Jason Says: Quack Attack
A lot of Oregon Ducks need to put aside disappointment, refocus and play well against Oregon State in the Civil War game, 1 p.m. Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
It's not going to be an easy game for Oregon, and I'm not sure an Oregon State win would be an upset, given the Beavers' offensive talent, improved defense and just overall confidence.
And, the most important player who needs to forget about his past performance is the senior quarterback whose first career start was a 70-21 loss to Washington and whose most recent start was a two-interception, erratic fall-down in the 31-28 loss last week at Arizona State that knocked UO out of the national title picture.
Justin Herbert is still considered an NFL first-round quarterback, and he'll be leading the Ducks into the Pac-12 title game Dec. 6 in Santa Clara, California.
He is a successful UO quarterback, even with plenty of losses in 2016-18 and one bowl win in which the offense managed only one drive and one TD and punted 11 times (versus Michigan State last December).
I remember the talk about Herbert in 2016, and things then-coach Mark Helfrich said, basically about Herbert being a savant who just knew what to do at quarterback, where to pass the ball, how to read the defense. Saturday's loss wasn't Herbert's finest moment at quarterbacking, but it shouldn't be an indictment of the guy; he led a comeback and finished 20 of 36 for 304 yards and two TDs, and he's still completing 68.2% of passes for 269.6 yards per game with 30 TDs and only five interceptions.
He is still a smart quarterback with a strong arm and good athleticism. But, it'll be interesting to hear the talk about Herbert's acumen and abilities in the weeks and months before the NFL draft in April 2020.
Herbert has plenty of opportunities to impress again, and the two interceptions that turned into two Arizona State touchdowns easily could be dismissed by fans, media and NFL types. He has the Civil War game, the Pac-12 championship game and the bowl game still ahead.
But, what happens should the Ducks lose to the Beavers, and then Utah thumps them in the Pac-12 title game and Oregon falls into the Alamo Bowl? (That would happen if Utah doesn't make the College Football Playoff at 12-1, and instead goes to the Rose Bowl).
Taking the temperature of the Ducks (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) heading into the Civil War, I'll be curious to see what happens with ...
• Herbert, who along with Johnny Johnson III (10 catches, 207 yards, two TDs), got going in the fourth quarter and led a UO comeback attempt at ASU.
• Difference-making receiver Juwan Johnson, who went missing in the ASU game with three catches for 41 yards.
• The offensive line against the Beavers and pass rusher extraordinaire Hamilcar Rashed Jr., and how the Oregon O-line helps establish the running game with CJ Verdell, Travis Dye and others. Verdell, on the cusp of a second consecutive 1,000-yard season, got banged up again last week. (Verdell and Dye combined for 386 yards rushing and six touchdowns in last year's 55-15 Civil War win).
• The defensive line and how it controls the line of scrimmage and how much pressure it helps get on Jake Luton.
• The linebacking corps, including Troy Dye, who needs to be good to stop Artavis Pierce and Jermar Jefferson (after the Sun Devils' Eno Benjamin eclipsed 100 yards on the Ducks).
• Cornerbacks Deommodore Lenoir and Thomas Graham Jr., who felt the brunt of Jayden Daniels' 408 yards and three TDs; ouch, Lenoir got burned on the crucial 81-yard TD grab-and-run by Brandon Aiyuk that stymied UO's rally. Isaiah Hodgins, OSU's star receiver, has the goods to do similar damage.
• Confidence and psyche, now that the Ducks won't be going to the playoff. An outstanding season remains in the making, if only the Ducks don't wallow in self-pity.
It won't happen, but the Ducks could selectively rest Herbert, veterans and injured players to prepare for the Pac-12 title game. The OSU game, really, doesn't have any consequence on UO's season, because the Ducks already will be playing in Santa Clara for the right to play in the Rose Bowl.
But, again, it's not going to happen in Oregon's case. They want to win the Civil War game, and capture and retain rhythm.
The Beavers, who are a win away from six for the season and bowl eligibility, have as many road victories as Oregon — three, and it could have been four had coach Jonathan Smith opted to punt on fourth-and-4 with 1:16 left against Washington State rather than be aggressive and try a pass for a first down to deliver the kill shot. I'm no coach, but I'd want to make timeout-less WSU go 80 yards or more — given a good punt — rather than 57 for the winning touchdown. Real estate's pretty important in the last minute-plus of a game.
Anyway, I'm thinking the Ducks realize the challenge on Saturday and accept it against the Beavers. Oregon will come out prepared and enthusiastic and pumped up and, while Oregon State should move the ball and score, I'll give Herbert the benefit of the doubt and say he leads the Ducks to victory (and a 7-0 home mark this season).
The game is at Autzen Stadium, where Oregon has won 14 of the 17 matchups since the 0-0 "Toilet Bowl" game in 1983 — OSU won in Eugene in 1991, 1993 and 2007 — and UO has won five consecutive games in the series at home.
This lines up as a compelling Civil War game, especially after consecutive blowout UO rivalry wins by scores of 69-10 and 55-15. It has all the look of a close and exciting game.
I'm still bullish on the Ducks, even though they've been brought back to Earth.
The pick: Oregon 45, Oregon State 38
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