Duck Baseball Preview

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Duck Baseball Preview

Follow Oregon Duck Baseball @OregonBaseball

Team Release
The Oregon Ducks are picked to finish fourth in the 2013 Pac- 12 Preseason Baseball Coaches’ Poll. UO received 73 points behind only preseason
favorite Stanford, UCLA and Oregon State.

The Ducks won a school-record 46 games in 2012 before ending their season in the Super Regional in Eugene. UO returns seven position player starters this season
behind a pitching staff that features four returning starters and an All-American reliever.

The University of Oregon opens the 2013 baseball season with a four-game series starting this Friday at the University
of Hawaii.

First pitch scheduled for 8:05 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday, and 3:05 p.m. on Sunday and
Monday.
Ducks open home schedule Feb. 22 vs. Loyola Marymount in a three game series at 6 p.m. at PK Park. The
Ducks and Lions will also play single games Saturday (Feb. 23) at 2 p.m. and Sunday (Feb.
24) at Noon.

The three-game series against LMU is the beginning of a 29-game home schedule for the Ducks which includes five Pac-12 series. UO hosts Arizona, Washington, UCLA,
Stanford and Oregon State in league play.

The Ducks also entertain nationally-ranked Vanderbilt March 8-10 at PK Park. The Commodores are ranked as high as second in the nation and are in the top five in four of the
five preseason polls.

 The Ducks return a wealth of experience in the field with eight players who started at least 18 games in 2012 returning as probable starters in 2013. Oregon returns its entire infield with first baseman Ryan Healy (65 starts), second baseman Aaron Payne (65 starts), third baseman Ryan Hambright (25 starts) and shortstop J.J. Altobelli (51 starts) combining to start 206 games last season.

UO’s projected starting eight behind the Ducks’ pitchers and the designated hitter have combined to start 362 games last season if Shaun Chase starts behind the plate. Scott Heineman moves to centerfield after starting 27 games at third base in 2012, while Brett Thomas is back in left field after making 53 starts last season. Kyle Garlick will open the season at DH for Oregon after splitting his 58 starts last season between right field and the DH position.

Steven Packard will get the starting nod in right field, and though he was not on the team in 2012 while finishing a two-year church mission, he is experienced with 45 starts as a true freshman in 2010.


Oregon’s pitching staff features a nice blend of experience and youth. The Ducks’ four projected starters for the Hawaii series feature two pitchers (Jake Reed, Jeff Gold) who combined to start 30 games in 2012, while the other two starters have a combined one start between them. The Ducks’ bullpen is also deep and talented. Jimmy Sherfy is on the watch list for the Stopper of the Year award, while freshman Garrett Cleavinger will share short relief duties with Sherfy, a returning All-American. Christian Jones, who headed into last season as a top of the rotation starter, will open the season in the bullpen after recovering from an elbow injury that forced him to miss the entire 2012 season. Jones will bring experience to the bullpen with 13 career starts, along with Brando Tessar who started nine games last season before suffering an injury. Cole Wiper, Darrell Hunter also expect to contribute with key innings.

Probable Starters
Position-Players
C-Graham/ Chase 1B-Ryon Healy 2B-Aaron Payne 3B-Ryan Hambright SS-J.J. Altobelli LF-Brett Thomas CF-Scott Heineman RF-Steven Packard DH-Kyle Garlick
* Chase started 25 games in 2012 Finished second on team in hitting Led Ducks with 16 stolen bases Started 19 of last 21 games at 3B Started 51 games in 2012

Starting Pitchers 
Jake Reed Tommy Thorpe Cole Irvin Jeff Gold

Relievers
Jimmie Sherfy Garrett Cleavinger Christian Jones Cole Wiper Darrell Hunter Brando Tessar


Ducks coming off best season in program history:
Oregon heads into the 2013 season with momentum thanks to a record-setting 2012 campaign. The Ducks finished the season last year with a school
record 46 wins and the school’s first ever Super Regional appearance in the modern era.

Senior Alex Keudell’s 11 wins set a new UO single-season record, and he was the
first Duck in program history to be named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year. Sophomore  Jimmy Sherfy’s 19 saves set new Oregon
single-season and all-time records, and ranked second in the nation.

Tennessee to Oregon, "You have a friend in me"

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Tennessee Vols

Tennessee to Oregon, "You have a friend in me"

Late last week I asked if Oregon and Tennessee just became best friends after a Tweet from the Oregon Ducks trolled the Volunteers rival, and Week 4 opponent, the Florida Gators.

If the Volunteer’s lastest video on social media is any indication, then the two schools have indeed started a budding friendship.

On Monday the Volunteers, fresh off of ending an eleven-game losing streak to the Gators, took to Twitter to thank the Ducks for their support.

The Tweet read, "Hey [Oregon], apparently pulling trucks makes you hungry. You have a friend in me. Your Friend, Smokey," and had the following video attached to it:

If mascots can really be friends, than The Duck and Smokey are BFFs. Woody and Buzz would be proud.

Reeling Ducks begin quest to be "great" at WSU

Reeling Ducks begin quest to be "great" at WSU

Can you hear Dionne Warwick singing her 1979 hit song Déjà Vu?

It certainly should be the Oregon Ducks' theme song this week. 

For the second consecutive season the Ducks find themselves sitting at 2-2 and being written off by many. The only clear difference from last year to this year is that in 2015 the Ducks at this point were coming off of a 62-20 drubbing at the hands of Utah in Autzen Stadium while this season Oregon is smarting after a 41-38 loss at home to Colorado on Saturday. 

Prior to both games were heartbreaking, three-point losses on the road to a Big Ten opponent. 

If what happens next also mirrors what occurred last season, the Ducks could be set to start salvaging their season starting this week at Washington State (1-2). 

"We were left for dead last year and bounced back," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "We were left for dead the year before and that turned out okay. It's just a time where each individual has to be accountable for their role and their fit in this deal. I told the team last night, and I believe it 100 percent, this team can be special. This team, this year. We have a tough road and a tough schedule ahead of us but this team can be great. There's zero doubt in my mind."

Oregon in 2014 overcame a loss to Arizona and an injured offensive line to reach the national title game. The 2015 Ducks survived a poor defense long enough to get back quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. from a finger injury then rattled off six consecutive wins before the Alamo Bowl debacle. 

Where will this year's team end up? Tough to say. 

The good news for Oregon is that its two losses have come by a combined six points to two teams (Colorado and No. 15 Nebraska, 35-32) that have a combined record of 7-1 with the lone loss going to Colorado at No. 4 Michigan. 

The bad news is that Oregon's defense remains a work in progress and the Ducks have just begun a run of five games against some of the top offenses in the country. WSU, Washington, California and Arizona State are all up next with each is averaging more than 40 points per game

Colorado sliced through Oregon's defense with backup quarterback Steven Montez accounting for 333 yards passing and 135 rushing as the Buffaloes amassed 593 yards of total offense in his first start. 

Next up is Washington State. The Cougars are reeling after suffering losses at home to Eastern Washington out of the Big Sky Conference, and at Boise State. Their lone victory came against Idaho. 

UO certainly should be too much for the Cougars, but the game will be played at night and in Pullman, Wash., where strange things often go down. 

A win is a must for the Ducks with No. 8 Washington (4-0) eagerly anticipating taking down the Ducks the following week. 

Should the Ducks lose at WSU, a sub-.500 season would start to look like a distinct possibility. 

Here is a quick look at Oregon vs. OSU:

When: 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Martin Stadium, Pullman, Wash.   

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Oregon by 1.

Records: Oregon (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12), Washington State (1-2, 0-0). 

Coaches: Oregon's Mark Helfrich (35-10); WSU's Mike Leach (22-31 at WSU, 106-74 overall). 

Last week: Oregon lost 41-38 at home to Colorado. WSU was idle. 

Cougars' impact players: The Cougars are off to a slow start but the offense remains potent, averaging 42 points and 514.7 total yards per game. 

Quarterback Luke Falk has been spectacular, completing 74.1 percent of his passes for 1,124 yards and 11 touchdowns with just two interceptions. However, he ranks eighth in the conference in passing efficiency (154.3) because WSU relies so much on short passes. His 7.11 yards per pass attempt is hardly frightening. 

His top targets, Gabe Marks and Tavares Martin Jr. rank second and third in the conference in receptions per game with nine and six respectively. 

Linebacker Peyton Pelluer is seventh in the conference with 7.7 tackles per game. He leads a defense that has given up 27.3 points per game.

Fear factor (five-point scale): 4. At this point it's reasonable to believe that every team on Oregon's schedule could defeat the Ducks as long as their defense remains this suspect. But the Cougars' inability, or refusal, to run the football should help Oregon tremendously. WSU is averaging 121.7 yards per game on the ground.

The Ducks should be able to get after the quarterback and create pressure on Falk in WSU's spread offense without worrying too much about the run. 

However, WSU's run defense has been strong, allowing just 103 yards per game, third fewest in the conference. If WSU stymies Oregon's run game and forces quarterback Dakota Prukop to win the game, the Ducks 

Preliminary pick: Oregon 43, WSU 37.  It will be close, it will be wild and in the end, the Ducks will find a way to win. 

UO QB Dakota Prukop two errant throws away from hero status

UO QB Dakota Prukop two errant throws away from hero status

EUGENE - Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop has played some very good football this season. 

Unfortunately for him and the Ducks, two plays separate him from having already earned legendary status rather than simply being a good quarterback who keeps falling short. 

Prukop, during Saturday's 41-38 loss to Colorado at Autzen Stadium, threw an interception in the fourth-quarter on a horribly underthrown pass to wide receiver Darren Carrington II, who ran a fade pattern to the left corner of the end zone. Colorado cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon intercepted the throw with 48 seconds remaining.  

Two games ago in the final minute at Nebraska, Prukop, with the Ducks down 35-32, rolled right and located wide receiver Charles Nelson open running toward the right corner of the end zone. But Prukop underthrew Nelson and the pass was deflected. The game ended two plays later when Prukop rushed for three yards on a desperate fourth down attempt with 18 yards to go for a first. 

Two would-be winning plays. Two underthrown passes. Prukop leads Carrington to the corner of the end zone and it's a likely touchdown. Prukop leads Nelson and it's also a likely touchdown.

That's how close Oregon (2-0) is to being 4-0. That's how close Prukop, a graduate transfer from Montana State, is to having thrown two game-winning touchdown passes for the Ducks already this season. 

Instead he is left to lament what could have been. 

"It's execution," Prukop said following Saturday's defeat. "People are going to say, "nah, it's not one play. It's the whole game.' But it came down to the last play."

It's a tough situation to be in for a quarterback. They're asked to save the the rest of the team from its collective mistakes while minimizing their own. Bottom line, however, is that they are expected to make big plays. Prukop has made plenty. He has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 1,041 yards and eight touchdowns with just the one interception. He's also rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown. 

Such statistics, however, ring hollow when a quarterback fails to deliver with the game on the line. 

Some fans and members of the media have criticized the play call on the pass intended for Carrington against Colorado. That's largely unfair.

Red zone fade passes are rarely intercepted because they are pretty safe throws. Either the pass is lofted to the corner where only the receiver can get it, or it goes out of bounds. Another option is to throw the ball with great velocity to the receivers back shoulder so that he must adjust to it while the defensive back can't see the ball because he is trailing the receiver. 

"I thought it was a safe play," Oregon offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said of the call on first and goal from the Colorado seven. 

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich supported the call. 

"With two time outs, just trying to get a play off quickly and use all four downs..." Helfrich said "In that situation we're obviously trying to give a playmaker a chance. Hopefully it's a safe ball and that turned out differently."

Prukop said he felt good about the play call. 

"When they called that play I was like, 'we're going to get a touchdown right here,'" Prukop said.

His intent, Prukop said, was to throw the ball high and to the corner of the end zone. 

"I should have put it a lot higher," Prukop said. "Give him an easy jump ball. That's what he likes. Just have to learn from it."

The passing combo, Prukop said, has worked on that play extensively in practice with Prukop laying it up for the ultra athletic Carrington to go get it. On Saturday, however, Prukop misfired. 

"I've got to go see it on film but obviously I didn't put enough juice on it," he said. 

Prukop said he ended up throwing the ball a bit more like a back shoulder pass.

"I've got to put the ball in position where only the receiver could get to it," Prukop said. 

The pass lacked the trajectory or velocity of such a throw and instead turned into a lob pass directly to the defensive back. 

"Throwing it like I did, that's too risky," Prukop said. "I paid for it."

The play left Oregon's players and coaches stunned. The Ducks went from having a chance to win, or at least tie with a field goal, to losing after one errant throw. 

Players and coaches said they would rally around one another to right the ship. At the center of that, Lubick said, is Prukop, who demonstrated great leadership in the face of adversity. 

That ability, plus Prukop's talent, could put UO in position to win plenty of games this season. But there are going to be times where Prukop must make the big throws that so far have eluded him.

"I haven't been through something like this before," Prukop said. "It sucks. Just have to eat it and learn from it. 

Ducks' defense lacks difference makers

Ducks' defense lacks difference makers

EUGENE - Oregon's defense is a mess and that won't change until the Ducks recruit, develop and properly deploy impact players capable of preventing such debacles as the team's 41-38 loss to Colorado on Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.

The post-game interviews included a lot of talk from the defense about missed assignments, poor tackling and playing with more intensity. Those elements of the game, while certainly important, do not make up for the absence of big time playmakers that make lives easier for all involved. 

Suspect recruiting and a lack of player development has led to Oregon fielding a collection of good, but not yet great players on defense. That makes scheming for opponents more difficult and leaves the Ducks with numerous holes that can be exploited by opposing offenses. 

Case in point: The Buffaloes (3-1) racked up 593 yards of total offense while being led by a redshirt freshman quarterback who passed for 333 yards and rushed for 135 more while making his first career start. 

The Ducks (2-2) made Montez look like a future Heisman Trophy candidate while appearing to be desperately searching for answers to slow down a team Oregon had routinely walloped since 2011. 

UO defensive coordinator Brady Hoke, when asked if the Ducks had the types of impact playmakers on defense it needs responded: "I'm not sure about that."

Translation: "No."

Said coach Mark Helfrich when presented with the same question: "We are still searching for that pass rusher, or that cover guy."

The Ducks need some Haloti Ngatas, Matt Toeainas, Nick Reeds, DeForest Buckners or Arik Armsteads on the defensive line. A Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso, Casey Matthew or Joe Walker at linebacker would help. The secondary desperately needs an Ifo Ekpre-Olamu, a Jairus Byrd, a T.J. Ward or a Patrick Chung. 

The absence of th0se types of players is glaring. And keep in mind that a lot of those players played with others from that group. The Ducks are searching for just one of that caliber at the moment. 

Consequently, for the second consecutive game the defense blew a lead in the fourth quarter by surrendering a long drive. Colorado, trailing 38-34, drove 70 yards in seven plays to go ahead 41-38. Colorado didn't face a third down on the drive until the play when Montez threw a 31-yard touchdown to end the drive. 

Last week, Nebraska drove 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter with the Ducks clinging to a 32-28 lead. On the drive, Nebraska converted on a fourth down with nine yards to go to set up a 34-yard touchdown run right up the middle by quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.

Nobody stepped up. Nobody made an impact play. The Ducks had to rely on the quarterback and the offense to win and they no longer have Marcus Mariota back there to be that guy. 

So what has happened to the defense? Recruiting star rankings aren't everything, but the Ducks have not had great success landing dominant four-star recruits on defense in recent years. The Ducks signed 20 four-star recruits and one one five-star player from 2013 through 2015, the classes that should make up the bulk of the 2016 defense. Of those 21 just six came on defense. 

  • 2013: The Ducks signed seven four-star players, with just three on defense, along with five-star running back Thomas Tyner. Safety Tyree Robinson is a solid starter. His twin brother Tyrell, however, now plays at Fresno State. Linebacker Torrodney Prevot, who never developed into a starter, has been suspended indefinitely pending legal proceedings.
  • 2014: Junior college transfer defensive end Tui Talia was the lone defender among five four-star recruits. He exhausted his eligibility last season.
  • 2015: Oregon signed eight four star recruits with just two on defense. Defensive lineman Canton Kaumatule, expected to be the next Buckner or Armstead, has been a non-factor with one tackle this season. Cornerback Ugo Amadi is a part-time starter who has yet to come of age.

The 2012 class had 10 four-star recruits with four on defense. They included defensive linemen Alex Balducci, Armstead and Buckner, who were too good to redshirt and are now gone. Armstead and Buckner were first-round picks by the San Francisco 49ers. Those are the types of players Oregon's is missing.  

Keep in mind that the 2014 defense that helped the Ducks reach the national title game had five starters who were four-star recruits; Armstead, Buckner, Balducci, Olomu and safety Erick Dargan. 

This is not to say that some budding stars don't exist on Oregon's roster. Hoke said not having the pass rushing abilities of redshirt sophomore Jalen Jelks (two sacks against Virginia) against both Colorado and Nebraska hurt and causes the defense to search for more exotic ways to create pressure, which can expose other areas of a defense. 

Freshman safety Brenden Schooler and freshman linebacker Troy Dye each made great plays on interceptions in the third quarter, and have the look of being potential superstars. Their plays keyed a run of 21 consecutive points that gave the Ducks a 38-33 late in the third quarter.

"Those two interceptions were big keys in the game," Dye said. "The crowd got back into it. We just kind of fed off of that and the defense got multiple stops."

But neither is yet the type of player opposing teams must alter their game plans for. There isn't one player like that on a defense, but it is young. Oregon could return nine or 10 starters next season. Maybe a couple will develop into stars capable of changing the entire dynamic of the defense. 

Right now, all of the misfires provide teaching moments for a defense learning how to make plays in order to get off the field in critical moments.  

"Those are gut punches that you have to overcome," Helfrich said. "That's kind of what we're talking about in terms of growing up. You have to bounce back from that."

That's easier to do with great players consistently making great plays. 

How good can the Ducks' future be as long as they're living in the past?

How good can the Ducks' future be as long as they're living in the past?

When Oregon lost head coach Chip Kelly to the National Football League, it lost a heck of a coach. Everybody knows that.

The Ducks also lost the seminal figure in their surge to becoming both a consistent national power and one of the most fun teams to watch in college football. Kelly was to Oregon what Steve Jobs was to Apple -- a unique innovator who always seemed to be one step ahead of the competition. His teams were prepared, smart and difficult to predict. Just when you thought you had him figured out, he came up with something else.

It was as if he was that late friend of mine, who used to say, “Just when you think you have all the answers, I CHANGE THE QUESTIONS!”

And in his absence, Oregon football has tried its best to maintain Kelly's aura by continuing to stick to his style. But the style without the designer is a cheap imitation. A knockoff. And that's what Duck football has become -- a product that looks on the surface just like the ones Kelly created, but without the substance and innovation that made the whole thing work in the first place. They have nobody now who can CHANGE THE QUESTIONS!

I don't know what to think of Coach Mark Helfrich. He talks a good game. He takes responsibility, as he should, when things don't go well. He obviously knows football way better than you and me, But there's something missing. And in a lot of the ways you measure the impact of coaches, he doesn't measure up very well.

I've always looked at penalties as a measure of the preparation and discipline level of football teams -- a direct result of coaching.  The Ducks are averaging 11 penalties per game, 125th in the country and ahead of only Arkansas State, San Diego State and Marshall. Seriously, that's brutal. Oregon came out Saturday afternoon not ready for Colorado, which was starting a freshman backup at quarterback. The Buffaloes jumped them early and took control of the game. And the Ducks, with the game seemingly in their grasp, couldn't execute late in the game to win it.

Yes, quarterback Dakota Prukop tossed up the football equivalent of an air-balled free throw in the end zone, leaving a fade pass woefully short. But was it the right call? Was Prukop prepared to make such a throw? We'll never know, but I believe it's a reason that going out and grabbing a Big Sky quarterback who was a graduate transfer as a one-season fix is probably not the way a big-time program should go about its business. Prukop is new enough to the program that I'm not certain the coaches could ever have known what he's capable (or not capable) of doing late in a Pac-12 game.

Recruiting is a big part of the coach's job and for me, the mere fact of a program of this nature having to go out two years in a row to the Rent-A-Quarterback store in the Big Sky Conference is a sign things aren't going well in that department.

The defense is as big a problem this season as it was last year -- perhaps even worse, as the Ducks seem stuck in a rather static 4-3 that doesn't get much pressure on the quarterback and seems to grow confused in zone coverage. There are only two ways out of that problem -- recruit better players or talk Nick Aliotti out of retirement. The former is much more likely than the latter, I would assume.

The offense, though, has been this team's identity for years and it's not hitting on all cylinders, either. And with that defense, the offense must get much, much more efficient for Oregon to end up on the winning side of the scoreboard.

And this is where Kelly is missed the most. This coaching staff is still trying to to run Chip's stuff without Chip and I don't think that's going well. The tempo is inconsistent and that doesn't matter, anyway, because everyone has caught up to the whole play-fast deal. The play calling is pedestrian and where Kelly always seemed to be outside the box and difficult to predict, the Ducks now seem at a loss at times about how they want to attack.

For all their playmakers on offense, Oregon ranks tied for 69th in the country in third-down conversion percentage. Part of that, of course, is not getting many yards on first and second down. That's when Oregon seems at its offensive worst, by the way -- first and second down, where the conservative side of the coaching staff seems to have a death grip on the offense.

Chip Kelly built Oregon into a feared national powerhouse and an offensive juggernaut. We won't ever know if he could have kept the Ducks on top -- only a select few programs can maintain that excellence over an extended time.

But I do think we know by now that Helfrich hasn't been able to do it. That's not an indictment, really. Apple still hasn't recovered from losing Steve Jobs, either.

Ducks lose to Colorado for the first time since Buffs joined PAC-12

Ducks lose to Colorado for the first time since Buffs joined PAC-12

Colorado 41, Oregon 38

How Oregon lost: The Ducks (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) played their worst game of the season on both sides of the ball while Colorado (3-1, 1-0) put on a show on offense despite being without starting quarterback Sefo Liufau (ankle).

Freshman Steven Montez didn't look anything like the player who misfired on all seven of his pass attempts at No. 4 Michigan last week after Liufau went down while leading the Bufflaoes to a 31-17 lead in the third quarter. 

But then the Ducks forced a couple of turnovers in the third quarter, got hot on offense and pulled out to a 38-33 lead heading into the fourth quarter.  

Colorado answered with a scoring drive that set up the Ducks with a final chance to win down 41-38. Oregon drove to the Colorado seven-yard line and faced a first down and goal to go. On first down, quarterback Dakota Prukop threw a fade pass to the left corner of the end zone that was intended for wide receiver Darren Carrington II. The pass was poorly underthrown, resulting in an interception by cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon with 48 seconds remaining in the game. 

What it means: Oregon loses to Colorado for the first time since the Buffaloes joined the Pac-12 in 2011, and the first time since the 1998 Aloha Bowl. 

Key sequence: Oregon trailed 33-17 after Montez threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to a diving Devin Ross with 12:59 remaining in the third quarter. 

Oregon was then forced to punt and Colorado went on the move again. But Montez got greedy with a deep pass down the right sideline that UO freshman cornerback Brenden Schooler intercepted at the 13-yard line and returned to the Oregon 49. Five plays later UO running back Tony Brooks-James scored from one yard out to make the score 33-24, Colorado. 

The Ducks' defense then forced Colorado to punt for the first time on the day. Oregon took that offering and marched 74 yards on 10 plays, ending the drive with a three-yard touchdown run by running back Kani Benoit to trim Colorado's lead to 33-31.

Oregon's defense stepped up again. On Colorado's next possession, UO freshman linebacker Troy Dye intercepted a Montez pass at the Colorado 27.  A couple of plays later, Prukop hit Carrington in the left corner of the end zone to give the Ducks a 38-33 lead with 38 seconds remaining in the third quarter. 

All told, Oregon scored three touchdowns in 6 minutes and 8 seconds of action during its run. 

Play of the game: The Ducks trailed 23-7 in the second quarter and lined up to punt when the Ducks went to their bag of tricks. Middle linebacker Danny Mattingly, as the upback, took the direct snap and rumbled through a gaping hold for 29 yards to the Colorado 28. Two plays later Prukop hit Carrington for a 25-yard touchdown pass that trimmed Oregon's deficit to 23-14. 

High flying Ducks: Prukop got off to a slow start but finished the game with 293 yards on 22-of-33 passing with two touchdowns and one interception. 

Brooks-James didn't start but he led the team with 120 yards on 16 carries. 

Dye led UO with 10 tackles and a sack after not playing defense last year. Middle linebacker A.J. Hotchkins returned to action with nine tackles. 

Darren Carrington caught two touchdown passes. 

Fowl play: Oregon's defense, save for the forced turnovers in the third quarter, didn't look strong at all. The Ducks allowed Montez to  pass for 217 yards in the first half before he finished with 333 on 23-of-22 passing with three touchdown passes and two interceptions.

Colorado amassed 593 yards of offense. Oregon had 508.  

The Ducks couldn't keep track of wide receiver Devin Ross, who caught seven passes for 153 yards and a touchdown.  

Next up: Oregon plays next Saturday at Washington State (1-2). The Cougars were off this week.  

UO RB Royce Freeman to sit out Colorado game

UO RB Royce Freeman to sit out Colorado game

Oregon junior running back Royce Freeman, who left last Saturday's 35-32 loss at Nebraska in the first quarter with a lower leg injury, will not play today when the Ducks host Colorado at Autzen Stadium, according to sources. 

Freeman, who was just announced as the starter during pregame and appeared on the field during warmups in full uniform, but not in cleats, is expected to make a full recovery from the undisclosed injury. 

Kani Benoit was announced as the starter. 

Freeman gained 31 yards on five carries at Nebraska before leaving the game. Oregon's running game performed well without him and should again today. 

Benoit had 100 yards on six carries with a long of 46 and a touchdown run of 41 yards. Redshirt sophomore Tony Brooks-James scored three touchdowns while carrying the ball seven times for 37 yards. Sophomore Taj Griffin had eight carries for 71 yards and scored on a 50-yard run.

 

UO game prediction: Ducks could be tested by rebuilt Colorado

UO game prediction: Ducks could be tested by rebuilt Colorado

To say Oregon has owned Colorado in recent meetings could be declared an understatement. 

The Ducks have won six consecutive games against Colorado in decisive fashion dating back to Oregon's 38-16 win over the Buffaloes in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl. The five meetings came after Colorado joined the Pac-12 in 2011. 

Look at these ugly scores:

  • 2011: 45-2.
  • 2012: 70-14.
  • 2013: 57-16.
  • 2014: 44-10.
  • 2015: 41-20.

Oregon's last loss to Colorado came in the 1998 Aloha Bowl by the score of 51-48. It's quite possibly that could change on Saturday if quarterback Sefo Liufau overcomes an ankle injury to play.  

Notice that Colorado (2-1) put up 20 points on Oregon last season thanks in part to the development of Liufau, who has taken a great leap this season. 

Liufau passed for 246 yards and three touchdowns during a 45-28 loss at No. Michigan before injuring his ankle and leaving the game in the third quarter. 

The Ducks (2-1) could easily surrender 40-plus points to a Liufau-led Buffaloes team. Oregon's defense is battling some injuries of its own and hasn't played well to start the season

Scoring on Colorado might be more difficult than it was in the past. The Buffaloes have allowed just 19.7 points per game compared to 29.7 allowed for Oregon. 

No matter how you slice it, this could be the most competitive Oregon-Colorado game in nearly 20 years. 

Here is a quick look at the matchup:

Oregon vs. Colorado

When: 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Autzen Stadium.   

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Oregon by 10 1/2.

Records: Oregon (2-1), Buffaloes (2-1). 

Coaches: Oregon's Mark Helfrich (35-9); Colorado's Mike MacIntyre (12-29 at Colorado, 28-49 lifetime). 

Last week: Oregon lost 35-32 at No. 20 Nebraska. Colorado lost 45-28 at No. 4 Michigan.  

Buffaloes' impact players: Liufau could put Oregon's secondary to the test. He has several talented receivers to work, led by Devin Ross and Shay Fields. Ross leads the team with 18 receptions and has 202 yards and four touchdowns. Fields leads the team with 256 yards on nine receptions with one touchdown. 

But let's say that Liufau does not play. In that case, Oregon would see freshman Steven Montez, a former three-star recruit out of El Paso, Texas.  He missed on all seven of his pass attempts against Michigan in relief of Liufau. The week before against Idaho State, Montez completed six-of-10 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. 

Chances are he is far from ready to lead a team to victory at Autzen Stadium. 

Fear factor (five-point scale): 3 with Liufau, 1 without.  Liufau could get the Buffaloes in position to pull off an upset at Oregon. Montez has no chance. 

Final prediction: Oregon 47, Colorado 34 with Liufau in action. Oregon 47, Colorado 24 if Montez starts.  Oregon running back Royce Freeman is a game-time decision but his absence likely wouldn't matter much for the Ducks in this contest. 

Time's up for Ducks' defense, improve or be destroyed

Time's up for Ducks' defense, improve or be destroyed

Oregon's defense had better get its act together in a hurry or the Ducks could be in a world of hurt and will not contend for a Pac-12 championship.

So far, the defense grades out at a D-minus. At best. 

Oregon through three games has not demonstrated marked improvement on defense over last year's dismal showing that led to the demotion of former defensive coordinator Don Pellum and to the hiring of Brady Hoke, who has installed the 4-3 defense after jettisoning the 3-4. 

The Ducks, after blowing a fourth-quarter lead to lose 35-32 at No. 20 Nebraska on Saturday, rank 84th in the nation in scoring defense (29.7 points per game) and 82nd in total defense (402.7 yards per game), and that's after playing arguably the weakest three-game stretch on their schedule. 

Hoke said Thursday that his unit is still working on mastering fundamental elements of playing defense such as being more aggressive against the run. 

"We get guys off blocks," he said. "We've got to be more impactful at the point of impact."

Oregon didn't do that all too well against Nebraska on the Cornhuskers' final drive. The Ducks' offense marched 97 yards to give Oregon a 32-28 lead only to then watch Oregon's defense surrender an 80-yard scoring drive on 11 plays to lose the game. 

No offense to Nebraska, but its offense has nothing on Oregon's next five opponents. The Ducks' next face five of the top 26 scoring offenses in the country starting with Colorado (3-0) at home Saturday afternoon. Here is a look at what lay ahead on Oregon's schedule. 

  • Colorado: 26th in total offense (500 yards per game), 20th in scoring (42.7). 
  • At Washington State: 20th in total offense (514.7), 26th in scoring (42.0).
  • Washington: 61st in total offense (423), eighth in scoring (49.3).
  • At California: No. 3 in total offense (580.3), 10th in scoring (47.0). 
  • Arizona State: 17th in total offense (525.7), ninth in scoring (48.0). 

Oregon's offense is on point, even with a young offensive line and new quarterback. The Ducks rank 19th in scoring (43.0) and 10th in total offense (545.3). The Ducks might need every bit of their offensive prowess in order to win against their next five opponents. 

There have been signs of some improvement on defense over last season. Then again, how could the Ducks not have improved over last year when the defense ranked 115th in scoring defense and 116th in total defense. However, UO played stronger offenses to begin last season starting with Eastern Washington, a far tougher FCS opponent than UC Davis. 

To get a further idea of where Oregon's defense sits, consider that No. 8 Washington has allowed 10 points per game, No. 7 Stanford has allowed 11.5, Utah has given up 12, Oregon State is allowing just18.5 and Colorado had given up 19.7.  Of course, strength of opponents vary by team, but Oregon has played just one strong team, Nebraska. 

Virginia, Oregon's second opponent this season, ranks 118th in scoring offense (18.7), 97th in total offense (357) and 109th in rushing offense (123.7). Yet the Cavaliers put up 26 points, 388 total yards and 193 rushing yards during a 44-26 loss at Oregon.

Not good. 

To be fair, Oregon is very much a defense in transition with six new front-seven starters. Plus, the injury bug has hit. Starting linebackers Troy Dye and A.J. Hotchkins have missed time. Plus, there's already been juggling going on in the secondary, which battled injuries and inconsistency last season. 

Hoke deserves time to rebuild the defense and next year's unit should be stronger with the expected return of as many as 10 starters. 

However, linebackers coach and former defensive coordinator Don Pellum wasn't given the benefit of the doubt when last year's defensive secondary had three new starters who clearly weren't ready for the responsibility and routinely got lit up by opposing quarterbacks. Pellum's demotion came despite his defense performing well in 2014 when the Ducks allowed 23.5 points per game while working their way to the national championship game. 

Pellum took the fall for 2015, but as we're seeing, even an experienced former head coach with a defensive background like Hoke is struggling with having many inexperienced players and dealing with the pressure placed on the defense by Oregon's fast-paced offense. 

All of those issues, and an improved but still developing secondary with as many as eight players in rotation, will be further exposed by Pac-12 opponents. 

Colorado is up first. Its star quarterback, Sefo Liufau is a game-time decision with an ankle injury suffered at Michigan, according to coach Mike MacIntyre. If he plays, the Ducks could be in serious jeopardy of losing. Liufau threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns at Michigan before going down.  

"The've played real well," Hoke said of Colorado. "They've hit a lot of big plays. That's what they do."

So far, what Oregon doesn't do is stop opposing offenses. That had better change or the Ducks' bid for a Pac-12 title could end within the next five weeks.