No. 20 Oregon wary of looking ahead
There’s a lot to be looking ahead to for Oregon.
The No. 20 Ducks face No. 9 Stanford in two weeks in their Pac-12 opener. It’ll be the first home game of the season in which the students at the University of Oregon will be present. To make the spotlight even brighter, kickoff was just announced for 8 p.m. ET and will be aired nationally on ABC.
There’s also a very good chance that ESPN’s College GameDay will be in town for that game, making the Ducks-Cardinal matchup the national game of the week.
But before any of that can happen, Oregon hosts San Jose State this week. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. ET at Autzen Stadium.
“Not only anticipate — expect it, demand it,” Ducks head coach Mario Cristobal said of Oregon taking every opponent seriously. “They’ll demand it from each other. It’s our approach, and it has to stay that way.”
It’s very easy for the Ducks (2-0) to look ahead to that big Pac-12 North showdown in two weeks given they’re playing the Spartans (0-2) this weekend. While Oregon has outscored its competition 120-38 thus far, San Jose State has been outscored 75-38 in its two defeats to UC Davis and Washington State.
If the Ducks take San Jose State lightly, the Spartans are a team that can step up and bite them. They feature a talented and veteran defensive line and two receiving threats who are known game-changers.
San Jose State tight end Josh Oliver is among the best in the nation and a player who should play at the next level. Standing 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, he’s a proven pass catcher and leads tight ends nationally with 13 catches for 137 yards.
“He’s a really good player, a big target with a big catch radius,” Cristobal said. “The tight end is by far one of their best players — he presents a challenge to us.”
As a unit, Oregon’s defense has seen a substantial amount of growth from last year to this year. The Ducks currently rank 39th in the nation in total defense and 21st in yards per play, proving how they’ve become more consistent.
Offensively, quarterback Justin Herbert looks to build on his strong start to the season. He’s among the nation’s leaders with nine touchdown passes through two games, averaging 265.5 yards per game with a 63.8-percent completion rate.
“I think he’s the best quarterback in the country — he’s got a great combination of arm talent and touch … he’s a big body who can see the field well and move,” San Jose State head coach Brent Brennan said. “He’s a fantastic player and he deserves all the appreciation and love that he’s getting.”
Wide receiver Jaylon Redd is tied for the Pac-12 lead with three touchdown catches, one of six Ducks with a receiving touchdown. But, Oregon has struggled hanging on to the ball with multiple drops in each game.
“It happens — you’re going to drop a few here and there,” said wide receiver Brenden Schooler, who has yet to drop a pass. “I feel like I have pretty good hands for the most part. … I take pride in not dropping balls.”
Even with the drops, the Ducks’ passing offense should have a field day against the Spartans. San Jose State has given up an average of 433 yards, lending itself vulnerable to a lot of big plays, a specialty of Oregon’s offense.
But Herbert and the Ducks better be careful because although the Spartans have been burned in the past, they’re tied for fifth in the nation with four interceptions — including three last week against Washington State.
“The second half was outstanding, how we fought was outstanding,” Brennan said of the game against Washington State. “I was really excited about winning the turnover battle — the interceptions were big.”
If Oregon jumps out to a big lead like it’s supposed to, the Ducks have the running game and maulers on the offensive line to impose their will.
Last week, Tony Brooks-James and CJ Verdell both ran for over 100 yards. Behind the strength of their offensive line, the Ducks grinded out two fourth-quarter drives that resulted in touchdown runs, showing the physicality that Cristobal loves to see when closing out a game.
It should be another wash, rinse, repeat performance for the Ducks, leading to the big undefeated showdown the following week.