Ducks Beat: Lost scrimmage ups urgency for Oregon
The Ducks returned to the practice field this week after losing a vital scrimmage on Saturday because five people in the program had positive COVID-19 antigen tests. Turned out they were all false positives, but losing the full scrimmage is a bump as Oregon prepares for its opener against Stanford, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Nov. 7 on ABC/KATU.
Coach Mario Cristobal noted that there is no way to add those 130 planned plays that would have happened Saturday into this week's practice schedule.
Cristobal called the experience "a dose of reality." The false-positive tests were the first positive tests the program has experienced, according to Cristobal.
That scrimmage would have helped coaches clarify key position battles, including the quarterback position and the all-new offensive line.
Losing that opportunity ups the pressure on an already-quirky preseason camp for the coaching staff — assuming the Ducks were allowed to return to the practice field.
The lost scrimmage also hurts younger players trying to prove their deserve playing time, given that coaches are naturally going to expect more experienced players to handle less preparation time.
Bigger picture, of course, Oregon's situation Saturday raises questions about how many games the Pac-12 might actually play. As of this writing, it was not known if any of the five positive tests were from players, coaches or support staff.
In announcing the cancelation — out of an abundance of caution, the school said — the UO reported that none of the five had any symptoms. But the situation, and the uptick in COVID-19 cases in the Eugene area, raise significant questions about the fast-approaching season.
For one: What happens to a position group if one player is forced to isolate?
• While the focus is understandably on the quarterback position — all indications are Tyler Shough is ahead of transfer Anthony Brown — one of the key players the Ducks must replace is Troy Dye, who played four seasons as an ultra-productive middle linebacker.
Dru Mathis, a senior who played in seven games last season (one start) after coming to Oregon from Moorpark College is preparing for his shot to be the guy at middle linebacker while helping true freshman Noah Sewell adjust to Oregon and to college football.
Mathis and Sewell have lockers next to each other and Mathis said they help each other out.
"He's a great athlete. He's picking things up real well, too," Mathis said. "It's competing. But at the same time, we both work with each other" to understand the defense and clear up mistakes.
Understanding the defense is critical, since the "Mike" linebacker is usually the one communicating defensive calls, much like a quarterback on offense.
"If I said I had to work on something, it would be communicating out there," Mathis said.
The other inside linebacker will be Isaac Slade-Matautia, who started all 14 games as a sophomore last season, when his 62 tackles and 11 pass breakups led the team. Slade-Matautia also is helping the Ducks' talented young linebackers learn the system, Mathis said.
"With those guys in the middle and other guys rotating in with them — some of the younger guys and some of the guys that have been around here — we feel very good about our depth there," defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said.
• With school in session and football activities limited to 20 hours per week, this preseason is like none before it. Avalos last week said dealing with the limited hours "starts with (coaches) being extremely prepared to use the time that we do have extremely effectively."
• For what it's worth, the Ducks are ranked 14th this week by the Associated Press and 15th in the coaches' poll. The difference in the two is 4-1 North Carolina, which is ranked 13th by the coaches and 15th by the AP.
The only other Pac-12 team in the top 25 is USC, which sits 21st in the AP poll and 20th in the coaches' poll. Washington, California and Stanford (coaches) are the only Oregon opponents receiving any votes.
Possible cancellations aside, the lack of ranked competition might be the biggest hurdle to the Ducks (or any Pac-12 team) being considered for the College Football Playoffs.
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