CFB preview: No. 22 Oregon at Nebraska
Oregon's first road game of the season will include a "Sea of Red" as a sellout crowd of over 87,000 will be on hand to welcome the No. 22 Ducks, who take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. There also will be a very familiar face pacing on the opposing sidelines.
Mike Riley is in his second season at Nebraska (2-0) after serving 14 seasons as head coach at Oregon State. Riley went 4-10 in Civil War battles with Oregon (2-0) but lost his final seven games against the Ducks including a 47-19 loss on Nov. 29, 2014, five days before he left for Nebraska.
Nebraska leads Oregon 5-1 in the all-time series, with the two teams last meeting in 1986, a 48-14 Cornhuskers' victory.
Now Riley gets another shot at trying to cause the Ducks some misery.
"That is bizarre," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of having to face his old rival again. "We were talking about that when Coach Riley took the Nebraska job, that would have been the office pool of all office pools on that one."
Helfrich is 2-0 against Riley, beating Oregon State during his first two seasons as coach: 36-35 on a Josh Huff touchdown catch with 29 seconds remaining in 2013, and then the 47-19 blowout in 2014.
Riley is off to a 2-0 start at Nebraska this season, the Huskers outscoring a pair of middle of the road Mountain West Conference teams in Fresno State (43-10) and Wyoming (52-17) by a combined 95-27. But this is the contest that many of the folks in Lincoln have been waiting for to see just how good the Cornhuskers can be in 2016.
"With coach Riley being here, there is a bunch of hype about playing them and I want to play well for myself and my team and staff, but we all agree this is like any other game," Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong said. "We need to make sure to prepare the right way and don't let the hype get to our heads and lose focus on the bigger goal, which is to go out and win the game."
"They've done a fantastic job, they're rolling, two huge victories," Helfrich said. "Huge differential on the turnovers, two games that kind of hinged on a five-minute span."
Oregon's defense is allowing 27 points per game in wins over UC Davis, a FCS school, and Virginia, which opened the season with a loss to FCS Richmond.
"This is a little different football team," Oregon's new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke said of the Cornhuskers.
Oregon allowed 193 rushing yards to Virginia, but that included minus-51 yards on sacks. The Cavaliers' three running backs ran 31 times for 220 yards, an average of more than seven per carry.
"There were still too many runs that got out there," Hoke said. "Part of it is tackling and part of it is fitting the defense the right way. There were too many runs that were eight-plus that we have to take way."
Oregon's offense looks as good as usual with an average of 48.5 points through two weeks.
New quarterback Dakota Prukop, a senior transfer from Montana State, is completing 68.9 percent of his passes for an average of 301 yards per game with six touchdowns. Running back Royce Freeman is averaging 147 yards per game on the ground. And explosive wide receiver Devon Allen, who got a late start to the season after finishing fifth in the 110-meter hurdles at the Olympics, had four catches for 141 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown, against Virginia.
The big question is how will the Ducks handle a raucous road environment for the first time this season?
"They're a really good football team, veteran quarterback, veteran line, a bunch of skill guys that have been around for a long time," Helfrich said. "Then defensively, special teams, a lot of schemes that we've seen for many years. They've done a great job for a long time. The biggest thing in dealing with any environment is us, just our mindset going on the road. It's a great environment, an awesome college football venue. Our job is to take care of us."