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Oregon Fans Should Proceed With Caution Rather Than Panic Ahead of Ohio State Matchup

The Fresno State win was ugly but that did not tell the whole story.

Despite leaving Autzen Stadium with a season-opening victory, a sense of melancholy spread throughout the fanbase.

No. 11 Oregon finished the game on a 10-0 run to defeat Fresno State 31-24 but the game being that close gives reason for concern. The Ducks were 20.5-point favorites and yet the Bulldogs Moneyline nearly cashed in.

The offense looked uncreative, running the ball into the A-gaps time and time again, and the defensive secondary allowed 298 yards passing. Even worse, the play calling evoked little trust in sixth-year senior Anthony Brown. While the Boston College transfer delivered with a game-winning 30-yard rushing touchdown, he also led just two scoring drives of over 27 yards.  

The other three scoring drives came courtesy of the 5-star defensive trio of Kayvon Thibodeaux, Justin Flowe, and Noah Sewell forcing fumbles that would be recovered by Oregon. 

In fact, Oregon was dominating the game prior to Thibodeaux getting his left ankle rolled up on. When he entered the medical tent, the Ducks had already forced two turnovers and jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Mario Cristobal said he doesn't believe KT's injury is serious and considering he played numerous snaps post-injury in the second quarter, there's hope he can go against Ohio State next Saturday.

If Thibodeaux can suit up, the Ducks may have the best player on the field considering he's the consensus top non-quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft pool. He has single-handily swung games for Oregon before, most notably both of his Pac-12 Championship performances where he helped the Ducks pull off the upset both times. 

If Thibodeaux plays, the Ducks have a fighting chance. He's that good. He will get a mind-blowing sack within a second of the ball being snapped. He will come up with a big turnover to gift the Oregon offense great field position. It will take a superhuman performance for Oregon to defeat the Buckeyes, but Thibodeaux, should he be available, can give them one. 

Then behind him are two of the most talented linebackers the Ducks have ever fielded in Sewell and Flowe. The latter, making for what's essentially his Oregon debut on Saturday, came away with 14 tackles, a tackle-for-loss, and a forced fumble. After the game, Flowe felt he can play much better than he did and Cristobal said the linebacker's still getting his feet under him. If Flowe and Sewell, the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, play up to their talent level, the pair can negate deficiencies that may arise elsewhere such as on the interior of the defensive line.

Starting cornerbacks DJ James and Jamal Hill will likely rejoin the team too after sitting out the opener due to a suspension related an off-field incident last month. 

Then on offense, yes the Ducks looked vanilla, but that was by design.

All offseason the Oregon staff has mentioned this is "Year Two" of Joe Moorhead's install, that the program has finally had an offseason to truly ingest his playbook. Safety Verone McKinley III told reporters last month he's noticed new plays being inserted in that have tricked his defenses in scrimmage situations. 

Considering the massive talent gap between Oregon and Fresno State, it seems logical Moorhead and Cristobal wanted to wait to show any of that until Week 2. Especially considering that the talent gap will be flipped and the Ducks will need to catch Ohio State off-guard to keep it close or even win.

Now, if the season goes on and the offense continues to look this unimpressive, then the tune will be shifted. Questions of how much control Moorhead truly has over the offense will justifiably be brought up. 

It's easy to notice that in each year under Cristobal: the go-to 4th-and-short play call has been running the ball between the tackles. But that's a larger question that needs more data to truly raise, more than just one game against a Mountain West opponent with Ohio State looming the next weekend.

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Speaking of Ohio State, the Buckeyes did not look excellent either in their season-opening win over Minnesota. Ohio State trailed in the second half and freshman quarterback CJ Stroud did not look impressive. 

If the Oregon defense can get pressure on Stroud, he may be prone to throwing a ball he shouldn't, resulting in an interception opportunity. 

This isn't to say I expect the Ducks to win next weekend. I do not and I never did. But all the doom and gloom after the Fresno State win seems over reactionary. The Ducks didn't play well (and still won) and did so with justifiable constraints given upon themselves. 

Next weekend Ducks fans will learn what this Oregon team is made of. 

Let's wait to give a verdict until then.

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