After a shaky start, first-year head coach Dan Lanning’s Ducks have emerged from non-conference play with a 2-1 record, losing only to No. 1 ranked Georgia, and picking up a marquee victory in week three against No. 12 BYU.
At this early juncture in the season and the Lanning era, I wanted to take a closer look at what we've learned about this team through three games.
First and foremost, it's overwhelmingly apparent that Kenny Dillingham’s offense is as explosive as advertised.
Predicated on creating favorable matchups, the Ducks have shown a propensity to generate “big plays” of over 15 yards both on the ground and through the air.
Week three on the offensive end began with a 26-yard screen pass to Kris Hutson. Three plays later Mar’Keise “Bucky” Irving broke loose for 36 yards on the ground setting up quarterback Bo Nix for a one-yard dive to score.
On another drive the Ducks opted to go big, twice loading the box to successfully run the ball up the middle on fourth downs.
“We didn’t really care if you knew what we were going to do,” Lanning said after the win over BYU. “You had to stop us.”
After converting their second fourth down the Ducks capitalized on the attention that they were commanding at the line using play action to open up a 50-yard shot from Nix to Troy Franklin, setting up another Oregon touchdown before the half.
Even in the touchdownless beatdown that Oregon received at the hands of Georgia there were glimmers of offensive light as the Ducks generated 14 first-half first downs, the same number as Georgia.
Perhaps if the Ducks didn’t throw back-to-back interceptions they could have finished one of their first half drives and kept the game more manageable.
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Bo Nix hasn't turned the ball over since week one, which is an encouraging sign that he's learning to take better care of the ball.
Looking on the other side of the ball, Oregon's defense entered the season with a lot of expectations.
Through three weeks we now know that the Lanning, Lupoi defense likes to generate pressure by offering a variety of looks. In week one the Ducks forced multiple third and longs but failed to get off the field, allowing Georgia to sustain drives with penalties and poor tackling.
Since then the unit appears to be coming into their own with DJ Johnson and Brandon Dorlus leading the charge up front.
Transfer cornerback Christian Gonzalez has been a welcome addition for the Ducks as his 6-foot-2 frame has made him Lanning’s best cover defender. Against BYU, Gonzalez tallied two pass breakups, both of which coming in man coverage on third down.
One of the biggest remaining unknowns for the defense is finding the best option to play opposite Gonzalez.
Through three weeks, converted safety Trikweze Bridges has gotten the start at cornerback, but he's been repeatedly targeted and it's clear that teams are willing to take their shots anywhere that Gonzalez is not in coverage.
The Ducks will travel to Pullman next week to begin conference play against Washington State. The 3-0 Cougars will have their hands full if Nix and the Oregon offense continue to be efficient. The question will be if the Ducks can get off the field on third down.
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