The players may not start classes until the last week in September (all public universities in Oregon have three ten week quarters rather than the more usual fifteen week semesters so they start and end the academic year later), but the Ducks have their first major test this Saturday.
After blowing out Columbia River rival, Washington, and Utah State at home, Oregon leaves the comforts of Autzen behind and travels to West Lafayette, Indiana to play the Purdue Boilermakers.
There is a lot to like so far about this Oregon team, though there have been some hiccups that underdog Purdue is no doubt eager to exploit.
The good news is that Justin Roper has staked his claim to the starting quarterback spot despite a concussion suffered against the Huskies. D
espite throwing two interceptions, Roper has had full command of Oregon’s spread option scheme. The timing and rhythm are there for the Ducks whenever he is in the backfield. Though a far cry from Dennis Dixon, Roper even managed 35 yards and a touchdown on the ground against the Aggies.
Oregon has found several consistent play makers on offense, and the o-line is at full strength.
The defense has also played well, allowing less than 20 points to opposing offenses in both games this season (one of Utah State’s touchdowns was a recovered fumble in the end zone). Neither of the Ducks opponents gained a hundred yards on the ground.
Special teams have been good, if not great. Matt Evenson improved on a shaky opening week to go 9-9 on extra points and 1-1 on field goals against Utah State.
Not everything has gone Oregon’s way, though. The Ducks best play maker at tailback, Jeremiah Johnson, injured his shoulder against the Aggies, though thankfully he will play at Purdue. The defense has gone to sleep at times in the second quarter of games, and the highly regarded Ducks secondary has yet to intercept a pass.
It is difficult to judge Purdue at this point in the season with their only game so far being against Northern Colorado. Curtis Painter is still his old self, however, leading a high octane passing attack for the Boilermakers.
This game is a terrific opportunity for Oregon’s secondary to show they really are one of the elite groups in the country. How the Boilermaker’s defense will perform against higher-caliber competition is still unknown though.
All the normal clichés about how to win at football (turnovers, special teams, execution, yadda yadda) apply even more on the road, especially when travelling across time zones.
When Purdue has the ball it will be a match up of strength against strength, with Painter and his receivers trying to exploit Oregon’s secondary and keep the Ducks pass rush in check. There is no doubt that the Boilermakers will move the ball through the air.
Oregon’s best bet on defense is to get consistent pressure on the quarterback to stop drives cold with forced interceptions or sacks to get Purdue out of down and distance. The Ducks cannot afford to let Purdue’s running game get going. Dealing with the Boilermakers passing offense is enough to worry about. If they can mix it up, they will score in bunches.
It all comes down to defense if Purdue wants to pull the upset. Oregon’s spread option can strike quickly enough to keep up with the Boilermakers in a shootout. If the Ducks can consistently move the ball on every drive and keep Painter on the sidelines they have a good chance of keeping Purdue at arm’s length.
Even though the Ducks gain most of their yards on the ground, they tend not to possess the ball very long. The best way to make up for that is to score early and often and Oregon has the players to do it. If it is a close game, Oregon has a slight edge in a duel of kickers.
If the Ducks can build a lead early and keep up with Purdue’s offense, they will pass this test with flying colors. What they cannot afford to do is get into a shootout where the last team with the ball wins, because Purdue has what it takes to get it done in crunch time.
MY VERDICT: Oregon Ducks 34, Purdue Boilermakers 24