU pull the huge upset? That’s still to be determined, but to find out more about what has gone right with the Ducks this year, we asked a few questions with our SB Nation brethren and Adam Chimeo of Addicted to Quack.
What have you liked about Justin Herbert this season, and what has stood out to you about his play as a senior?
There’s been a joke on the ATQ comment boards that there are two different quarterbacks with the last name of Herbert on the roster: Good Herbert and Bad Herbert. Good Herbert can make any throw you ask of him, uses his NFL-caliber arm to hit tight windows, and is a master of the RPO, while Bad Herbert can get rattled in pressure situations and fails to see the whole field. Lately, Good Herbert has taken the large majority of snaps.
This season, Herbert has 2,662 yards, 28 touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s led the team on two dramatic game-winning drives against the Washington schools and has so far justified his decision to stay in Eugene for another year.
With the departure of Dillon Mitchell, Herbert has done an excellent job spreading the ball around to a receiving corps that has greatly improved from last season, even if it is suffering a worrisome amount of injuries.
And if I could speak as a homer for a second, it just feels great to have a hometown hero as a quarterback. It would be a Hollywood ending for Herbert to win Oregon’s first National Championship game.
What is Oregon’s biggest strength and weakness?
Oregon’s not-so-secret weapon is its offensive line. They entered the season with 132 combined starts and sophomore left tackle Penei Sewell is one of the rare o-linemen that earns regular praise; he’s a candidate for the Outland Trophy and Pro Football Focus says that if the season ended today, he would be their highest-graded offensive tackle in their records, which started in 2014.
Depth at wide receiver has been a concern all season; though the current starting trio of Juwan Johnson, Jaylon Redd and Johnny Johnson III has been a productive corps, another injury to this group would be disastrous for the Ducks. Also, not to take shots at a freshman, but field goal kicker Camden Lewis is 5-of-9 on the season and 2-of-5 from the 20 to 29-yard range.
Who is one under the radar player that ASU fans might not know about who can make an impact on Saturday?
Sophomore Jevon Holland is doing amazing things this season. He has four interceptions, including one that he took back for a score against Wazzu. If you’ll allow me to cheat a little and pick another under the radar player, freshman cornerback Verone McKinley III is tied with Holland for most picks.
These young defensive backs are a big reason why the Ducks are tied for second in the country in turnover margin (20 takeaways, 7 turnovers) and hold sole possession of first place in passes intercepted (17).
A few years into things, what is the perception of Mario Cristobal as head coach?
It’s hard not to see this program as on the rise since Mario Cristobal took over for Willie Taggart. Many of the players campaigned for Cristobal to take the job, and after the departure of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, the entire staff and roster seem to be on the same page.
Some have questioned his game management (leaving Herbert in the game well into garbage time, punting on the Washington State 33-yard line with three minutes left in the game up by six, not knowing he couldn’t put Herbert in on the same play he was taken out due to injury, etc…), but Cristobal has already proven that he is great at identifying a problem and fixing it.
And to be honest, as long as he keeps bringing in top ten recruiting classes, he’ll likely have an ice-cold seat barring any major setbacks on the gridiron.
Who is a defensive player that ASU fans should know about?
Freshman defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, the highest rated signee in Oregon history and the top-ranked player in the ESPN 300, has recorded five sacks but has also contributed to a handful of big plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
He still hasn’t perfected his pass rushing, but his combination of strength and speed add up to a high ceiling. The STUD position, which features Kayvon Thibodeaux, senior Bryson Young and freshman Mase Funa, will be looking to get after Jayden Daniels.
Avalos’ defensive line formations have been fun to watch this season as his system is all about confusing opposing quarterbacks and blockers.
If Oregon was able to get into the CFP, how do you think they’d stack up against the Ohio State’s and LSU’s of the world?
As someone who covers the Conference of Champions, I’m cursed to watch Pac-12 games, even when there is a far superior game going on elsewhere (Stanford-Colorado over Alabama-LSU, for example).
However, I’m still well aware of how horrifying the top three teams in the standings are. Ohio State has a 9-0 record against the Ducks and are my pick to win it all this year because they are the most complete of the complete teams.
As far as Orgeron vs Oregon is concerned, the Ducks may be able to score on the Bayou Bengals, but I’m not sure if they can keep up with that offense. And Clemson is so good that the country got bored with them, even though no one would be surprised if they won it all, again.
I could see Oregon hanging with any team, but as far as the clear playoff contenders go, I think that the Ducks are behind the blue bloods in overall depth. However, two or three more years of Cristobal recruiting could have this program ready to take on the big boys.