oregon sports

X-factors in Oregon’s matchup with the Virginia Cavaliers

Headed out east

The Oregon Ducks are coming off of a dominant performance against the Nicholls State Colonels, in which they scored 66 points and held their FCS opponents to just a field goal.

The Ducks will face their first test in Week 2 against the Virginia Cavaliers, and while we should see another strong showing, there are a few factors that will determine how successful this team can be.

Crowd Management, Strong Start

Virginia will have home-field advantage against the Ducks. The question is: Will it help?

Virginia will have home-field advantage against the Ducks. The question is: Will it help?

One of the Ducks’ staples year after year is a strong home-field advantage. Everybody knows that Oregon has been dominant at Autzen Stadium, but most forget that it has been even more successful on the road in the regular season.

The Ducks haven’t lost a traditional road game since Nov. 7, 2009. It was a shootout against the Stanford Cardinal, and with the exception of LSU in 2011 (played at Cowboys Stadium), they’ve been perfect ever since.

Oregon has been elite away from Autzen, and the key to keeping that theme true will be getting off to a strong start. We saw the Ducks start slowly when they travelled to Tennessee, and while they ultimately got the job done, it would have been a stronger performance if we’d seen the high-octane offense strike early.

Taking the crowd out of the game in the first half will help Oregon walk away with a double-digit victory. A win is a win, but a convincing win keeps pollsters happy.

Making Plays in Space

Virginia will be a bigger test than Nicholls State—that goes without saying. The Cavaliers have better athletes, more experience and a home crowd that is ready to erupt every time the team gets a stop.

All that said, if the Ducks can get their playmakers out in space, this one has the makings of a blowout written all over it.

In Week 1, Virginia kept BYU from getting the ball to its athletes in space. Against Oregon, that’s going to be a much bigger challenge. The Ducks shine when it comes to utilizing their speed and athleticism, which means the Cavaliers will have a much tougher time keeping everything up front.

For that reason, expect to see De’Anthony Thomas earning more time in the slot. He is the most dangerous playmaker on the team—if not the country—and while it was nice to see him adopt the role of an every-down back against the Colonels, he’ll be utilized in a different fashion against a bigger defense.

It’s also important to note that freshman phenom Thomas Tyner is expected to play after sitting out the opener with an injury.

He and Byron Marshall have the bodies to deal with bigger defensive lines, and while De’Anthony Thomas proved he can carry the load, keeping Thomas out of harm’s way is going to be ideal the rest of the season.

Red Zone Defense

In the matchup against Nicholls State, the Ducks held their season-opening opponent to just a field goal. The biggest reason for the defensive success? Oregon never allowed the Colonels inside their own 10-yard line.

Despite the lopsided victory, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti stated that the Ducks gave up too many plays. It sounds like a foolish statement following a 63-point win, but in all honesty, his dispassionate analysis is spot on.

Against Virginia, missed tackles are going to mean more than they did last week. The category here is red zone defense, but the more appropriate phrasing should be “keeping Virginia out of the red zone.”

This isn’t to say that the Ducks can’t stop a bigger team inside the 10-yard line; it’s to say that the team is much better off if it doesn’t have to.

De'Anthony Thomas is as fast as it comes. (Photo: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports)

De’Anthony Thomas is as fast as it comes. (Photo: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports)

Turnovers

One way or the other, turnovers will likely be a theme come Saturday.

If the Ducks are the ones playing sloppy football, we’re looking at a contest that will be decided by a much smaller margin than some anticipate. If the Ducks are forcing turnovers, as we’ve seen them do in recent years, the Cavaliers don’t stand a chance.

If Oregon does get careless with the ball, it has the weapons to keep the game in its favor. However, that’s a scenario the team would love to avoid on the road.

Tempo

By this point, we all know that the Ducks are most comfortable when they’re playing an up-tempo style. We saw it during the entire Chip Kelly era, and we saw it again in Week 1 against Nicholls State when the team scored 66 points in fewer than 20 minutes of possession.

Against Virginia, the best way to keep the crowd out of it is to score early. In order to score early, the Ducks must slap the Cavaliers in the face before they know what hit them.

Virginia is going to offer more size than Nicholls State did, and for that reason, going up the middle won’t be as successful. Remember how the team will try and get Thomas out in space? Getting him there quickly will cause the Cavs’ heads to spin right off their shoulders.

Oregon runs the blur offense for a reason, and that reason is that it’s incredibly dangerous. This is arguably the most potent offense in the country, and the team must take advantage of it against Virginia.

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About Bryant Knox

NWSB Editor. Portland native and Oregon graduate, On a non-stop mission to consume as much Ducks+Trail Blazers content as humanly possible. His love of sports is what attracts him to the game, passion for writing drives him to uncover the stories. Connect w/ Bryant today!
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