Aaron Fentress

A healthy Pagano will help UO in Pac-12 play, beginning with ASU

A healthy Pagano will help UO in Pac-12 play, beginning with ASU

Oregon graduate transfer Scott Pagano has returned to action just in time to help the No. 24 Ducks take on the high-scoring teams in the Pac-12 Conference. 

Pagano, who missed the first two games after undergoing foot surgery to repair a broken bone, saw minimal playing time on Saturday during Oregon's 49-13 win at Wisconsin. He did not record a tackle. 

“He did alright the times that I did see him," UO coach Willie Taggart said following the game. "We knew there was going to be some rust to get off. But it’s good to get him to get some game experience before we get into Pac-12 play.”

Oregon's defense is off to a strong start. But the addition of Pagano as a graduate transfer from Clemson, which won last season's national title, was met with glee for a reason. He is the best defensive lineman on the team. Having him healthy for Pac-12 play will be a must if the Ducks' defense is going to stand up to the test of facing strong offenses on a weekly basis. 

A fully healthy Pagano, however, could be weeks away for Oregon (3-0).

“I’m still not where I want to be right now,” Pagano said following Saturday's game.

Pagano estimated that is foot was at about 75 to 80 percent healthy. The plan is for him to play as much as he can without hindering the healing progress. When his foot begins to bother him, Pagano said, he would scale back his reps. 

Senior safety Tyree Robinson said Pagano's mere presence has been a boost to the team given that all of the Ducks players know where he has been and what he can do. Taggart said that Pagano still must get into football shape and that UO hopes to increase his repetitions each week.

For Pagano, transferring from Clemson to Oregon, which played so poorly on defense last season, was helped along by the presence of the new coaching staff under Taggart. He called Joe Salave'a the best defensive line coach in the country and said that he saw signs of things looking up while watching a spring practice. Pagano said he could tell that the team was buying into what new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt was selling.

The Duck are allowing just 23 points per game after surrendering 41.7 last year. 

“I knew we were going to have a great defense,” Pagano said. “I knew I wanted to play with a team like this."

Next up for Oregon is Arizona State (1-2). The Sun Devils are off to a slow start but have far more speed and weapons on offense than every opponent Oregon has faced this season. 

"This is going to be the most athletic team we've faced so far, by far," Taggart said. 

Here is a quick look at the matchup:

Oregon at Arizona State

When: 7 p.m., Saturday, Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz. 

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Oregon minus 14 1/2.

Records: Oregon (3-0), Arizona State (1-2).

Last week: The Sun Devils lost 52-45 at Texas Tech. Oregon won 49-13 at Wyoming. 

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (43-45, 3-0 at Oregon); Sun Devils' Todd Graham (89-57, 40-28 at ASU).

Sun Devils' impact players: Quarterback Manny Wilkins is off to a pretty hot start, averaging 308 yards passing with seven touchdown tosses and has yet to throw an interception. He has completed 68.3 percent of his passes. Wilkins, a redshirt junior, was the No. 6-rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation when he came out of high school in 2014.

"This will be the first time we've had a good mobile quarterback that we've had to go against," Taggart said. 

Senior running back Kalen Ballage has rushed for 179 yards and four touchdowns but is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. 

Sophomore wide receiver N'Keal Harry is Wilkins' top target. The 6-foot-4 Harry has caught 24 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. 

ASU's defense is led statistically by two freshmen. Defensive end Jojo Wicker has three sacks on the season and linebacker D.J. Calhoun is averaging 10.3 tackles per game. 

Fear factor (five-point scale): 3.5.  It's a road game. It's a conference game. It's against what will be by far the best offense the Ducks have faced this season. There's a lot to be worried about for Oregon. However, ASU is about as bad on defense as the Ducks were last season. If the Ducks take care of the football they would once again surpass 40 points. We will know after this game if UO's defense truly has bite if it can keep the Sun Devils in check. 

Early pick: Oregon, 47-33. Oregon's defense will be challenged but it won't give up enough points to waste what should be a strong showing by the Ducks' offense. 

Royce Freeman record watch 2017: One away from setting TD mark

Royce Freeman record watch 2017: One away from setting TD mark

Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman rushed for 157 yards on 30 carries during a 49-13 win Saturday at Wyoming to move to within less than 500 yards of breaking the Ducks' career rushing record held by LaMichael James.

Freeman entered the season with 4,146 career rushing yards and needing 937 to break LaMichael James' record of 5,082 (2009-2011). Freeman ranks second in the Pac-12 in rushing at 153.3 yards per game, trailing Stanford's Bryce Love (174.7). His 460 rushing yards rank third in the nation. 

Enjoying watching Freeman's hot start is the man who hands him the ball, sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert.

“It’s really fun to watch," he said. "Sometimes I hand the ball off and don’t carry out my fake and just watch.”

 

Here is a quick look at where Freeman's chase stands:

RUSHING YARDAGE

James' record: 5,082 yards.

Last week: Freeman rushed for 157 yards on 30 carries and scored three touchdowns at Wyoming (1-2).  

Previous games: Freeman rushed for 153 yards against Nebraska and 150 against Southern Utah. 

2017 total: Freeman now has has rushed for 460 yards rushing in three games.  

Career total: Freeman has 4,606 yards career rushing yards. 

Freeman needs: He is 477 yards away from breaking James' record. 

RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS

James' record: 53.

Last week: Freeman rushed for three touchdowns.   

2017 total: Nine.

Career total: Freeman has 53 rushing touchdowns for his career. 

Freeman needs: He is tied with James and needs one more rushing touchdown to sit alone atop the career mark. 

Next up: The Ducks play at Arizona State (1-2) Saturday in Tempe, Ariz. 

Ducks No. 24 in both AP and Coaches polls

Ducks No. 24 in both AP and Coaches polls

The Oregon Ducks entered both the Associated Press Top 25 and the Amway Coaches polls for the first time this season at No. 24 following a 49-13 win at Wyoming on Saturday. 

Oregon (3-0) sat just outside of the top 25 in both polls last week. 

Five Pac-12 teams reside in the AP Poll: No. 5 USC (3-0), No. 7 Washington (3-0), No. 18 Washington State (3-0), No. 23 Utah (3-0) and Oregon. 

Five Pac-12 teams are ranked in the Coaches Poll: No. 5 USC, No. 6 Washington, No. 18 WSU, No. 21 Utah and Oregon. 

Stanford (1-2) fell out of both top 25 polls after losing 20-17 at San Diego Sate. 

 

Oregon winning with swag, but now things get real

Oregon winning with swag, but now things get real

LARAMIE, Wyo. - Oregon coach Willie Taggart concluded an on-field postgame interview moments after his team had easily dispatched of Wyoming, 49-13 at War Memorial Stadium and then began to jog toward the stadium exit to meet his team in its locker room. 

Taggart, however, quickly changed direction and instead headed toward the hundreds of thrilled Oregon fans still cheering from the stands near the field exit. He then ran alongside the railing, slapping hands with fans before working his way out of the stadium. His action brought about more cheers from the Oregon faithful that had made the trip to Laramie for the game. 

There is no denying that Taggart, with his charisma and engaging personality, has won over the hearts of many Oregon fans who had no idea who he was before UO hired him last December. The Ducks' 3-0 start has justified the hype he generated over the offseason by hiring a strong staff and getting out to a dizzying start as a recruiter. 

The question now is: Where is all of this leading to this season?

Could the Ducks indeed be Pac-12 Conference contenders in year-one of the Taggart rebuilding process? Or, is the quick start simply a product of a young and talented team having played a weak schedule to date? It's difficult to tell. The only thing that we can say for sure is that these Ducks have been much stronger on defense than they were last year when the team went 4-8, they remain an offensive powerhouse under Taggart's guidance (at least in the first half of games) and there is enough youth playing key roles to expect continued improvement.

Taggart acknowledges the holes in his team. The offense, for the second week in a row, struggled in the second half scoring only one touchdown after being shutout after halftime by Nebraska last week. The defense dominated, but against a team that entered the game with 30 total point over two games. 

“It’s great when you can win and there’s so much more you can improve on,” Taggart said.

Indeed. Improvement is the key. The Ducks as they sit right now are not good enough to contend regardless of their record, shared by six other Pac-12 teams, including three within the North Division. They have not played well enough to expect that they have more than one sure win on their Pac-12 schedule. Oregon State (1-3) is the only team on paper that anyone could clearly say the Ducks should easily defeat. Every other game on UO's schedule should be approached with great trepidation. 

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Oregon is certainly building toward something. You can sense that the Ducks, under Taggart, and with such a young roster led by a star sophomore quarterback in Justin Herbert, has championship potential. It just probably won’t happen this season. And that's okay. 

This is a team that is exciting, fast, fun to watch and loaded with intriguing student-athletes. Plus, they appear to be a tight-knit group, which only makes them more endearing. Taggart, who instituted several team-bonding exercises during the offseason, said that the team's camaraderie is paying off in games. 

“Now I think these guys are seeing how it can make a difference with this football team," he said. "The beauty of it, again, is that when things go bad you don’t see anyone pointing fingers or complaining or anything.”

That's good because things are about to start going badly at a much higher rate. Oregon hasn't had much go wrong this season, winning its opener 77-21 over Southern Utah and then jumping out to halftime leads of 42-14 and 42-10 in the past two weeks. The Pac-12 won't be as kind. 

Most will score more often and not be as accommodating on defense. We will see numerous games still in doubt well into the second half. Such games will truly test just how far this team has come since last season.

The Ducks next play at Arizona State (2-1), which scores points, but right now could be regarded as the second weakest game on UO's remaining schedule. Then they host California (3-0), which is playing strong defense, and then No. 21 Washington State (3-0), which is led by a future NFL quarterback in Luke Falk who just threw six touchdown passes at OSU. 

Then the Ducks play at No. 19 Stanford (1-2 and struggling), at UCLA (2-1), host Utah (3-0 and about to become ranked) and then play at No. 6 Washington (3-0). 

That's seven tough games before the Ducks host Arizona (2-1), which has scored 60-plus points twice. 

There will be enough wins found in that schedule to expect at least seven for UO. Beyond that, it's a crapshoot. How many victories UO does earn will be determined by how much Oregon's hot start is the result of its play or the soft schedule that includes a 42-35 win over Nebraska, which just lost 21-17 to Northern Illinois. 

That all said, Oregon is taking care of business, and doing so with swag and confidence. The Ducks can't help whom they have played to date. All they can do is handle their own business. 

Whatever happens the rest of the way, the Ducks are on to something. It just might take another season for it to marinate before Taggart is greeting fans following a championship victory. 

Oregon WR Charles Nelson injures ankle, status uncertain

Oregon WR Charles Nelson injures ankle, status uncertain

LARAMIE, Wyo. - Oregon senior wide receiver Charles Nelson injured his right ankle during the first half of Saturday's 49-13 win at Wyoming and didn't return to action. 

He did, however, return to the field in a walking boot and on crutches.

Oregon coach Willie Taggart said following the game that Nelson's injury wasn't as bad as he initially thought it might be when it first happened. But Taggart said he wasn't sure just how badly Nelson was injured. 

"We won’t know until we get the X-rays," Taggart said.

Nelson is by far the team's most experienced receiver. He leads the team with 13 receptions for 216 yards and one touchdown. Nelson had two receptions for 27 yards on Saturday before getting injured. 

With Nelson out, junior slot Taj Griffin saw his first action of the season since injuring his knee late last year and scored on a 20-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert. 

Redshirt junior Alex Ofodile and sophomore receiver Brenden Schooler also saw extensive action. Freshman slot Darrian McNeal struggled and failed to haul in a couple of passes. 

Losing Nelson would be costly. He gives Herbert a reliable target in the middle of the field that he can rely on in any situation. Losing him for any length of time would place more pressure on an already very young group. 

 

 

Brenden Schooler returns to Wyoming to face his friend and Doppelgänger

Brenden Schooler returns to Wyoming to face his friend and Doppelgänger

EUGENE - Had Oregon wide receiver Brenden Schooler accepted Wyoming's scholarship offer the coaching staff there might have had trouble distinguishing him from junior safety Andrew Wingard

Schooler is 6-foot-2, 195 pounds with long, flowing blonde hair that hangs from his helmet and waves when he runs. Wingard is 6-1, 209 pounds also with long, flowing, blonde hair that hangs from his helmet and waves when he runs. 

"We definitely look alike with the pads on," Schooler said. 

As it turns out, Schooler and Wingard are pals. They became friendly when Wingard showed Schooler around during a recruiting visit last year. While watching game film of Wyoming this week, Oregon wide receivers and position coach Michael Johnson noticed that Wyoming has its own version of Schooler. 

"Coach Johnson was saying it looks like there is a mini you out there,'" Schooler said. "I'm like no, he's not mini. He's a little bigger than me."

He also could be a problem for Oregon (2-0) when the Ducks play at Wyoming on Saturday (4 p.m. kickoff).

The Ducks' offense is going up against a defense that has allowed just 24 points in two games this season with all of them coming during a 24-3 loss at Iowa. The Cowboys' defense was one of the best in the nation last year and Wingard was a big reason why. The First-Team All-Mountain West selection was named a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award and ranked fifth in the conference and 22nd in the nation in tackles per game (9.4). He had 131 total tackles.

Had Schooler gone to Wyoming, he and Wingard likely would have been roaming the Cowboys' secondary together. But Schooler had other plans. 

The only FBS offer Schooler received coming out of Mission Viejo High School (Mission Viejo, Calif.) as a 2-star athlete came from Wyoming and even it didn't come his way until Jan. 29, 2016, just days before signing day.

"It was honestly a blessing to get that offer," Schooler said. "It was my first and only one."

He turned it down.

"I just felt like I always wanted to play in the Pac-12," he said. 

But an offer from a Pac-12 school didn't materialize. So, he considered going the junior college route.

"It was frustrating because I knew my ability, I knew my talent," Schooler said. 

Last summer, Oregon, in need of secondary help, came calling and then coach Mark Helfrich signed Schooler as a defensive back in July. A month later Schooler went from once being considered unworthy of receiving a scholarship from a Pac-12 program to starting for one. 

Oregon's issues in the secondary led to Schooler breaking into the starting lineup in the third game of the season at Nebraska. He never lost his job and finished the season third on the team with 73 tackles and he led the team with four interceptions. 

New Oregon coach Willie Taggart, however, decided to move Schooler to wide receiver during fall camp. On Saturday against Nebraska, he scored his first touchdown on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Justin Herbert in the left corner of the end zone on a ball that was slightly underthrown. 

"The first thing that went through my mind was 'jump ball,' I gotta go get it," Schooler said.

He did. And it could be the first of many big plays to come for Schooler. 

"That was a great confidence booster for him," Johnson said. "He needed that to propel him to that next level of wide receiver play."

Thomas Graham Jr.'s success a product of his family's plan

Thomas Graham Jr.'s success a product of his family's plan

EUGENE – Thomas Graham Sr. rose to his feet in a reaction of excitement and surprise so quickly he experienced a head rush that sent him right back down into his seat in Autzen Stadium.

His son, Oregon cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., had seemingly come out of nowhere to intercept a pass in the fourth quarter of the Ducks’ 42-35 win Saturday over Nebraska. 

“I almost passed out,” Graham Sr. said.

While Graham Sr. gathered himself, his wife Tamisha Graham jumped up and down while screaming: “That’s my baby, that’s my baby.”

Her “baby” right now is very much the man on Oregon’s defense, which appears to have greatly improved over last season thanks in part to the play of Graham Jr.  Through two games, the former four-star recruit out of Rancho Cucamonga High School in the California city of the same name already has two interceptions and two pass breakups, one leading directly to an interception.

Graham Jr. is sure to experience his share of lows this season. Too many elite quarterbacks and receivers operate within the offensively-driven Pac-12 Conference for that not to happen. Nevertheless, he appears to have the makings of becoming an elite cornerback. Not simply because of his extreme athleticism. Graham Jr. has embraced the nuances of the sport he loves to become as mentally prepared to perform at a high level as he is physically. And this is all by design. Part of a plan put forth by parents that demanded excellence from their two children and to avoid the mistakes made by a father who admittedly failed to reach his athletic potential due to lack of guidance and a poor attitude. 

The result is a daughter who is an elite hurdler and a son who could become a dominant defensive back for a program desperately in need of difference makers on that side of the ball.

“He’s a big-time player,” UO coach Willie Taggart Taggart said following Saturday’s game. “For him to be as young as he is and know as much football as he does, he’s great to have and it’s great to know he is gong to be here for a while.”

--- Team Graham 

Graham Sr., a graduate of San Diego High School, grew up playing football and participating in track & field. The son of a single mother, his athletic career peaked at San Jose City College because, the former cornerback said, he lacked academic focus and missed not having the guidance of a father to push him.

“I was a guy who never wanted to take responsibility for my actions,” Graham Sr. said.

Tamisha played softball in high school and grew up academically driven, eventually earning her masters degree in counseling. 

The couple has two children, Thomas, 18, and Jasmyne Graham, 20, forming what the family calls “Team Graham.”  Dad took charge of preparing the children for sports.  Mom handled the academic side. Team Graham's goal has been to assure that their children remain focused and driven to succeed.

Oregon does not allow true freshmen to speak to the media. Jasmyne recalls life as a Graham child. 

“Growing up, my dad would always tell us not to disrespect his name,” she said.

Graham Sr. repeatedly asked his children: “What do Grahams do?”

“We give 110 percent,” his children would respond in unison.

At times, they grew tired of the mantra.

“We get it, dad,” they would say.

Later on in life, they truly got it.

“As I got older I realized what he was trying to do,” Jasmyne said. “Everything we do we’re doing it in honor of ourselves.”

Graham Sr. said he demanded that his children live in the moment and strive to excel.

“Not just in athletics," he said. "I want them to compete in life...It doesn’t matter what you do. If you are a fry cook at McDonalds, be the best fry cook you can be.”

His children, as it turned out, were destined for much greater heights.

Dad coached them hard leading up to high school. He often blurred the lines between father and coach. 

“I’d have to say, ‘dad, turn off the coach switch,'” Jasmyne said with a laugh.

Graham Jr. rarely did. He pushed as the bad cop while mom mostly played the good cop.

It all paid off.

Jasmyne became an elite hurdler, earning a scholarship to USC before transferring to UNLV this year. She hopes to qualify for the 2020 Olympic team. 

--- Chasing big sister

Graham Jr.'s road toward becoming a college athlete began with chasing big sis as a small child.

Her success as a youth often made Graham Jr. invisible to outsiders.

“Nobody knew we had a son,” Graham Sr. said. “Everybody thought we just had a daughter because she was so successful.”

Jasmyne showed zero mercy to her little brother. She’d roughed him up a little from time to time if he got out of line. But she did most of her damage in races, repeatedly dominating her little brother in head-to-head races. She’d mock his times at track meets, pointing out that hers were much faster.

“I’d say, ‘you’re slow,’” she recalled. “He was.”

Jasmyne drove her little brother nuts.  But, Graham Jr., who started playing tackle football at age 6 and competed up a level all of his life, wasn’t obsessed with sports as a little boy. Math and animals peaked his interest the most. The National Geographic Channel held his attention more so than televised games and highlights.

“He was always eager to learn,” Graham Sr. said. “I didn’t think he would be sports minded.”

Still, Jasmyne remained Graham Jr.’s white whale. Until he finally caught her, past her and won a race in the eighth grade while she was a sophomore at Roosevelt High School in Corona, Calif.

“He got tired of being her little brother,” Graham Sr. said.

Jasmyne didn’t take the loss well. At first. She blamed gender.

“He’s a boy,” she said with a laugh. “Him winning was an issue for him, not me. He should be faster.”

The dynamic between the two changed. Graham Jr. went from 5-foot-3 (the same height as his sister) to 5-9 in just over a year. Suddenly, Jasmyne was looking up at her little brother.

“Once he got taller and started lifting weights, I knew that if I hit him, he was going to hit him back,” Jasmyne said.

Graham Sr. noticed a change in his son. He became more confident.

“Once he started beating his sister, he thought he was the king of the house,” Graham Sr. said.

He was, at least when it came to speed. Jasmyne didn’t like it but what was done was done. Dad came next on Graham Jr.’s race list.

During a junior high football practice, Graham Jr. was dominating teammates in races. Dad decided to take him on.

Big mistake. It would be the last race they ever had against each other.

--- Student of the game

Once Graham's confidence grew, he went all in on football. He trained harder and studied harder. He dove into watching game video. His games. College games. NFL games. It didn't matter. He studied and learned. 

“He knows the routes from teams he played in 7th and 8th grade,” Graham Sr. said. “ He has a really great memory…I think he’s going to be a coach when he is done playing.”

Graham Jr. played varsity as a freshman at Roosevelt High where his sister graduated from in 2015. He transferred to Rancho Cucamonga before his junior year. There, he blossomed into a superstar and began receiving numerous accolades.

Graham Jr.’s high school coach, Nick Baiz, said his star cornerback/receiver was a little shy early on. By his senior year, however, his personality blossomed. Graham Jr’s positive energy proved infectious to his teammates, as did his study habits.

“He’s always kind of been a student of the game,” Baiz said. “His intellect and maturity allow him to understand what the coaches are telling him on film”

Whenever Baiz would get worried before a game, Graham would be there to pick him up.

“He’d always tell me before a game, ‘coach, we’re about to whoop that (butt). Don’t worry,'" recalled Baiz.

Graham Jr. rarely got beaten during a game. But when he did, his support system would all look at one another and know it was go time.

“Let’s go, baby boy,” they’d scream.

Then, something bad would happen for the other team.

“Any time he’s ever done something bad he comes back and does something better to erase that,” Jasmyne said. “He takes it to another place.”

Recruiters flooded the Graham’s home with letters and calls. Rivals.com rated him as the No. 12 cornerback in the nation. Alabama, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Nebraska, the entire Pac-12 and a host of other major programs pursued Graham. But most of them were all wasting their time. Graham Jr. committed to USC, his dream school, in July of 2015 before his junior season.

That lasted a year. In the summer of 2016, the USC staff failed to reach out to Graham Jr. for a few weeks. So, he decommitted. USC tried to get him back on board. No dice.

Jasmyne, who had been looking forward to attending college with her little brother, was not happy. But she understood. Graham kept his options open all the way through his senior season.

Graham Sr., always the tough critic, wondered if his son had what it took to play for a team in the Southeastern Conference. He wondered if his son was a ‘UCLA kid,’ which in their household of USC fans, including a Trojan for a daughter, meant “soft.”

Tamisha, however, had greater belief in his son’s abilities.

“I’d said he was a ‘UCLA kid’ and she’d say he could play in the SEC or anywhere he wants to because he’s that guy,” Graham Sr. said. “Thomas and her are like Starsky and Hutch. A Stick and a clutch. They go together.”

Graham Sr. wanted his son to go to Notre Dame. Jasmyne liked Nebraska best for her brother, after USC, of course. Tamisha envisioned her son attending Arizona State.

Graham Jr. remained undecided.

Then, Willie Taggart entered the picture. 

--- Oregon bound

Oregon introduced Taggart as its new head coach on Thursday, Dec. 8.  That weekend he traveled to Rancho Cucamonga to visit the Grahams.

By Dec. 15, Graham had committed. Taggart’s smile, personality and honesty won over Team Graham. 

“Taggart changed everything,” Graham Sr. said. “He sat down and it wasn’t all about football, it was more about life. He said he had a plan to help make Thomas a better man.”

Unlike most recruiters, Taggart didn’ boast about preparing Graham Jr. for the the NFL. He didn't promise him that he would start right away. Taggart simply offered Graham Jr. a chance to compete and to get an education in a disciplined yet nurturing environment.

Graham Jr. had already visited Oregon while being recruited by former Ducks defensive backs coach John Neal. Graham Jr. liked the small-town atmosphere of Eugene and became enamored with the Oregon's scenic outdoors. 

“I could see myself living here,” he told his mom.

Graham Jr. couldn't wait to get started at Oregon so he enrolled during the winter term. Tamisha and her daughter were against that idea. They wanted him to enjoy his senior year. 

"I was also worried because he was only 17 and that's my baby, but I knew he was mature enough to handle it," Tamisha said. "My fear was letting go."

When he returned home for spring break, Jasmyne discovered a different person. 

“He proved me wrong on so many levels,” she said. "He was a totally different person. He had grown up. He was still that goofy, funny, little kid, but he had matured in so many ways.”

The siblings have grown closer as they've gotten older. Jasmyne said despite their childhood spats, she's always viewed him as a very giving and generous person who she now leans on from time to time. 

“There are times when I feel like I can’t do something or I’m down and I know that if I call him he will say, “you need to remember who you are,'” she said. "That always makes me feel better."

Graham Jr. was one of the centerpieces of recruiting class that ranked No. 18 in the country. Immediately during winter drills, Taggart began seeing signs that Graham Jr. could be special. Taggart noticed his maturity and appetite for knowledge. Plus, his energy and determination. He was Taggart's type of player. Someone who wanted to compete at everything, which had been Graham Sr.'s goal for his son all along. 

Graham Jr.'s first roommate, former safety turned receiver Brenden Schooler, said the freshman clearly had natural football ability and instincts and a desire to learn. The two often sat around talking about the strengths and weaknesses of other players.

"He's just a football guru," Schooler said. "He loves it."

Sophomore wide receiver Dillon Mitchell said Graham Jr.'s attention to detail is clear in his play.  

"Thomas has great knowledge of the game plan and that accentuates his athleticism," Mitchell said. 

So much so that he immediately jumped into the mix at cornerback during the spring. That carried over to the fall where he has been competing with senior Arrion Springs and junior Ugochukwu Amadi for playing time. Those two started the first game when Graham had five tackles as a backup. He made his first start Saturday against Nebraska. 

--- The head tilt

Knowing he would field questions about Graham Jr. following his performance against Nebraska, Taggart spoke to his star freshman before entering the post-game press conference. 

"He told me to tell you that he is excited," Taggart said. "That's why he came to Oregon to help this football program and to help turn this program. He said to, 'make sure to tell them, coach, that I appreciate you for coming down to recruit me.'"

Laughter ensued. 

“I’m serious, he did say that," continued Taggart. 

If Graham Jr. could speak to the media, one obvious question would be how he reacted to his day getting off to such and up-and-down start against the Cornhuskers.

On Nebraska's first play from scrimmage, Graham Jr. trailed a receiver who was eyeing a sideline pass over the cornerback's head. At the last second, Graham Jr. threw his hands out and tipped the pass, which was then intercepted by senior safety Tyree Robinson to set up Oregon's first touchdown.

Later that quarter, Nebraska senior wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El beat Graham Jr. on a jump ball in the right corner of the end zone. He had solid coverage but failed to look back for the football. Had Graham Jr. done so he might have made the interception. He also made contact with the receiver before the ball arrived and still got scored on to make the score 14-7, Oregon.

The play left his parents stunned, looking at each other with faces that read: “Did that just happen?”

But, just like when their son was in high school, they knew such a moment would only fuel their ultra competitive son. They also saw that signature head tilt to the right that Graham Jr. does when he is about to turn up the heat on his opponent. 

"When that happens, game on," Tamisha said. 

“If you beat him at something he is going to die trying to beat you back,” Graham Sr. said. “He’s a poor sport. He’s a poor sport to the fifth power.”

That competitiveness traces back to simple things like board games, video games, dominoes, card games and racing his big sister. 

"When he loses, he won't let you leave until he wins," Graham Sr. said. 

Late in the second quarter Graham Jr. intercepted Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee at the Nebraska 34 to set up a touchdown that gave Oregon a 42-14 lead. In the third quarter he broke up a pass. In the fourth he made the interception that left his father woozy.

Graham read and then jumped the pass intended for Nebraska's tight end over the middle and returned it 28 yards to the Nebraska 31.

“In the last six months he’s proven to me that he’s a high-caliber player,” Graham Sr. said.

After the game, Graham Jr. didn't have much to say about the game. He doesn't brag much. 

“He goes back into lala mode,” Graham Sr. said. “He wanted to go home and play video games. The most you can get out of him is ‘it was solid,” or ‘it was lit.’”

Watching on television from afar with great pride was sister Jasmyne, who will travel to Wyoming to see her brother and the Ducks play the Cowboys on Saturday. She remains Graham Jr.'s first major conquest. Now she looks up to and is inspired by her little brother. 

“I’m a fan of my brother,” Jasmyne said. “I feel like I’m his number one fan and number one supporter…It took so many fights to get here.”

It also took a lot of Team Graham pushing both along to the point where now the Graham children are thriving on their own. 

Amadi and Winston Jr. move into starting lineup

Amadi and Winston Jr. move into starting lineup

Oregon has made changes to its depth chart prior to this week's game at Wyoming. 

At cornerback, junior Ugochukwu Amadi has moved into the starting lineup opposite freshman Thomas Graham Jr. Last week's depth chart leading up to Oregon's 42-35 home win over Nebraska on Saturday listed Graham and Amadi as co-starters with an "Or" between their names. Graham started opposite senior Arrion Springs. 

Graham, named the player of the game, had seven tackles and two interceptions. Amadi clinched the game with an interception late in the fourth quarter. Now both are clear starters but expect Springs to still see plenty of action.

The once tied battle for the nose guard spot between freshmen Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu now has the latter listed as the clear starter. Faoliu actually started both of the team's first two games but rotated with Scott. We shall see how this slight change in the depth chart impacts the rotation at the nose position. 

Speaking of "Or" situations, there are none listed on the current depth chart. However, some backup positions remained slashed ("/") between second-team and third team players.  

Junior inside linebacker Kaulana Apelu is now listed as the clear starter over senior A..J. Hotchkins. And, sophomore La'Mar Winston Jr. has shed the "Or" between himself and junior Fotu T. Leiato II to become the clear starter at the outside linebacker/Duck position. 

Entering last week, freshman safety Nick Pickett was listed as a backup behind redshirt junior Mattrell McGraw. However, Picket started the Nebraska game and is now listed as the lone starter with freshman Billy Gibson as his backup. McGraw is now listed as the backup to redshirt senior Tyree Robinson, who returned to action last week after missing the opener with an injury. 

Redshirt junior safety Khalil Oliver, who started the opening game, missed the Nebraska game due to injury. 

There were no changes to the offensive depth chart. 

 

Oregon's defense improving in time for Wyoming QB Josh Allen

Oregon's defense improving in time for Wyoming QB Josh Allen

EUGENE - The best thing to come out of Oregon's 42-35 win Saturday over Nebraska at Autzen Stadium was that the Ducks' defense demonstrated legitimate signs of being - gasp - decent. 

The Ducks held Nebraska to 361 yards of total offense, and more importantly, 102 yards rushing. The fact that the Cornhuskers converted on just 2 of 14 third down attempts proved even more impressive.  

“It was great to see our defense step up and make plays,” UO coach Willie Taggart said. 

The defense did so time and time again while the Ducks' offense fell to pieces in the second half after getting the team out to a 42-14 halftime lead. 

Oregon's offense turned over the ball twice in the second half and couldn't muster up much in the way of any offense. That helped put Nebraska in position to score 21 points in the second half. That's still a high number for UO's defense to choke down but the Ducks came up with with numerous stops and key interceptions in the second half (four on the day) to help protect the lead. 

This is a defense that was much maligned the previous two seasons, and deservedly so. One consistent presence on the defense since 2015 has been senior cornerback Arrion Springs, who said Saturday that he hoped the way the defense's performance earned some appreciation from the fans. 

“I guess it was fun that it had to be on the defense’s shoulders this game toward the end,” Springs said. 

The game-clinching play came when senior linebacker Jonah Moi blitzed, ran through a tight end and then forced Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee into a bad pass that lofted into the hands of junior cornerback Ugochukwu Amadi. 

“(Outside linebackers coach Raymond Woodie) always preaches that we have to win one-on-ones with the tight end," Moi said. "I just drove him back and I saw the quarterback’s arm come up and I just hit his arm."

The Ducks weren't making such plays last season when they allowed 41.7 points per game. This, of course, is a more experienced defense in many spots but does have its share of youth, including freshman cornerback Thoma Graham who intercepted two passes on Saturday. 

“I’m more proud of our defense for stepping up when we needed them to,” Taggart said.

Oregon is going to continue to surrender yardage. Anything under 400 in this day and age is pretty darn good, especially considering the pace of the Ducks' offense. If you're going to score, or not score, in possessions that last two minutes, one can't expect the defense to completely shut down teams.

“Nowadays in football people are going to get yardage," Taggart said. "I think what’s important is to take the ball away from them.”

Oregon forced just 12 turnovers last season (nine interceptions and three fumbles). So far this year, the Ducks' have taken the ball away six times (all interceptions). 

Next up is Wyoming  (1-1) and junior quarterback Josh Allen. He is being touted as a potential high first-round NFL Draft pick but so far this season has been unimpressive. 

He did light up Gardner-Webb University (Big South Conference) on Saturday for 328 yards and two touchdown passes during a 27-0 win at home. However, The week before he passed for just 174 yards and had two passes intercepted during a 24-3 loss at Iowa.

Allen might certainly be headed to the NFL but he doesn't have much NFL-level talent around him and could experience another tough day against what appears to be a solid Oregon defense. 

---

Oregon at Wyoming

When: 4 p.m., Saturday, War Memorial Stadium, Laramie, Wyo.  

T.V.: CBS Sports Network. 

Betting line: Oregon minus 13.

Records: Oregon (2-0), Wyoming (1-1).

Last week: Wyoming won 27-0 at home over Gardner-Webb. Oregon won 42-35 at home over Nebraska.

Past meeting: Oregon defeated Wyoming 48-14 at home in 2014. Saturday's game will complete the home-and-home contract. 

Coaches: Ducks' Willie Taggart (42-45, 2-0 at Oregon); Cowboys' Craig Bohl (119-57, 15-25 at Wyoming). Bohl is the former coach of North Dakota, where he won three consecutive FCS national titles (2011-2013).

Cowboys' impact players: Allen's top two targets are Austin Conway (186 yards) and C.J. Johnson (152 yards). The running game is iffy, at best. The Cowboys have just 124 rushing yards on the season at 2.1 yards per carry. Wyoming gained just 59 yards on 30 carries against Iowa.

Defensive end Kevin Prosser has seven tackles with four for loss, including two sacks.

Fear factor (five-point scale): 2.5. Other than this being a road game, the Ducks shouldn't encounter many difficult obstacles on Saturday. Wyoming lacks the firepower on offense to hang with Oregon. The Cowboys' defense has played well, but hasn't seen anything like Oregon's offense. 

Final pick: Oregon, 44-24. Allen will make enough plays to keep the game entertaining but the Ducks' overall team speed will overwhelm the Cowboys. 

Royce Freeman record watch 2017: 153 yards closer to James' record

Royce Freeman record watch 2017: 153 yards closer to James' record

EUGENE - Oregon senior running back Royce Freeman rushed for 153 yards on 29 carries Saturday against Nebraska to move closer to breaking LaMichael James' career rushing mark. 

Freeman also scored two touchdowns during the 42-35 win over the Cornhuskers at Autzen Stadium. 

Freeman entered the season with 4,146 career rushing yards and needing 937 to break LaMichael James' record of 5,082 (2009-2011). 

Here is a quick look at where Freeman's chase stands:

RUSHING YARDAGE

James' record: 5,082 yards.

Last week: Freeman rushed for 153 yards on 29 carries and scored two touchdowns vs. Nebraska.  

Previous games: Freeman Rushed for 150 yards vs. Southern Utah. 

2017 total: Freeman has rushed for 303 yards in two games.  

Career total: Freeman now has 4,449 yards rushing. 

Freeman needs: He is 634 yards away from breaking James' record. 

RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS

James' record: 53.

Last week: Freeman rushed for two touchdowns.   

2017 total: six. 

Career total: Freeman has 50 rushing touchdowns for his career. 

Freeman needs: He is four away from breaking James' record. 

Next up: The Ducks play at Wyoming (1-1) Saturday in Laramie, Wy.