A lot has been made of this Duck defense being the best under Chip Kelly. What are the strengths and weaknesses of that side of the ball?
You nailed it, in that this may be Oregon's best defense in the last several years. There really isn't a glaring weakness. The defensive line is solid and goes about eight deep. All three linebackers are experienced playmakers. And Oregon has an excellent secondary. It's a group that's stout at the line, but that also has a ton of team speed, making big plays difficult. The stats may not be as impressive because of backups playing the second halves of blowouts in the preseason, but I think the Arizona game showed just exactly what this unit is capable of.
How much has the loss of John Boyett hurt, or do you see his absence being a factor down the road?
It's hard to say. Safety isn't a critical position, although good safety play can cover up other mistakes. I don't think we've played any elite passing teams, and the true extent of his loss may not be known until we play teams like USC or Oregon State. Avery Patterson has looked good in his stead, but Boyett was an All-American talent. Given that the meat of the schedule is still upcoming, the jury is still out on this one.
De'Anthony Thomas got off to a hot start in the first few games, but has cooled a bit of late. Is it the result of the stiffer competition, opponents figuring something out and gameplanning against him, or something else?
Clearly it's the SI cover jinx! Honestly, I just think its been inconsistent offensive line play, which hasn't really been opening up many big holes.
The same could be said about Marcus Mariota, as his performance has taken a bit of a hit as the Pac-12 schedule has gotten underway. Competition, gameplanning, learning curve, something else, or nothing that you're concerned about?
Oh, I don't think I'm concerned. What we have in Mariota is a freshman who is making freshman mistakes. You could see them in the WSU game-taking a big sack when he could have thrown the ball away. Scrambling to one side and throwing the ball back over the middle for an interception. Mariota came out so hot against Arkansas State that people almost forgot that there would be a learning curve. However, despite the mistakes, you see why Chip Kelly made him the starting QB. He has that moxie and doesn't get down on himself. He's more than capable of making plays with his arm and his legs. I think Mariota has a chance to be one of Oregon's all-time greats at QB. But I also think its going to take a little time.
There was a lot of anointing of Mariota before he had even stepped onto a college field. How confident are you once he lines up against a rival, or has to travel down to the Coliseum?
Well, I like Oregon's matchup with Washington regardless of Mariota, and I think a lot of the kinks will be worked out by the time Oregon heads to the Coliseum. What scares me to death is a trip to Arizona State on a Thursday night. ASU is playing really well, and that place is going to be fired up. Many of Oregon's worst moments (Dennis Dixon's knee, the Blount Punch game vs. Boise State) have come on Thursday nights. I do not like this game at all.
When we spoke a couple months back, you were not optimistic that the Huskies would be able to escape the early part of their schedule with many wins. Has your opinion on Washington changed, and how?
I'm not sure my opinion of Washington has changed a ton-I thought this was kind of a middle of the pack team, and I still think that. However, there are a couple of positives that could lead to Washington having a few more wins than we thought. The first is that my opinion of Stanford and USC is significantly lower than what it was in the offseason. Obviously, Washington was able to beat Stanford by selling out to stop the running game, and Nunes wasn't good enough to beat that. The Huskies really exposed the Cardinal as completely one-dimensional. I also think significantly less of USC and, while I'd still pick the Trojans in that game, an upset wouldn't exactly shock me. Furthermore, Washington benefits tremendously from not having Arizona State or UCLA, the two biggest surprises in the conference, on the schedule. I look at UW as a 7-8 win team at this point, with an outside shot at 9 if they can pull an upset.
What's an area that you think the Huskies might have a matchup edge against Oregon?
I think its tough, because the Husky offensive line is so banged up, and the Oregon defensive line is so physical. I think the Ducks are going to bring a lot of heavy blitzes and try to get to Keith Price. It makes me very interested to see what the Huskies are going to do with Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Being the tight end, Seferian-Jenkins is the obvious relief valve. But Williams probably intrigues me more. Oregon has excellent corners, but Marquess Wilson still had 180 yards last week. Washington won't throw the ball 60 times like WSU did, but can they find a way to get Williams 10 touches?
Where do you see Oregon and Washington come bowl season?
While we're obviously rooting for another crack at a national title, the reality is that Oregon is likely to slip up at some point, especially with a freshman QB. That said, I still think this team is the best in the conference this season, and believe that the destination is Pasadena for another Rose Bowl. As for Washington, they're going to be somewhere in that middle, and any destination from San Antonio to San Francisco wouldn't surprise me.
(To see the Q&A thecassino did with ATQ, click here)