When I say “Oregon Ducks football”, what’s the first thing that pops into your head? For some of you, you might be drawing a blank. Which is understandable. If you’re out on the east coast, watching Pac-12 football can be somewhat of a chore, especially of late. With games going until sometimes 3 or 4 in the morning, who has time for that? You’re busy and have work!
For others, you may hearken back to the days of Joey Harrington. The Heisman trophy campaign in the early 2000’s. The billboards to hype him. Then, those thoughts are likely quickly followed by what a disaster Harrington was when he got to the NFL. The terrible outings he put up for the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins over the years are painful times the fan-bases would love to erase from their collective memories.
Most of you; however, likely remember the high-flying offenses of the more recent past. Under former head coaches Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich, the Oregon Ducks rose to prominence as a power-house in the Pac-12, producing points at rates few had seen before. With guys like Marcus Mariota at the helm, the Ducks offense took the world by storm for a few years before fizzling out. Now, the Ducks are a team that have, once again, more or less faded into obscurity. But you should keep your eye on them — or at least the defense — as they square off against Bryce Love and the Stanford Cardinal this week.
Quietly, the Oregon Ducks defense has been one of the best in the nation against the rush. This is no small feat in the Pac-12, albeit conference play is still in the early stages. The Ducks have been tested a few times this season already, squaring off against the likes of Nebraska, Arizona State, and Washington State, but nothing compares to what they’ll face in Bryce Love on Saturday. Still, the Ducks defense has been stout, ranking 10th in the nation against the run. Thanks to strong play from their linebackers and front four, the Ducks are giving up a paltry 93.7 yards per game, and just 2.73 yards per attempt.
Bryce Love is that dude pic.twitter.com/YSgUTVTDtU
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 8, 2017
That run defense is going to be put to the test as the nation’s leading rusher prepares to gash yet another defense as he continues to introduce himself to the world. Bryce Love, a relative unknown to most outside of the Pac-12 coming into the season, has burst onto the scene in a big way so far in 2017. Love has more than 250 yards on the next closest rusher, San Diego State’s standout Rashaad Penny, and has done so on 25 fewer carries. He’s also tied for fourth in the nation in rushing touchdowns with 9. If the Ducks aren’t careful, Love is going to run roughshod over them, just as he has every other defense he’s faced this season.
In six games, Love has yet to be held under 150 yards in a game, with his lowest performance of the season coming last week against Utah where he “only” ran for 152 yards. Love has seen a significant uptick in his usage in the Cardinal offense in the last three weeks, going from 14 carries per game in his first three games to 25 over the last three. I doubt that kind of workload is going to persist throughout the remainder of the season, but Love has more than proven he can handle the workload. Love has shown a ton of NFL potential this season, quickly climbing up draft boards thanks to his good vision, incredible burst, and great balance through contact. All traits that should be on full display against an incredible run defense.
Love is going to have his work cut out for him if he wants to maintain the torrid pace he’s been on this season. But so too does the Oregon defense if they want to contain Love and keep pace in the Pac-12. Either way, I think fans are going to be in for a treat with this one. Here’s to hoping for some more #Pac12AfterDark magic on Saturday.