STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL/GAME BREAKDOWN
Scouting the run offense: It only took till the second game of the season, but Oregon finally has a 100-yard rusher. In fact, to make up for lost time, the Ducks finished last week’s contest against Portland State with two 100-yard rushers; Tony Brooks-James and CJ Verdell.
Brooks-James had a career-high 21 carries for 107 yards and two touchdowns while Verdell finished with 11 carries for a career-high 106 yards and one touchdown. The duo provided a very nice 1-2 punch that the Vikings were unable to stop.
Heading into this week’s game against San Jose State, it’s highly likely that the Spartans will give the Ducks more resistance when it comes to running the ball. They give up an average of 133.5 yards per game on 4.11 yards per carry, good enough for 57th in the nation. Likewise, Oregon averages 254 yards per game on 5.71 yards per carry, good enough for 29th in the nation.
What made Oregon’s running game impressive last week was the way the Ducks worn down the Vikings in the fourth quarter. On one possession, Oregon went on a 16-play, 75-yard drive that ate seven minutes of game clock and resulted in a Brooks-James score.
With a multitude of running backs getting playing time for Oregon, it’s my guess that the Ducks will finish with over 250 rushing yards and either Brooks-James, Verdell or freshman Travis Dye will total over 150 yards.
Scouting the pass offense: Very few quarterbacks in the nation are off to the start Justin Herbert is. Through two games, Herbert has thrown for 531 yards and nine touchdowns, completing 63.8-percent of his passes. Those numbers, combined with the 60 points per game the Ducks are averaging, has Herbert’s name firmly planted in the Heisman trophy race.
But the Ducks are more than just Herbert — his receivers are proving to be big-play threats just waiting to get the ball.
Jaylon Redd is a breakout player for the Ducks, leading them with three touchdowns on the year while Johnny Johnson II has two. Dillon Mitchell is still the best of the group but has seen double-teams often, leaving balls for the others.
Grad transfers Tabari Hines and Kano Dillon proved to be good additions when each caught touchdowns last week. They’re both matchup nightmares in the middle of the field, but for different reasons. Hines uses great route running with his quickness to get open while Dillon is a tank, just out-muscling defenders.
The Ducks should expect very little from the Spartans, a unit that gives up 433 yards per game, second-worst in the nation. Although they give up yards and touchdowns, the Spartans do have four interceptions on the year, tied for fifth in the nation.
Dakari Monroe is the Spartans best cover corner, already with one interception and three passes broken up on the year. Safety Tre Webb in also a ballhawk, tied for the team-lead with 19 tackles on the year.
With Herbert entrenched in the Heisman trophy race, a huge week against San Jose State could vault him near the top of that leaderboard heading into next week’s showdown with No. 9 Stanford. My guess is that Herbert throws for 350+ yards and five scores but it’s Mitchell who breaks out this week, showing off his vast array of skills for a 100-yard game and two scores.
Scouting the run defense: Led by a multitude of talent upfront, Oregon’s run defense is giving up 101 yards per game on 2.24 yards per carry, numbers that both rank in the top-30 in the nation.
Nose tackle Jordon Scott is at the epicenter of the Ducks’ success, a 329-pound behemoth who either eats up double-teams or easily shucks single blocks.
Flanking Scott are Jalen Jelks and Austin Failou. Jelks is the best of the bunch, a potential all-American who’s been dominating defensive lines the past two years. Combined, this group does a phenomenal job of sticking to their jobs, whether that be making the play or eating up blockers to make room for the linebackers.
Against Portland State, the defense gave up 66 yards on 40 carries, a 1.6 yards per carry average. They’ll try to duplicate that success against a San Jose State offense that averages 75 yards per game on 2.46 yards per carry, good enough for sixth worst in the nation.
Malike Roberson is the listed starter but has 35 yards on 13 carries while backup DeJon Packer has 42 yards on 10 carries.
I expect the Ducks to keep the Spartans under 100 yards on the game with a less-than 2.0 yards per rush average. This is a defensive unit that’s really coming into its own and with Stanford and its vaunted rushing game looming next week, expect the Ducks to be firing on all cylinders this week.
Scouting the pass defense: For the second consecutive week, the Ducks face a top-tier tight end. This time, San Jose State’s Josh Oliver comes to town as the nation’s leader among tight ends in catches (13) and yards (135). Not a big-play threat, Oliver is used primarily as an outlet and possession receiver, able to use his frame (6-foot-5, 250) to box out opposing defenders and make himself steadily available.
In order to limit Oliver, the Ducks will look to the play of safety Jevon Holland or outside linebacker Lamar Winston Jr.
Holland is Oregon’s most physically-imposing defensive back at 6-foot-1, 192-pounds. He’s shown great instinct through the first two games of his career, always being in the right spot. Going up against a player the caliber of Oliver will show exactly how ready the youngster is for the big stage as Pac-12 play begins the following week.
The Ducks will also get a boost from the return of Winston, who sat out last week with a concussion. Winston provides a physical and athletic punch from the linebacker position, showing his versatility in the past of being able to run with tight ends and pick them up in zone coverage.
Spartans quarterback Montel Aaron has yet to throw an interception on the year and is completing just 59.1-percent of his passes. Instead of throwing into tight coverages, Aaron has done a good job of throwing the ball away, limiting room for error.
It’ll be very interesting to see how the Ducks defend Oliver this week. My guess is that they’re going to chip him at the line when he’s in formation to throw off his timing or shadow him with Winston. Either way, how the Ducks go about defending Oliver and limiting this passing offense could be a huge step forward for the rest of the season.