The Black Mamba returns this Saturday
Time: 1:00 PM Saturday, August 31st
Place: Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: KXTG 750
Spread: Oregon -58 (according to vegasinsider.com)
This is the season opener for both Nicholls State and Oregon, and the matchup pits together a pair of teams that have never met on the gridiron.
There are several intriguing storylines, with the most obvious one being that Saturday will bring us our first glimpse of what both these programs will look like in 2013.
The Ducks are coming off a 2012 season that saw them finish 12-1 with a victory over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Hopes are high in Eugene that this year's team can carry the mantle of making it to yet another BCS game.
The Colonels find themselves in the midst of a two-year stretch that has seen just two victories total. The last look we had at this team was in Corvallis last season, where the Oregon State Beavers dished up a 77-3 beatdown.
The biggest question surrounding Oregon: what will the Ducks look like in their first live action in the post-Kelly era? Does the team appear to be picking up from where it left off last season, or will it experience a few growing pains as players continue making the transition to the new coaching regime?
For the Colonels, the only real question is how long they can stay in the game. If the Ducks haven't blown this thing wide open by halftime, that's probably as good as they could hope for. It would also be a good sign that 2013 may be the season in which things begin to slowly turn around for the program.
Mariota playing well is always a key to an Oregon victory
The key to a Ducks' victory is pretty simple really: the team needs to show up, stay focused and be excited to play some meaningful football.
This game should get out of hand rather quickly, and you're kidding yourself if you think otherwise. But that doesn't mean the Ducks can get away with a sluggish performance. Sure, it will still mean a win at the end of the day, but the key to actually winning the day is to come out fired up about the start of the season.
Think back to last year, when Arkansas State arrived in Autzen and found itself down 50-3 midway through the second quarter. That burst out of the gate set the tone for the entire season. The Ducks need to set a standard in game one that sloppy play is not okay and mistakes must be learned from regardless of the opponent.
In short, the key to actually winning the game is simply showing up and running through the motions. But the key to starting the season off right is having a crisp and complete effort that leaves little doubt about how good the team can be this season.
I don't know about you, but I'm just not seeing any sort of path that leads the Colonels to a victory.
They simply don't have the talent to keep up on the field, and if Oregon State's 77-3 victory last season is any indication, this one could get real ugly.
The key for Nicholls State starts with taking things one play at a time. The Ducks are going to get big plays here and there, which happens against most opponents, but the ones that dig themselves a huge hole are the ones who can't recover from the big play and subsequently allow another one.
The Colonels must do everything they can to keep things in front of them on defense. Giving up a 10-yard play is better than giving up a 45-yard play, and it extends the drive thus giving the Ducks additional opportunities to make mistakes. The defense has to constantly be ripping at the ball to try to cause fumbles.
On offense, the Colonels won't have a lot of time with the Ducks' defensive line applying enormous pressure. Quarterback Beaux Hebert has to get rid of the ball quickly and hope that his playmakers can find some room to work with. Lastly, the offense should be throwing the kitchen sink at the Ducks' defense, hoping to cause a breakdown in the secondary earning an easy score or two.
But I'll repeat: Oregon's worst possible effort combined with Nicholls State's best game ever still doesn't equal a Colonels victory. But that doesn't mean they won't have a specific game plan heading into Saturday. If the team can execute that game plan and give a full effort for 60 minutes, the coaches will be happy.
Is Byron Marshall primed for a breakout year?
The Oregon Ducks' depth chart for week one can be viewed here.
Players to Watch
RB Byron Marshall
Marshall is a physical running back with deceptive open-field speed who's coming off a promising freshman season. He began the year looking tentative, but his progress was evident as he soon began hitting holes earlier and running harder. Despite De'Anthony Thomas being listed as the starter, Marshall is expected to get a good chunk of the workload in the running game.
In this first game against Nicholls State, look for Marshall to run with confidence and get north and south quickly. This is a game that Marshall should dominate when he has the ball.
DT Arik Armstead
Armstead being listed ahead of Ricky Heimuli comes as a bit of a surprise, but it should also excite fans that the sophomore appears to be making significant strides in his game. Again, given the opponent, this is a contest that Armstead should dominate on every play.
He's not going to notch six sacks, but look for him to get a push on nearly every down and fully control the line of scrimmage with the rest of the defensive line.
DE (OLB) Christian French
French, a 6'4", 244-pound sophomore, has a wealth of talent and this Saturday could be his chance to really start showing it. The starter at the position is Tony Washington, but the backups are going to get plenty of reps. And if French is as good as his talent level would indicate, he should stick out amongst the second-stringers.
At his position, he can impact the game in so many ways, from getting to the quarterback to covering the flats and securing the edge against the running backs. I expect French to have a big game on Saturday.
Player profiles on depth chart information were obtained from the Nicholls State media guide, which can be found here.
Players to Watch
RB Marcus Washington
Washington is a senior running back who finally gets his chance to the primary back for the Colonels. He earned All-Southland honors in 2011 and made the honorable mention list in 2012, so look for him to get plenty of touches as the team helps break in first-year starter Beaux Hebert at quarterback.
S T.J. Lumar
Lumar is part of a trio of senior safeties that make the Colonels' secondary dangerous. Lumar had 43 tackles last season while also notching two interceptions and a pair of forced fumbles. Causing turnovers is one of the few ways that Nicholls State can hang around for awhile, so look for Lumar to be flying to the ball on defense.
K Andrew Dolan
If the Colonels do manage to move the ball into Oregon territory, they'll have a weapon in Dolan who can put points on the board. The preseason All-Southland kicker finished last season by hitting 7-of-8 field goals, and he led the team in points as well with 51.
Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich
With the game just several days away, players and coaches have chimed in with their thoughts about the matchup.
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti told The Daily Emerald about what to expect from the Colonels' quarterback:
They do a lot of formations and a lot of groups. Because they had a new quarterback, they ran the ball with their quarterback a lot last year. So we’re anticipating that same kind of guy—kind of like what we do to a certain degree—but don’t know who that guy is yet because he didn’t play very much.
We just have to perfect what we do, and we want to be smooth in what we do. Next week, we want to work smart and hard and get their legs back because it will be a physical game.
Oregon linebacker Derrick Malone offered some insight to The Oregonian into winning the linebacker job:
I’ve been paying attention to the details. Getting treatment. Eating right. Running as hard as I can every play. Things like that. It has helped my knowledge of the game, helped my confidence. They all tie in together.
Finally, The Oregonian's Jason Quick offers up a quick preview, along with his prediction.
"It will be a day when the bench will be emptied and fans get a look at the power of the present and the potential of the future," Quick said. "Oregon 81, Nicholls 3."
LB Boseko Lokombo makes a play in the Fiesta Bowl
When Nicholls State played Oregon State last season, the game became a horror show that you just couldn't turn away from. There's no way to exaggerate how bad the Colonels were, as they gave up a score to the Beavers on every single drive except for the final one, when Oregon State ran out the clock.
And that's against a more methodical offense, too!
Against the Ducks it's going to get ugly in a hurry. I expect a special teams touchdown from either De'Anthony Thomas or Bralon Addison along with complete domination on both sides of the ball. A shutout should be the goal of the defense, although a crazy bounce here and there could put Nicholls State in position to get some points on the board.
This isn't a tough game to figure out, and the prediction is more lopsided than you're going to see all season.
Nicholls State: 3