Ed Note: Due to a pile of work on Thursday and Friday, I wasn't able to get this up on time according to the schedule. My preview of Iowa should be up later this week or next as a "bonus post."
Maize n Brew's 2007 Michigan Football Preview: Inflicting Pain on Oregon
University of Michigan v. University of Oregon
Location: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Date: September 8, 2007
Game Time: 3:30
Game #: 2
Radio: WOMC-FM and CKLW-AM
University: University of Oregon
Location: Eugene, Oregon
Team Name: Ducks
Facility: Autzen Stadium (54,000)
Number of Conference Championships: 3 Pac-10 Championships (1994, 2000, 2001); 4 Pacific Coast Conference Championships (1913, 1933, 1948, 1957)
Number of National Championships: 0
First Season of Football: 1894 (1-2-1)
Last Season: 2006 (7-6)
All Time Record: 537-460-46
Head Coach: Mike Bellotti (97-48-0) (13th year)
Versus Michigan All-Time: 1-3
So Who Are These Guys?
Ah beautiful Eugene, Oregon. Yes, it exists. It's not just the background story for Don Malarkey from Band of Brothers, it's a real place. A magical place where
Suge Phil Knight pumps his Death Row Records Nike millions into athletic budgets and pulls the strings on various hiring and firings. When Knight is not pistol whipping Vanilla Ice, stealing storied futbol programs from Adidas, or losing storied football programs to Adidas, he's making sure the Oregon football team is outfitted to demo the latest in gaudy-ass apparel before he unleashes it on an unsuspecting world. Oregon is also a school.
Supporting Oregon's playas and ballas since 1989...
A fine school at that. Located in picturesque Eugene, the university opened its doors in 1876. Today it is a world class research institution with enough graduate schools and academic programs to make it one of the nation's premier public institutions. More importantly, Animal House was filmed on Oregon's campus. For some unknown reason the dumbasses at the school allowed the Delta Tau Chi house (actually the Pi Kap's House) to be demolished instead of being turned into a national historical site along the lines of Lincoln's log cabin, the Kennedy Compound, and Bill Clinton's pants.
Should've been a national monument. Stupid hippies.
All that remains of the Delta house is a friggin plaque indicating that one of the finest achievements in filmmaking was made in and around the area of this plaque. For shame Oregon.
While not a traditional power, over the last decade the Ducks have risen from their humble nests and begun to assert themselves in the PAC 10. Oregon sports two PAC 10 titles since 2000 and has been a regular in the PAC 10 title dog fight since Bellotti's arrival. While there is no way in hell he's able to compete with the humanitarian, but who can? Oregon's missed the postseason only once since 2000. Unfortunately, they've only got one bowl win to show for it, thank you future CFL Hall of Famer Joey Harrington (hey, it kickstarted Doug Flutie's Career!).
The last memory of Oregon I have from 2006 is probably the same memory everyone else does, the Ducks getting waxed by BYU. It wasn't pretty. Sadly, it was an ingomanous end to what began as an excellent year.
Oregon started out strong in 2007, including a
questionable total crap officiating performance which didn't hand them a victory over Oklahoma but certainly assisted in their eventual victory. After a 48-13 thrashing of Arizona State in Tempe, Oregon stood at 4-0 and ranked #11 in the country. Then a pair of difficult road losses to Cal and Washington State put the Ducks at 5-2 and 25th. Token victories over Portland State and Washington only set the stage for a 35-10 throttling at the hands of USC. Then the band started playing its slow, sad song. Arizona hung 37 on the Ducks and Oregon State won the annual "civil war" 30-28. That brought the Ducks to the Las Vegas Bowl and a pissed off group of mormons. Despite spiffy new uniforms the Ducks were run off the field, out of the state, and a few team members were booted from the planet altogether.
Oregon's General Zod stands trial for his horrible effort against BYU
Things didn't get easier over the offseason. Starting QB Dennis Dixon was drafted by the Braves in the 4th round despite not having played baseball in four years. Dixon got a whiff of the crazy people's money the Braves were offering him and took off for rookie ball in Florida. (As an aside, if anyone offered me $150,000 to play baseball for the summer with the promise that I'd get at least two years in the minors before they cut my ass, unless I was a surefire 2nd round pick in the NFL draft, Bye-bye.) Next, graduation put a hurting on the linebacking corps, and projected minute taker at Defensive End Dexter Manley II left town for good.
Despite their losses the Ducks should be one of the Pac 10's stronger teams this year, primarily because of the presence of Jonathan Stewart at running back and a top notch secondary. The big questions come at the defensive line and linebackers, whether new offensive coordinator Chip Kelly can implement his system, whether Dennis Dixon will continue to be an enigma, and finally whether the Offensive Line can recover from a dismal end to the season.
Mike Bellotti enters his 13th year at Oregon with a few more question marks than he'd like. For the third time in four years he's replacing his offensive coordinator. When Gary Crowton took his spread offense to LSU, Bellotti brough in Kelly from D1-AA New Hampshire. Kelly is supposed to be a spread offense whiz, but the jury's out until the results come at the D1 level. It's not like there isn't talent to use so he should be fine. The biggest question Bellotti will have to answer is on Defense. The Ducks gave up 26.5 ppg last year. At this point Bellotti is safe in Eugene. He just need defensive coaching help.
The very definition of Jekyll and Hyde. The Ducks were tops in the Pac10 with 436 yards in total offense per game but dead last in turnovers, coughing up the ball 25 times in the conference season. Overall, the Ducks turned the ball over 32 times last year, and averaged 423 yards a game. Oregon was the ultimate Bond villain. Always getting their opponent exactly where they want them only to do something stupid and end up on the wrong end of a gun.
Last year, Oregon executed Gary Crowton's circus show spread offense last year to the tune of almost 30 a game. Imagine what they could've racked up without the screw ups. This year seven starters return, but the offensive coordinator is brand spanking new and two new faces appear on the offensive line (including Left Tackle). There is talent on the wings, particularly Jaison Williams, but whether he'll be tracking down touchdown catches or opposing cornerbacks with the football is entirely up to the progression of Dennis Dixon. If the Ducks ride Jonathan Stewart like they should, it'll be a potent offense. If not, well, your guess is as good as mine.
The aforementioned Dixon returns as the incumbent starter and senior leader of the offense. While blessed unquestioned athletic ability, Dixon was also
blessed cursed with questionable decision making. Dixon statistically was decent last year, 2143 yards in the air, 442 on the ground, and a 61% completion percentage. However, Dixon also lobbed 14 INTs last year compared to 12 TDs. Over his last 6 games Dixon tossed 9 interceptions and only 2 touchdowns. In fact Dixon only accounted for two touchdowns in his last 6 games and didn't pass for more than 150 yards once. His only touchdown passes were against Portland-freakin-State and the only score in the BYU beatdown.
Obviously, he needed to work on some things. Instead of sticking around Eugene and working with his receivers this summer, Dixon bolted and went to play rookie ball in Florida. A decision that did not go over particularly well with Bellotti. Dixon will likely improve as 2007 goes on, but how much is anyone's guess and appears to be limited by Dixon's ability to concentrate on football.
Dixon during his best game of the season against Oklahoma
Dixon will be an interesting match up for Michigan. In a lot of ways he is similar to Kellen Lewis at Indiana. Talent and ability wise, they match up fairly well. However, at this stage its arguable that Lewis is the better QB. Dixon is mobile but isn't Troy Smith mobile or Drew Staton strong. He's got a strong arm but is bothered by pressure. Expect Michigan to bring a lot of people at Dixon to throw him off and make him wish he'd stuck around for the summer.
Jonathan Stewart is one of the best running backs in the Pac 10, and based on talent it can be argued he's one of the better tailbacks in the country. Stewart is both a "run you over" and "run around you" type back. He's got good speed to the outside of the line and through the hole, but isn't a break away back. He's balanced and very strong on his feet, combined with decent speed he's one of the premier backs in the Pac10.
The Junior tailback racked up nearly 1,000 yards last year and posted 10 TDs. The thing that seems to continually keep him from gaining better household nam recognition is the Duck's offense. Stewart is a back that is at his best when he's given the ball. Case in point, all four game Dixon got 20 or more carries last year he broke 100 yards (easily) and Oregon won the game. When the bottom fell out of the season, Stewart only got 14, 11, 17, 7 carries. Not coincidentally, Oregon lost those games. The only game out of those four where Oregon had any semblance of cohesion was the Oregon State game where Bellotti leaned on Stewart for 17 carries, 98 yards and 3 TDs, because Dixon was benched Brady Leaf was starting his first game. When Stewart has the ball in his hands, the Ducks are a dangerous team. When he doesn't, they're not.
Also garnering a significant amount of playing time will be Jeremiah Johnson, who compiled an impressive 6.3 yards per carry and 644 yards on just 103 carries. He also reached the end zone 10 times. Johnson is the burner of the two and provides an excellent change of pace for the Ducks. Expect to see plenty of him against Michigan as well.
For Oregon to win, there track record shows they'll have to establish a running game to take the pressure off of Dixon. While Oregon certainly has the backs to do it, whether or not they have the opportunity to do so is up to Chip Kelly. This duo will easily be this best running back tandem Michigan will see until the Wolverines visit Champaign.
Last year's line allowed only 16 sacks with nine of them coming against USC and BYU. It was one of the better lines Eugene has seen, and paved the way for 182 yards per game of rushing and 241 per game in the air. Not too shabby.
This line's line deals with the losses of two key starter but does return 8 of its top 10 players. The best player on the line is Left tackle Max Unger who garnered 2nd team All-Pac 10 last year. A pair of seniors in Josh Tschirgi and Geoff Schwartz return at left guard and right tackle respectively. While neither is a star in the making, both are solid, serviceable linemen for the Ducks. Last year's back up Jeff Kendall will start at Center for the Ducks in 2007, after playing in 8 games last year. Senior Pat So'oalo was also second string last year and takes over at left guard after playing in 9 games last year.
There is some depth at O-Line with gigantic JUCO junior Fenuki Tupou who could take over at left tackle and allow Unger to make the switch to Center. John Teague is a former walk on who sits second on the depth chart at guard. While not an overwhelming bunch, it is a capable unit. The loss of two top starters combined with replacing those losses with career backups does not indicate the Ducks will come close to matching their 182 a game rushing average. It should, however, be a solid line. Expect the numbers to drop a little over all and sacks to go up. At the corners, expect Michigan to bring a boat load of pressure against line, which did not represent itself well later in the year against athletic defenses.
Dropped passes last year were a serious problem for the Ducks. Despite having All Pac 10 WR Jaison Williams and his 68 catches, the Duck receivers (including Williams) dropped a considerable number of passes last year. The unit, plagued by bad QB play and mental errors, is a lot stronger than it performed last season.
Williams is the headliner of the group. 6-5 240 with break away speed. That's right, he's not just a TE pretending to be a wideout. He almost topped 1,000 yards receiving last year. If he can hold onto the ball, he'll crack that marker this year. Look for Oregon to get the ball to him as often as possible.
Also on the field will be Brian Paysinger. Paysinger is blazingly fast and possesses great size at 6-2 200. He had a decent year pulling in 34 catches, but with his speed and size a lot more is needed out of him to keep the pressure off of Williams and Dixon. Battling for the third spot will be two under achieving wideouts that should be significantly better than their career statistics. Cameron Colvin was supposed to be a can't-miss-prospect that, as a senior, has yet to
live up to his billing. Garren Strong is a similarly talented, but not as heralded, wideout who hasn't been able to turn his talent into production. Because of their experience, expect one of them to be on the field come September 8, with my money on Colvin.
Depth wise the Ducks are in good shape. Two hot dog recruits in Terrance Scott (JUCO) and Drew Davis could make immediate impacts. Davis received raves during spring practice and could force his way into the starting lineup if anyone gets hurt.
The Oregon receivers are going to be a nightmare for Michigan to cover. Williams' size advantage alone will be an issue, but with every receiver 6-1 or taller, one of Michigan's undersized CB's will be on the field most of the game. Unless Trent improves dramatically from
his toasting in the Rose Bowl and Donovan Warren turns out to be as good as his hype, the Ducks have an advantage.
In a word, "notsogood." While the Ducks do sport one of the Pac 10's better secondaries, the rest of the defense is questionable with key losses along the line and in the linebacking positions. Oregon gave up 26.5 a game last year and allowed 149 yards a game and 4.3 per carry. Both numbers were the most in the past 7 years. The unfortunate fact is Oregon returns the majority of a bad, upper classmen ladled defense that was respectable against the pass but god awful against the run and has to replace its top two tacklers. Oregon's hybrid nickel package whatever you call it defense will give quarterbacks a lot of different looks and bring a lot of pressure via the blitz, but there isn't enough pass rushing talent or run stuffing ability to be much of an improvement over last year's unit.
The weak link of this year's defense. The departure of pass rushing fool Darius Sanders who racked up 9 sacks last year leaves a fairly substantial gap in the Ducks' ability to get to the quarterback. His linemate, Junior Nick Reed will take over the role as the Ducks' primary pass rusher. However, even with Sanders' presence he only managed 3.5 sacks as a starter. JUCO transfer Will Tukuafo appears to have the inside track to start at DE. However, former starter Victor Filipe is recovered from an elbow injury that sidelined him last year. Another player who has the potential to contribute is 22 year old, 6-7 and 250 pound red shirt freshman Brandon Blair. Blair is a little on the light side, but a two year mormon mission doesn't exactly pad on the pounds. The group has potential, but has yet to realize it.
The Ducks' starting tackle will be Cole Linehan who returns from a broken foot and at 305 pounds and 6-friggin-4 will be force on the line if he is all the way back. Starting with him will be his replacement David Faaeteete, a former uber-recruit who has yet to live up to his advanced billing. The rest of the Tackles are either returning "ok" players or large incoming freshmen. On the incoming side, both Sim Fili and Myles Wade are gigantic tackles with Fili weighing in at 340! Even so, Oregon lost its best run defender to graduation and must now rely on his backups or incoming freshmen to make up for his absence.
The DL will improve later in the year, but I can't see a lot of pressure coming from the line or enough stopping power to prevent Hart/Minor/Grady from having big days.
Oregon's use of the Rover position in the secondary limits the number of linebackers Michigan will see on the field come game day. On a standard play you'll see AJ Tuitele and (likely) John Bacon line up at weak and middle linebacker with Rover Patrick Chung or SS Kwame Agyeman up near the line with them.
The graduation of the Ducks' top tackler, Blair Phillips, will definitely hurt this unit, but there is some returning, experienced talent at the frontline Linebacker position. Tuitele started eight games last year and displayed some decent instincts and quickness at the position. On the downside, Tuitele is a tad undersized at 5-11 and won't have Phillips there as protection this year.
The Ducks' MLB position seems to be falling into the hands of John Bacon, a special teams standout who grabbed a hold of the position during spring practice. Bacon wasn't a heralded recruit three years ago, but the Junior does have the size (6-3, 220ish) to play the position. Whether he's ready for the prime time is anyone's guess at this point.
Expected to start at Linebacker
After Tuitele and Bacon, the linebacking corps is extremely thin on playing experience. Primary backups Spencer Paysinger and Kevin Garrett aren't going to scare anyone yet. Paysinger was a wideout recruit who hasn't finished his transition to LB yet and Garrett is a special teams player who is big on heart, but short on size and ability.
If either of the starters go down early, the middle of the field could be a nightmare for Oregon. With a relatively thin defensive line the Ducks' Linebackers will have to be up to the task of stopping Mike Hart or whomever else shoots the gaps opened up in the running game. Additionally, the Ducks' size disadvantage at LB opens up a considerable amount of TE pass opportunities. Look for Michigan to hit this early and often until the safeties start creeping up.
The strength of the Ducks defense this year. Last year Oregon started two freshmen at corner. Usually this is a very bad thing. To the contrary it worked out spectacularly for the Ducks. Jarius Byrd hawked five INTs, 7 PBUs and 56 tackles last year. By the end of the season offenses weren't throwing his way anymore. On the other side, Walter Thurmond, played far above his freshman billing notching 9 PBUs, an INT and 67 tackles (4th on the team). Of the two, Byrd is the better pure cornerback but lacks Thurmond's afterburner. You can probably throw at Thurmond with a couple of double moves but he's got the recovery gear. Byrd is just good. Watch your ass.
Safety and Rover are equally dangerous to opposing passing games. Junior Patrick Chung is part Gazelle part Rhinoceros at the Rover position. Easily the Ducks' best defensive player Chung collected 84 tackles last year a swiped 4 passes. Chung will make lots of money at the pro level as a free or strong safety, partly because he's not afraid to play the line and stand up a running back or two.
Playing with Chung will be Strong Safety Kwame Agyeman (Sr.). Agyeman is more of a line backer than pure safety but is more than capable in the defensive backfield. Decent but not great speed, Agyeman is far better in quick reaction situations than in downfield coverage. Look for Agyeman to cover the middle of the field behind the LBs and for Michigan to go right at him in coverage. Also lining up in the backfield will be either senior FS Matt Harper or Sophomore sensation Jerome Boyd. Of the two Boyd is the more gifted athlete and wowed the Ducks' staff this spring. Harper is a Senior with plenty of playing time under his belt. Both will play a considerable amount, but as of the Michigan game, I suspect experience will win out over talent. However, for the balance of the season I think Boyd will take either Harper or Agyeman's starting spot.
The Ducks usually sport decent special teams. The kicking this year will be handled by Junior Matt Evensen who was 5/12 last year on field goals. Not the best numbers in the world but had a buttload of touchbacks on kickoff duty. Redshirt Freshman Brandon Bair could take his slot if Evensen can't pick up the accuracy. Punting look for Josh Syria, a Wooford transfer. I know little about him other than his name.
The return game will be dangerous. The Ducks are afraid to use their best players at anytime, and Jonathan Stewart and Patrick Chung handle the kick off and Punt return duties. Tears may follow if coverage is bad.
Get To Your Prediction, Jackass
Close game early, but the Ducks' lack of a run defense or pressure on Henne will turn this into a Michigan victory. The Oregon offense will be an excellent test for Michigan's new defensive line and questionable corners. Look for Michigan's safeties to get torched early while Oregon's O-line is fresh, but Michigan's depth to take over after the second half. I'm interested to see the Morgan Trent/Jaison Williams matchup.
I'll be curious to see how Dixon reacts to a real football game after a summer playing baseball. If he's on, this will be a close game. If not, it'll get ugly. Jonathan Stewart will be the Ducks' saving grace, and should keep them in the game until the line wears down.
The game will depend on Michigan's ability to control the offensive line and get Hart/Minor/Brown as many carries as possible. Oregon is very weak this year against the run and with Michigan's monstrous O-Line, the failure to exploit this advantage will not bode well for the rest of the season. Once Hart is on track, expect to see Minor and Brown getting some touches in an effort to keep Hart clear of the injury problems that dogged him in 2005 and at the end of 2006. Over the top, Arrington and Manningham should each catch their share of balls, but this will be a run oriented game. Defensively, we'll learn a lot about the secondary and the Linebackers. If Michigan can contain Stewart it is a very good sign that the run defense wasn't as decimated as people first thought. To do that Michigan's LBs will have to be very active plugging the gaps and cutting of the cut backs. In the Secondary, Oregon's height and speed will be a great early season bellweather for English's revamped corners. Please God let the safety play be better than last year. Michigan takes it.
Maize n Brew's Drink of Choice
Kyle likes to feast on the flesh of the enemy. Me? I prefer drinking beer. As our good friends from the Pacific northwest will be in town I will likely crack open a microbrew or two. The good people at the Rouge Brewery put out some excellent ales and porters.
Sooooo gooood.... Tastes like victory...
When you get to the game look for the Maize n Tailgate. The grill will be going and the beer and soda will be cold.