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Behind Enemy Lines: Oregon bloggers weigh in

CougCenter has hooked up with our SB Nation friends at Addicted to Quack to exchange some info on each other's teams in a Q&A format. What follows are the thoughts of jtlight, blogger extraordinaire. I've sent over my answers to their questions, but it's not up on the site yet -- I'll link to it when it's live. You can find my answers here.

CougCenter: Of course, the hot topic on everyone's mind for this game is the quarterback situation -- for both teams. Give us a quick scouting report on each of the three guys likely to see time for Oregon, and give us a prediction of how you think that situation is going to play out on Saturday.

Addicted to Quack: Most likely the starting QB will be Jeremiah Masoli. He led his team to a community college national title last year, though is only a sophomore right now. He has decent speed, but has a rocket for an arm. He has so far played in 3 games this season. He came out jumpy in his first two games before settling down, and looked like he was going to be doing well against Boise State, except that he was knocked out by a marginally dirty hit.

The next QB is Darron Thomas. He's a true freshman who has been on campus since the spring, and was anointed early on by many Duck fans, but seemed to falter in spring and fall (was quickly dismissed by Duck fans), and was slated to be redshirted this year, but was brought in during the 4th quarter of the BSU game, and played lights out. He has good speed and agility, not quite up to Dennis Dixon levels, but not too far off, and has a ton of potential with his arm. Against Boise State, he threw the ball down the field while standing in the pocket, and did not hesitate when he saw an opening. Now, if he's not accurate like he was against Boise State, this could lead to serious problems. He's had problems with accuracy, but, according to coaches, he's progressed the most of any QBs since the spring. However, we know very little about him beyond one quarter of play.

Chris Harper will be our situational QB. He's a beast on the run, a la Tim Tebow freshman year, but is not quite ready to run the offense yet. He simply does not throw the ball that well, and the coaches have no confidence in him in that respect. Against Boise State, when he was running the offense in the 3rd quarter, everything fell apart. Boise State stacked the line, as there was no threat of a pass whatsoever. In one instance he made a horrific throw that could have gone for a TD if it were decently thrown, but it was low and about 7 yards behind the receiver. In another, he threw an out route that was thrown too late, after the receiver had made his break. On the day, he was 0/3 with 2 interceptions.

So, as you can see, there are a lot of question marks in the quarterbacking corp. I have confidence that either Masoli or Thomas could do relatively well, but we just haven't seen them enough to know. But even with the question marks, these QBs bring things to the table that Justin Roper did not. I covered this on ATQ after the Purdue game, not only did Roper have trouble staying in the pocket, but more importantly he has problems throwing the ball downfield. With Roper at the helm, Oregon has almost no threat of going more than 15 yards downfield through the air. Team are realizing this and have been going single coverage on the outside, and Roper is unable to take advantage of this. With a 6-4 240 lb receiver, this is inexcusable. But both Masoli and Thomas have the ability to make long throws. As a Duck fan, this is most important in the grand scheme of the season. All our QBs possess enough speed to make the spread option workable. But our QBs must be able to make another team pay for bringing up their safeties, and both Masoli and Thomas have this ability.

As far as this game goes, I imagine that Masoli will get about 60% of the snaps, Thomas 30%, and Harper 10%. The gameplan for Masoli and Thomas shouldn't change much, but when Harper comes in, he will be running. And I have not a clue how that will turn out. I would love to see Oregon go downfield on the first offensive play of the game.

CC: After calamity was averted against Purdue with a late comeback, all anarchy broke loose in the loss to Boise State. Does the home loss to the Broncos, which really was only a sniff away from being the second consecutive loss for your team, have you guys questioning just how good -- or not good -- your team really is?

ATQ: It definitely has us questioning how good this team will end up being. I still think this is one of the most talented and deep teams that Oregon has ever had. Bellotti and co. have done a great job in decent years on the recruiting trail, and it's showing. The offensive line and running backs are great, the receivers are solid. The QBs, though young and apparently susceptible to injury, have more raw talent than almost any other team in the nation. The defensive line is deep and at times has the ability to rush the passer on its own. The linebacking corp is talented (but young and prone to mistakes), and the secondary has been touted as one of the best in the nation.

These things don't change with the recent games. While the defensive lapses against BSU were worrisome (I'll get to those more on question 3), the offensive struggles at QB have been the real culprit. I said all offseason that this would be a very good team if they got B play from the QBs. Unfortunately, against Purdue, we got a D- (you can read more on that game here). Against Boise State, we thought we'd use 2 QBs with the brunt of the load being carried by Masoli, who was knocked out in the first quarter. For 2 quarters, we effectively got an F in actual quarterbacking. With zero threat of pass, the offense fell apart. Oregon is a very good running team, but they are not good enough to run the ball 100% of the time against good football teams.

So, can the QB play improve? Can Oregon QBs be a threat to go down the field and not throw interceptions? I'm not sure. I honestly think that Masoli or Thomas will be fine. They both have the skills. But will they be able to be consistent enough and make the right decisions to take Oregon to the next level? It's possible, but so is the opposite.

CC: The Oregon pass defense had been pretty good until Boise State passed for 386 yards on the Ducks. Fluke, or a sign that there are weaknesses just beginning to be exploited?

ATQ: Last week was brutal. First, props to Boise State. They have a great gameplan, and executed it to perfection. Our gameplan, while not horrible, wasn't nearly as good, and the adjustments made were not able to be executed.

But, all isn't lost. I feel that many of the problems seen on defense were defensive lapses that aren't indications of the talent on defense. The talent is there, it's just a matter of putting it together. And they didn't put it together last week. I have never seen worse play action defense. The switching on the early game zone defense from the LB's to the safeties was poor, and BSU exploited that. After switching to man defense, they couldn't handle a wide receiver motioning out of the backfield. So, it's was really bad.

But, will we see this type of brainfart again? I'm doubtful we'll see anything this bad. Weaknesses were exposed at certain times, so I wouldn't call it a fluke, but the problems shown are nothing that can't be corrected. It is a very different sitiation than in 2003, when the secondary literally could not defend the pass to save their lives, and this was mostly due to a lack of talent. I was worried those years. I'm not worried this year.

CC: Do you feel like in some small way you've sold your soul to Satan in accepting all of Phil Knight's money?

ATQ: Just a second, I have to finish tying my brand new Nike shoes. Ahh, there we go. Nope. Not at all.

In all seriousness, Oregon has one of the few athletic departments that is self-sustaining. Unlike our counterparts to the north, our sports programs don't suck money from the taxpayers of the state. And that has been made possible by Uncle Phil.  And in reality college football is all about donors, and Oregon Athletics have done a great job cultivating its donor base since the early 90s.

Too bad Paul Allen dropped out of WSU, or you guys may have a sugar daddy also.

CC: Predict the uniform we'll see the Ducks wear on Saturday, knowing that in all its audacity, it can't compare to the simple crimson shirt with silver pants and silver helmet with the "Cougars" script on the side.

ATQ: Man, things must be getting really rough in Pullman if you're grasping onto uniform comparisons.

Really though, this is tough. I have about a 1:231,935,132 chance of being correct: Green Helmets, White Tops, Yellow Pants. I just hope that we're not wearing yellow helmets. But hell, when crazy uniforms bring in this beast (, you can't complain too much.