After a shaky start, freshman head coach Dan Lanning’s Ducks emerged from nonconference play with a 2-1 record, losing only to No. 1 Georgia and clinching a marquee win over No. 12 BYU in week three .
At this early point in the season and the Lanning era, I wanted to take a closer look at what we’ve learned about this team in three games.
First of all, it is overwhelmingly obvious that Kenny Dillingham’s offense is as explosive as advertised.
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The Ducks, based on creating favorable matchups, have shown a propensity to create “big plays” of 15+ yards both on the ground and in the air.
The third week at the offensive end started with a 26-yard screen pass Chris Hutson. Three pieces later Mar’Keise “Bucky” Irving broke loose 36 yards on the ground and set up the quarterback Bo Nix for a one-yard dive to score.
On another drive, the Ducks opted to go big, loading the box twice to successfully run the ball to center on fourth downs.
“We didn’t care if you knew what we were going to do,” Lanning said after defeating BYU. “You had to stop us.”
After converting their second quarter, the Ducks capitalized on the attention they commanded at the line, using game action to open a 50-yard shot from Nix Troy Franklin, Established another Oregon touchdown before the half.
Even in the touchdownless beatdown Oregon received against Georgia, there was a glimmer of offensive light as the Ducks hit 14 first downs in the first half, the same number as Georgia.
If the Ducks weren’t throwing back-to-back interceptions, maybe they could have ended one of their drives in the first half and kept the game more manageable.
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Bo Nix hasn’t flipped the ball since week one, which is an encouraging sign that he’s learning to be more careful with the ball.
Looking to the other side of the ball, the Oregon defense went into the season with a lot of expectations.
After three weeks we now know that defending Lanning, Lupoi likes to create pressure by offering a variety of looks. In the first week, the Ducks forced several thirds and longs but failed to get off the field, allowing Georgia to keep drives up with penalties and poor tackling.
Since then, the unit seems to have come into its own DJ Johnson and Brandon Dorlus bring the prosecution forward.
Transfer cornerback Christian Gonzales was a welcome addition for the Ducks as his 6ft 2 frame has made him Lanning’s top cover defender. Against BYU, Gonzalez hit two pass breakups, both of which came on third down in man coverage.
One of the biggest remaining unknowns for defense is finding the best option to play against Gonzalez.
Security rebuilt by three weeks Trikweze Bridges made the start as a cornerback, but he’s been repeatedly targeted, and it’s clear teams are ready to put their shots anywhere Gonzalez isn’t for cover.
The Ducks will travel to Pullman next week to begin conference play against Washington State. The 3-0 Cougars will have their hands full if Nix and the Oregon offense continue to be efficient. The question will be whether the Ducks can come off the field in third place.
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