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WSU vs. Oregon preview: Can WSU stop Justin Herbert?

That and more in this Q&A with Addicted To Quack.

Washington v Oregon Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

As we continue to multitask around here, geeking out about College GameDay coming to Pullman while simultaneously preparing you for (thus far) the biggest game of the year — between the No. 25 Washington State Cougars and No. 12 Oregon Ducks — we reached out to our friends at Addicted To Quack for a little Q&A session. Thanks to RB Stewart for the knowledge!

(Also, you can read my responses to his questions here.)

CougCenter: Mario Cristobal, Oregon’s third coach in three seasons, seems to have finally righted the ship in Eugene. Much is being made of the physical brand he’s instilling, which is a departure from what Oregon has become known for. You can’t argue with the results, though ... is the third time the charm here?

As we’ve seen over & over in all sports at all levels, coaching turnover is not a recipe for success. One bad hire will bring the Vortex of Suck into view over the horizon, two bad ones will get you circling it, and the third – welcome to the depths of irrelevancy for a decade or more. And bad hires often beget bad hires, certainly in Oregon’s case last December we wound up promoting a relatively obscure guy in Cristobal who was on no one’s radar beforehand.

But maybe we lucked out? Despite a disjointed loss to Boise State in the Vegas Bowl, in the offseason Cristobal said all the right things, preserved our best assistant coaches & staff and started recruiting at a level we literally have never seen before at UO. So we opened the season with cautious optimism.

Now after a win over our - and I use the inclusive “our” there - most hated rival, and one horrible fumble (either of them, take your pick) away from being undefeated, people are starting to drink the Kool Aid. It really does look like we’re establishing a new & effective identity after being adrift for a few years. Some of the question marks – like how effective new OC Arroyo would be – are getting answered positively.

We’ll see. There are still some tough games left, possibly this Saturday most of all. And history is full of coaches who had good first-year campaigns and then never quite replicated that success. So far so good though.

Justin Herbert absolutely terrifies me. Explain to the other readers who might not be familiar with him why this is so.

He’s got all the physical tools – strong arm, 6’6” tall, faster on his feet than you think – and is smart, decisive, etc. He excels at using just enough mobility to evade trouble and then arm strength to deliver a high degree-of-difficulty pass that’s usually accurate enough to beat even good coverage. That’s what’s scariest about him, the ability to make you pay sometimes even when you’ve done everything right.

Herbert’s got some areas for improvement though. He’s sometimes overconfident in his arm, making dangerous throws in to coverage. Along those lines his passes sometimes lack touch, although that seems to be improving. Pressure can rattle him more than it should considering his mobility (again, improving).

Overall he’s one of the most NFL-ready QBs we’ve had, although his college accomplishments probably won’t match guys like Marcus Mariota or Darron Thomas. It’s also fun to root for a hometown kid who grew up a Ducks fan just a few miles from Autzen Stadium.

NCAA Football: Oregon at California
Dillon Mitchell (left) is Oregon’s most trusted receiver, but ATQ says don’t sleep on Jaylon Redd (right).
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Dillon Mitchell has more than 2.5 times as many targets as any other receiver on the team. Is that more a reflection of his talent or of deficiencies elsewhere? And is slowing the passing attack as simple as slowing Mitchell?

We’re super thankful Mitchell has emerged as a go-to WR, because yeah, we’re thin there. Some talented young players, but mostly potential at this point. RS freshman Jaylon Redd is one guy who might be a factor. He’s been plagued by early-season drops (often on beautiful throws) but has made some great sure-handed plays lately.

Overall though yes, we’d struggle to replace Dillon Mitchell’s production if he were neutralized or couldn’t play.

Who else on the offense should scare us?

Rather than single out a player, I’ll have to go with an overall idea. Cristobal & Arroyo have started using a combo of the Pistol formation and a powerful OL to hammer away at defenses. These are primarily runs between the tackles with the Pistol enabling the RB to pick up a full head of steam before contact, and while they don’t have much breakaway potential, thus far they’ve been reliable at picking up 4-5 yards a pop. It gives us a ball-control element that we’ve lacked in like, forever.

FWIW our best LT (true freshman Penei Sewell) was knocked out for the season vs the Fuskies, which has caused some shuffling along the OL. Remains to be seen if we take a step back there.

One thing to watch for – we’ve tried very few outside sweep or stretch runs up to this point. Almost every time we present one it’s a fake and we wind up running inside. You have to wonder if there’s a diminishing returns factor here, as opposing DCs learn to stop respecting the Ducks’ outside run potential. Or will they become a bigger part of the playbook if/when an opponent consistently starts stopping us between the tackles?

The Ducks have had a pretty rough go of it defensively. I was under the impression that Jim Leavitt was a magician. What’s holding Oregon back on that side of the ball?

Funny you say that, because I think most Ducks fans are extremely pleased with the defense’s trajectory. Relative to the historically bad shitshow that was the Ducks defense during the Helfrich years, we are like the ‘85 Chicago Bears now. It’s a long-term rebuilding project but we’re trending upwards.

The most glaring weakness is probably our DBs. Our cornerbacks are short-ish and inconsistent and we’ve especially struggled against tall WRs and TEs. The Stanford game being most illustrative of this, but UW had success with their TEs and 6’4” Ty Jones also. I’d guess Minshew will take note and look for bigger targets like Dezmon Patmon.

On the flipside Oregon’s been able to generate a pretty solid pass rush, which can cover up the deficiencies in coverage. For example, our rush last week forced the Fuskies to keep extra TEs and/or RBs in to block, limiting the number of potential receivers going downfield. Not sure this will be much of a factor vs Leach’s Air Raid though.

Who’s the defender most likely to make me swear loudly at nobody in particular?

Sophomore DL Jordon Scott (6’1” & 330lbs). You might not swear at him directly by name because as a DT he doesn’t always pick up the stats, but he’s central to disrupting plays so that others can make the tackle. We love him.

When Oregon wins, it will happen like this:

A shootout (I know that’s conventional wisdom, but hard to envision anything else with these teams) in which the Ducks are able to play ball-control offense in just enough key spots to seize the advantage.

I’m super excited for this one - two evenly matched teams with very distinct styles and coaching philosophies, even in battle united in our hate for a common foe. My better half is a Coug fan too, so depending how things go it might get a little tense in our living room.

Go Ducks!