NOTES/QUOTES/PLAYERS TO WATCH
--Justin Herbert, QB: When talking about Oregon’s football program, Herbert immediately comes to mind. After putting on substantial weight during the offseason to better withstand punishment, Herbert is ready to go. One of the early Heisman favorites, Herbert stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 240 pounds. Combine that with above average athleticism and a rocket for an arm, it’s no wonder why he’s receiving all the preseason hype. When leading the Ducks last year, Oregon went 6-2 and averaged 49.1 points per game, showing off the type of prolific offense the nation has been accustomed to seeing. Watching how Herbert controls the offense and connects with his multitude of options will be key in how Oregon does this year.
--Thomas Graham Jr., CB: Graham is as important a player on Oregon’s defense as they come. He gained valuable experience by starting the final 12 games last year and after a great offseason, he’s expected to emerge as an all-conference player. If Graham can solidify the small side of the field, particularly against a Bowling Green team that will air it out, it could be huge for Oregon’s development down the road.
--Tony Brooks-James, RB: Oregon has been known for producing talented running backs with its last four (LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, DeAnthony Thomas and Royce Freeman) all seeing time in the NFL. Now it’s Brooks-James’ turn to be the lead back but after battling durability issues last year, he put on 20 pounds in the offseason. He’s a talented player, having recorded 1,000 total yard seasons the last two years, but he’ll need to be a more complete back to make sure the offense doesn’t become one dimensional.
--Jalen Jelks, DE: Bowling Green likes to throw the football, incorporating a little bit of the “Air Raid” offense into its scheme. With the Ducks having struggled against the pass the past few years, it’ll be key for Jelks to put pressure on the quarterback and force him into uncomfortable situations. If Jelks can be as disruptive as he was last year (15 tackles for loss, 6 sacks), it will give Oregon’s backend more time to gel and come together.
Series History: First ever meeting
Quote to Note: “Well you know I'm one of those guys that are just dialed in to the game and making sure everything is, I won't reflect on that until after the season. And part of me is lying right?” – head coach Mario Cristobal said when asked about his emotions kickoff come Saturday.
--Oregon Pass Defense vs. Bowling Green Pass Offense
If the Ducks have a weakness anywhere on the defensive side of the ball, it comes with defending the pass. If Bowling Green has a strength offensively, it comes with throwing the ball and spreading out defenses. That’s why this matchup will be the most entertaining to watch come Saturday.
Three years ago, Oregon’s pass defense was the third worst in the nation. The following year, the Ducks improved to 15th worst in the nation before last year’s finish, 88th out of a possible 130 teams. But with three returning starters and a fourth starter who saw significant action last year, the Ducks are primed to take the next step forward.
Leading the way is sophomore cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., a player who shows tremendous potential as being one of the Pac-12’s best.
Opposite him is sophomore Deommodore Lenoir, the most physical of the defensive backs who’s drawn raves from coaches and players for his improvement. Senior Ugochukwu Amadi and sophomore Nick Pickett are the safeties who provide experience and athleticism.
Bowling Green is led by a multitude of receivers, none more accommodated than senior Scott Miller, a smaller, shiftier receiver who’s on the verge of top-10 career stats in receiving for the Falcons. Flanking him are behemoths Deric Phouthavong (6-foot-5) and Quinton Morris (6-foot-4). Both players pose problems for the Ducks as Oregon’s tallest starting defensive back is Pickett at 6-foot-1.
"You know they have a little bit of the air raid mentality, and their receivers can stretch the field,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. “They're big, they're tall, they're athletic, they've got good balance and body control, and they've shown that they can make big plays. They have a lot of big-play capability."
The Falcons were a completely different offense last year when then-freshman Jarret Doege took over. In the final four games Doege started, Bowling Green averaged 35 ppg, 412.5 total yards and threw 13 touchdowns.
Oregon’s depth will be tested as the Ducks will often be forced to use five or six defensive backs at once to help offset the Falcons “Air Raid” offense.
Ultimately, the Ducks should be able to handle Bowling Green’s offense but actually doing so will go a long way into helping this unit come together for the tougher slate later in the season.