Virginia heads west this week to try and gain some ground back after a not so great season opener last weekend against Richmond. In order to learn more about our west coast pals, I spoke to Adam Hillman (@ahillman2599) from our counterparts over at Addicted to Quack.
Check out my answers to Adam’s questions here.
Streaking the Lawn: The Ducks got off to a slow start before taking down UC Davis to get the win in the season opener. What do you think the ceiling is for Oregon this season?
Addicted to Quack: The ceiling for this Oregon team is lower than past seasons. With another 1-AA transfer (Dakota Prukop this year, Vernon Adams last) starting at quarterback, the passing game is an absolute unknown. Most college football fans know Royce Freeman has the ability to take over games, as he showed last year, but during those that the now graduated Adams was hurt, the offense truly struggled to put points on the board (see passing struggles against Colorado and Utah). No one is expecting Prukop to be the next Marcus Mariota, or even as talented as Vernon Adams, but if he can show the ability to operate the spread offense efficiently, this Oregon team can win a reasonable amount of games (considering their lofty standards as a program). That being said, it will take time before the Oregon offense can perform at its peak.
On the other end of the ball, Brady Hoke is entering his first year as the Oregon defensive coordinator and faces questions circulating around the overall talent of this squad. With an established defensive mind, and former head coach, as coordinator, they should be improved from their putrid season last year, but pass rush and secondary depth should once again be weak points. There are just far too many underclassmen and inexperienced individuals on defense for Oregon to return to their 2014 national title challenging selves. With the defensive struggles, I expect Oregon to be a PAC-12 north contender until at least early November.
STL: Royce Freeman is the big name on the Oregon offense, but who are some other players Virginia fans should be looking out for?
ATQ: Not many people know this name, but offensive tackle Tyrell Crosby is a freak of nature. Standing at 6-5, 310 lbs, Crosby was the man behind the scenes of the dominant Oregon run game last year. He is able to create gashing holes in the defensive line and allow Royce Freeman to do what he does best: run through linebackers and defensive backs.
As stated previously, Dakota Prukop is an interesting name due to the unknown surrounding his transfer. Montana State does not exactly face PAC-12 level defenses on a daily basis, so not many in the college football community know if his talent will translate to this level of football. Yet, if he can replicate his 3,000 passing yards, 700 rushing yards, and 39 total touchdowns, he will begin to gain serious national recognition.
On the other side of the ball, Tyree Robinson is the enforcer of the Oregon secondary. He has a tendency to break up passes through hard hits on receivers, sometimes illegally. Standing at an imposing 6-4 and 205 lbs, he accumulated his 65 tackles and three interceptions last season through a relentless and hard-nosed style. He loves to attack 50-50 balls and can punish receivers like a linebacker.
Other players like Darren Carrington II, Charles Nelson, and Taj Griffin, are instant home run threats. Carrington is a danger in the receiving game, tallying over 700 yards in only seven games last year. In his first game, Nelson accumulated 290 all-purpose yards (including punt and kick returns). Griffin, meanwhile, is a change of pace running back for Freeman.
STL: What was your take on Dakota Prukop's first start?
ATQ: Dakota Prukop’s debut was encouraging. He was 21 of 30, throwing for 271 yards and 3 touchdowns. The offense did struggle in the first quarter, as the Montana state transfer looked nervous in his new uniform. But after a 23 yard throw to Pharoah Cooper, he seemed to settle down. Once he relaxed, the offense seemed to flow much easier, scoring 45 points in the last three quarters. I would not say I was impressed by his first Oregon start, but it is hopefully a step towards becoming completely comfortable in Helfrich’s up-tempo and run-based offense. His accuracy and arm strength were solid but not spectacular. With the right help, Prukop can help ease the transition from the Mariota era.
STL: UC Davis had some success in the air with 303 yards passing last week (no TDs, however). If UVA manages to get Kurt Benkert some time in the pocket, do you see this as being a weakness for the Ducks? Were you surprised UC Davis was able to put up 28 points?
ATQ: The secondary is definitely a weakness for Oregon. If UC Davis can capitalize on this weakness, then I’m sure Kurt Benkert can do so as well. Given the time in the pocket, there is no doubt in my mind that Virginia can cause damage to the Oregon defense. If Oregon Corner back Arion Springs does not play (currently listed as Questionable), then more holes will open in the Duck’s passing game. Oregon’s pass rush is not dominant by any means (2.0 sacks against UC Davis), so expect Brady Hoke to bring in more defenders and blitz Benkert. His ability to adjust and get rid of the ball quickly will be a key to keeping up with the high-scoring Oregon offense.
It was not surprising that they struggled to mesh in their first game under Hoke, but who can expect 300 passing yards against UC Davis? While the run defense was strong, holding the Aggies to 89 yards on 33 carries, the secondary struggled to tackle in the open field against a team that was 2-9 last season. This type of performance may have been expected against some quality opponents, but against UC Davis was definitely unexpected.
STL: Virginia is reeling from an opening week loss to FCS powerhouse Richmond. What has to go right for the Hoos to pull off a ridiculous upset over the Ducks?
ATQ: Virginia has the luck of facing Oregon earlier in the season. With a new quarterback and three redshirt freshman offensive lineman, there is simply a lack of cohesion within the offense. The cavalier’s best bet is to load the box and attempt to stop Freeman from dominating the game. The Duck’s speed will be challenging to stop, so the corners and outside linebackers need to be excellent in the run game. If Prukop proves he can grasp the playbook and take over the game, then so be it, but for a team that allowed 37 points to Richmond, their only hope is to try and take away the most prolific aspect of Oregon’s complex offense.
On offense, protection for Benkert will be the key. If the Cavalier run game stalls against Hoke’s rigid defense, then the Cavaliers will need to find another way to match the Ducks on the scoreboard. The Ducks’ secondary is vulnerable, and if the former ECU quarterback can continue to find open receivers, they should be able to score points.
STL: What spots should Cavalier fans check out if they make the trek to Eugene?
ATQ: Taylor’s Bar and Grill is a popular place on campus for game day. Mcnemins North Bank is near Autzen stadium and also a place UVA fans can check out.
STL: What is your prediction for the game?
ATQ: I think that UVA will play better than they did against Richmond, but Oregon will end up running away with it. Their speed and talent on offense will break through in the second half and prove too much for the Cavaliers. I am just not sure UVA can keep up with Freeman and co. 45-24 Oregon