Injuries, injuries, injuries

Coming into the season, here is what the two-deep looked like on the offensive line:

Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
Steven Ayers (#So.) Zack Williams (#Jr.) Kenny Alfred (#Sr.) B.J. Guerra (#So.) Micah Hannam (#Jr.)
Tyson Pencer (#Fr.) Brian Danaher (#Jr.) Andrew Roxas (Jr.) Brian Danaher (#Jr.) Joe Eppele (#Jr.)

 

Here's what it looks like now:

Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle
Tyson Pencer (#Fr.) Alex Reitnouer (Fr.) Kenny Alfred (#Sr.) Joe Eppele (#Jr.) Micah Hannam (#Jr.)
Joe Eppele (#Jr.) Reed Lesuma (#Sr.) Chris Prummer (#So.) Reed Lesuma (#Sr.) Joe Eppele (#Jr.)

 

Obvious things I'll go ahead and point out:

  1. Only two starters are left from the projected starting five -- the same two guys who made it through all of last year.
  2. Of the 10 players on the original two-deep, only four are healthy enough to play this weekend.
  3. There are three players on this week's two-deep who didn't even appear on the original two-deep. One of them will be starting.
  4. That one player is a true freshman, who will teaming with a redshirt freshman to make up the left side of the line. That's Jeff Tuel's blindside, in case you were wondering.
  5. There are nine different players on the original two-deep; there are only seven different players on the current two-deep. Meaning, if this line suffers more than two injuries at any point in the game, Paul Wulff will be turning to either true freshman Tim Hodgdon (whom they still hope to redshirt) or redshirt freshman Michael Pfeiff.

And we thought the injuries last year were bad.

What does all this mean for Saturday? It means we're going to have an awfully, awfully tough time scoring points. It seems like it's been beaten to death, but the fact that Cal -- with its awesome offensive line and Jahvid Best carrying the ball -- could only score three points against this unit doesn't bode well for the Cougs.

I honestly thought the Cougs had a chance to keep this game closer than most people thought, figuring the Ducks will be suffering the inevitable let down. But that was when Danaher was starting at left guard. While the change of one guy might not seem like much, when you go from a guy who made eight starts last season to a guy who was still in high school and rated a two-star recruit last season -- at a position where physical maturity is at a premium ... that's a big, big difference. That's not even taking into account that communication is going to be doubly difficult in the Autzen atmosphere.

Truly, I'm afraid what we're going to see offensively on Saturday is going to resemble last year in a lot of ways. Want to know the biggest reason why our passing game was so horrific last year? Because the offensive line could not block five-on-four, at least one tight end and one running back were kept in to block on almost all obvious passing plays. (Which, of course, was most of the plays.) That meant we were sending just two or three receivers out into patterns against seven defenders. It becomes a vicious cycle where you can't pass if you can't protect the quarterback, but you also can't pass if you protect the quarterback too much.

And you wonder why Brandon Gibson had 10 fewer receptions and 500 fewer yards than he did the year before. It wasn't Gibson.

There's a chance that Paul Wulff and Todd Sturdy don't do that as much on Saturday, since Tuel obviously isn't the stationary target that Marshall Lobbestael is and Kevin Lopina became as his injuries mounted last year. You'll likely see just a running back protector in early in a hope to give Tuel a chance to throw the ball to a guy who's actually open, but if he's successful, expect Oregon to ramp up the pressure by bringing extra guys. And unless Tuel can elude the rush and make them pay with a big gain or two, the Ducks will be relentless.

While I want, want, WANT to believe that this game can be closer than expected, I'm coming around to the idea that it's probably going to be ugly, simply because of the matchup factor.

I still think the defense will turn in a yeoman's effort, but I'm extremely concerned about the big plays -- especially against a spread offense predicated on misdirection and confusion. If the offense struggles like I think it's probably going to, the defense is probably going to feel the need to make something happen. That's death against an offense that requires assignment-sound defense to stop it.

Unless things such as poor decision making, poor discipline or unforced turnovers rear their heads tomorrow, if it turns out to be a blowout, don't lose faith.

If you'd like to hear Paul Wulff talk about the injuries at length, listen to his Thursday press conference via the player below. It's distributed via our podcast; you can find subscription options at our podcast page.

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