The Oregon Ducks are unranked as they host the Washington State Cougars on Saturday, leading to an unfamiliar situation for all parties involved.
The Ducks appear mortal for the first time in what seems like a decade, while the Cougs -- who played Oregon tight last season and nearly knocked off a team currently ranked higher than the Ducks -- have to be feeling like they've got as good of a chance as ever to pick up that elusive signature win.
To gain some insight into just what has happened with Oregon this season, we hooked up with Brandon Levesque from AddictedToQuack.com, who graciously agreed to answer some questions for us.
CougCenter: What in the sam hill is going on with the Ducks?
Oregon fans weren't prepared for life after Marcus. The Ducks tried the Vernon Adams Jr. experiment, but an injury has limited Adams this year. The offensive line was underrated last season. Jake Fisher and Hronnis Grasu were great leaders a year ago and one of the reasons why Oregon has struggled is because they aren't getting that initial push. The receiving group was touted as one of the best in program history, but they can't do anything if they don't get the ball. Darren Carrington was supposed to come back this weekend after he completed a suspension for a failed drug test. His suspension could continue after he got into some legal trouble the night before the Utah game.
A surprise this season is how bad the defensive front seven are playing. Joe Walker, Tyson Coleman and Rodney Hardrick have a ton of experience and it is perplexing that Oregon's defensive coordinator, Don Pellum, had to dumb down the defense. All programs have bad years and this is probably going to be a rough one for the green and yellow. The silver lining is Oregon can still compete to win the North and can fight for another conference title.
Pre Snap Read: The Oregon Ducks
What has us concerned about the Ducks? In what are we confident? Here's a quick look at the big storylines for Saturday.
Who plays quarterback this weekend, and what does that mean for the game?
The Oregon coaching staff implemented a two-quarterback system against Colorado and expect a similar strategy against Washington State. Vernon Adams Jr. is still banged up and some are saying he won't play until the Ducks visit Arizona State at the end of the month. Jeff Lockie has struggled to throw the ball down field and walk-on Taylor Alie showed confidence against Colorado. With two different quarterbacks playing, expect the Oregon tempo to be slower than usual. Oregon will attempt to get the ground game going and Royce Freeman should get a bulk of the carries. Don't sleep on Alie's ability to run. The Eugene native ran for an 87-yard touchdown against Georgia State a few weeks ago.
There are still lots of weapons. Which one is most likely to haunt our dreams after Saturday?
Since the Ducks are having quarterback issues, the one who is most likely to haunt your dreams after Saturday is freshman Taj Griffin. The true freshman has emerged as Freeman's backup and has great speed. Griffin recorded his first 100-yard game against the Buffaloes and is gaining confidence after every carry. Bralon Addison can also give Cougar fans nightmares if he gets going. Addison is one of the most electric players in the nation and can change the game whenever he touches the ball. When Oregon was struggling against Michigan State, Addison gave the Ducks momentum by returning a punt 81 yards for a touchdown.
WSU didn't have a lot of trouble moving the ball against Oregon last season. Is Oregon's defense improved, or could the Cougars see success through the air once again?
The Oregon defense is not as good as it was a year ago. This season the Ducks have 10 sacks through five games. A year ago, the Ducks forced 37 sacks and the secondary was a lot stronger. The Ducks continue to struggle when it comes to tackling. There have been multiple times this season when a missed tackle turned into a big play for the other team. Deforest Buckner and Joe Walker have been the only standouts on defense. The secondary is young for the Ducks and they could be good in the future, but they are inexperienced right now. The Cougars should expect to be successful through the air on Saturday. Oregon struggled to stop Eastern Washington's passing game and Washington State should have better athletes than the Eagles.
Are Oregon fans at all concerned about the direction of the program under Mark Helfrich?
Right now one of the biggest concerns is how the coaches are developing their talent. This is year three of the Helfrich era and we are just now seeing "his" recruits. The talent is there, but how could the coaches not have prepared better for the post-Mariota era? If Adams didn't get into Oregon what would have been plan B? There are rumors that Oregon's top recruit might decommit after the slaughter against Utah.
Some fans do need to relax and take a step back. When Oregon lost to Arizona last year there were a lot of fans that thought the sky was falling. Instead of packing it in, the Ducks responded by winning every game until they lost to Ohio State in the championship. Helfrich's seat isn't warm, but Duck fans are skeptical about his ability to develop talent. There are more questions about Pellum being the answer at defensive coordinator than questions about Helfrich as the head coach. Next season will be huge for Helfrich and his staff. The Ducks can still win the Pac-12 this year. It would be difficult to not like a coach who won consecutive conference titles and took a team to the inaugural college football playoff final.