Posted on November 26, 2020
That name, however, will no longer be used moving forward in association with the annual renewal of this rivalry. For the time being, it is simply a storied matchup between two in-state rivals that has seen Oregon dominate this series in recent years, as the Ducks have won 11 of the last 12 meetings since 2008.
In 2020, the overwhelming expectation is for Oregon to extend that mark to 12 wins in the last 13 years, though if last week’s game vs. UCLA was a true indication of where the Ducks are at heading into Friday’s contest, it will be a safe bet to expect some fireworks and some nail-biting in Corvallis.
Below and over at WFOD, I examine the burning questions facing Oregon as they take the short trip north to face Oregon State.
1. How healthy is Noah Sewell?
All eyes will be on Oregon true freshman linebacker Noah Sewell Friday night in Corvallis, as the former five-star prospect is expected to re-assume his starting spot in the middle of the Ducks’ defense. The fact we’re even talking about Sewell being available for this game feels like a minor miracle, as the lower leg injury he suffered against the Bruins appeared to be quite serious in nature.
Yet, despite being tended to by Oregon medical personnel on the turf and ultimately carted off the field, Sewell appeared “normal” per Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal when the Ducks returned to the practice field on Monday.
We discussed earlier in the week just how vital Sewell’s presence on the field is for an Oregon defense that has hardly looked like the dominating force it was expected to be entering the 2020 season. Despite a handful of key players either graduating or opting out of the season due to concerns surrounding COVID-19, few anticipated the Ducks to be this leaky and disorganized on the defensive side of the ball.
Sewell, however, has been one of the few bright spots for this unit alongside established stars such as Kayvon Thibodeaux and Deommodore Lenoir.
With him, the Ducks are in a far better position to slow down Oregon State star running back Jermar Jefferson, who currently leads the Pac-12 in both rushing yards (449) and rushing touchdowns (5). Without him, the Ducks are without one of their most intimidating and productive defenders who has been critical in preventing this defense from completely bursting at the seams.
2. Can the Ducks find a way to bottle up Oregon State’s Jermar Jefferson?
Noah Sewell’s availability is a major component to the Ducks’ plans to slow down Beavers running back Jermar Jefferson, but the rest of the defense has to come along for the ride if Oregon is to stand any chance of corralling the Oregon State ground game.
Through three games this season, the Ducks have been less than impressive when it comes to slowing down opposing rushing attacks. Against Stanford, the Ducks surrendered 100 yards and two touchdowns to Cardinal running back Austin Jones, who only managed to gain nine yards on nine carries against Colorado the following week.
At Washington State, the Ducks allowed Cougars backup running back Deon McIntosh to gain 92 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries. Last week, vs. UCLA, the Ducks had absolutely no answer for Bruins ball carrier Demetric Felton, who notched career-highs in carries (34), rushing yards (167), and rushing touchdowns (2) as UCLA as a team piled up 267 yards on the ground.
If the Ducks have any hope of limiting Jefferson’s rushing totals on Black Friday, the front seven has to be far more consistent in winning their one-on-one matchups and tackling has to drastically improve across the board.
3. Will the Oregon offensive line re-establish its dominance in the trenches?
Not only did the Oregon defense get bullied in the trenches last week vs. UCLA, but the Oregon offense was victimized in similar fashion up front. Through the first two weeks, a person would have been hard pressed to find an issue with the performance of the Ducks’ completely rebuilt offensive line.
Rotating six regulars along the line of scrimmage, Oregon blasted its way to 538 yards and six touchdowns on the ground while allowing Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough to be sacked just once in those two games.
All that momentum came to a screeching halt last Saturday against the Bruins, however, as the Ducks managed just 88 yards via the ground game, while Shough was sacked four times. Ducks fans will take a measure of solace in the fact that the Beavers’ rush defense has actually fared worse than the Ducks this season, surrendering just over 206 yards per game against opponents to rank 10th in the Pac-12.
If Oregon is unable to “get right” against an Oregon State group that appears very gettable, it might be a sign of bigger issues for this unit over the second half of the season.
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