As part of the ramp up to the football season, I've been previewing each of the Cougars' opponents this fall in Cougar Sports Weekly. After starting my newsletter off with an analysis of the quarterback situation that was remarkably similar to -- and published nearly concurrently with -- Brian's, I moved on to a look at the Oregon Ducks.
Each preview has a number of different parts, including asome guest analysis from a reporter who covers the team in question. For this one, I tabbed Adam Jude, a friend of mine and an Oregon grad who has covered the Ducks at the Eugene Register-Guard for years before moving on to The Oregonian in the last couple of weeks. Here's an excerpt of one of his answers:
This team appears poised to be as good or better than the last two years. What's the one thing that might hold this team back from making it to the BCS Championship again?
- The passing game is a major question mark. Not only do we not know who will be throwing the ball, but Oregon is mostly unproven at wide receiver and extremely raw at tight end. Yes, there's a lot of talent at both positions, but it's unclear who will emerge at this point.
- Defensive depth: The Ducks have the top-end talent to be one of the program's best defenses, if not the best, ever. But because of the pace at which the offense plays, the defense was on the field more than any other team in the country last season. That means the Ducks have had to rely on 20-25 guys playing in a constant rotation. Again, it's not immediately certain who those backups will be, and the Ducks will need them for meaningful snaps throughout the season.
- As with any team, injuries: This is particularly true at running back. Oregon should have one of the most dynamic 1-2 punches in the country with Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas. Barner has been electric in a reserve role behind his good friend LaMichael James the past three seasons. But can he carry the load consistently? The same is true for the slightly-built Thomas, perhaps the single most explosive player in the nation. But Thomas averaged just 10 touches per game last season. How will he hold up if he touches the ball, say, 20 times per game? It's one of many questions facing the Ducks this season.
Additionally, I like to pick out a few numbers -- either rankings, statistics or data -- that intrigue me about the opponent. Here's one:
40 - The Oregon offense's national ranking by S&P+ on passing downs in 2011. Well, well, well -- seems as though we might have found a little chink in the armor. If you were paying close attention to last year's game in Eugene, this doesn't shock you. The Cougs repeatedly put Oregon into passing situations early in the game and Darron Thomas repeatedly struggled to make the throws. Oregon could face a similar issue in 2012, as it faces a quarterback decision in fall camp. Cougar fans will remember Bryan Bennett, who relieved the injured Thomas last season and proceded to put the game away. But he's hardly a proven commodity, and freshman Marcus Mariota looked awfully good in the spring. Both candidates for the starting QB job fall into the "dual threat" category, and it remains to be seen what each will be able to do with his arm. Of course, getting the Ducks into positions where they're forced to throw the ball is the trick, and it's awfully hard to do.
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