Coming into this weekend’s highly anticipated matchup against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, each team felt like they had something to prove to show the world that they deserve to be a top 25 contender
For the Oregon Ducks, they knew they had to come out fast, avoid getting costly penalties, and concentrate on building-up an early lead over Nebraska, while maintaining their momentum. And for the first couple of drives, the Ducks seemed to make progress towards accomplishing those goals, but then fell a little bit flat, after giving up a last minute touchdown to Nebraska just before the end of the first half.
Nebraska then went on to out play the Ducks in the second half, and were able to hold on, pulling off the 35-32 win, putting a dagger into the Oregon’s heart.
Oregon knew that they had to stop Nebraska wide receivers Jordan Westerkamp and Alonzo Moore if they wanted to keep the Cornhuskers under wraps. Unfortunately for the Ducks, Westerkamp and Moore combined for six catches, gaining 76 yards, and scoring two touchdowns. The Ducks also could not stop the Nebraska’s quarterback Tony Armstrong Jr. from executing the quarterback draw, which he used effectively to extend several Cornhusker offensive drives.
However, in comparison to Oregon’s last two games against U.C. Davis and Virginia, the Ducks showed tremendous improvement against the run on defense, even though their defense couldn’t hold against Nebraska’s quarterback sneak and their defense against the short passing game sometimes struggled. Fewer penalties and more work on defense still remains the mantra for the Ducks 2016-2017 season.
Oregon’s quarterback Dakota Prukop had a decent game, although he had difficulty at times in making quick decisions and missed a few big yardage attempts by either under/over throwing the ball to wide open receivers. And by Prukop’s own standards, his performance fell short, completing 14-23 passes for 146 yards (no touchdowns) while scrambling away from pressure 20 times and gaining 97 yards rushing.
On offense, Oregon also seemed to adopt their running game more than usual, and very early on, all eyes were on Royce Freeman to see if he would have another standout performance to boost his Heisman Trophy candidacy. But just as the game seemed to be heating up, Freemen went down with an apparent shin injury and sat on the trainer’s table with ice wrapped on his knee, and did not return back to the game.
Fortunately for Oregon, running backs Tony Brooks- James, Kani Benoit, and Taj Griffin picked up the slack on offense (combining for 205 yards rushing) which really shows the depth of talent that Oregon has in the offensive backfield. The Ducks also had solid performances from Charles Nelson and Darren Carrington (totaling up 116 yards of offense).
On the hand, even though the Ducks offense converted on several crucial third down plays, Oregon was only 6 for 14 on third down conversions. In addition, the Ducks were aggressive in going after two point conversions, but came up short on four out of the five attempts.
And to make things worse, just before the end of the half, the Ducks lost veteran offensive lineman leader Tyrell Crosby to injury. Crosby left the field and went into the locker room on crutches with a boot on his foot, resulting in Oregon’s offensive line playing with four out of five linemen that are true freshman. This could really hurt the Ducks, if they continue to lose veteran linemen to injury, and replace them with true freshmen who have minimal college-level playing experience.
But critical mistakes continue to hamper Oregon, causing the team to rack-up a ton of penalties (mostly personal fouls) and was flagged 13 times costing the team 126 penalty yards.
And while Oregon’s young defensive team grinded it out on the field and arguably showed improvement in their run defense over last week, Nebraska piled-up 228 yards rushing and capitalized against Oregon penalties and other mistakes.
Oregon will need to settle down more and keep their cool against Colorado next week in order to have any shot at winning. With the Buffalo’s looking pretty impressive against Michigan, they are expected to give the Ducks a real challenge.