UWDP: Obviously one of the major storylines around Oregon football is the QB situation. How bad is the finger injury to Vernon Adams, and when is he expected back? If he's still out, do you expect Jeff Lockie to remain the starter, or will former walk-on Tyler Alie get a shot? Is RS-Fr Morgan Mahalak a factor at all?
AtQ: Unfortunately, you know as much as we do about Adams' finger. My gut instinct is that he will start this week. If I'm wrong, and he's not healthy -- and if I were calling the shots -- I would give a shot to Morgan Mahalak. Never mind that he has yet to play a down, and that the schemes, according to coaches, are still escaping him. Outside of Adams, no QB on the roster has the ability to make plays with his legs like Mahalak. At this point, Oregon is 3-3, and needs a spark plug. Let's give the kid a shot.
UWDP: It seems as if the Oregon OL has suffered a number of dings and more - what's the status of the OL in genereal and guys like Matt Pierson and Tyler Johnstone who appeared to be hobbled during the WSU game, and how does that impact the Ducks for this week?
AtQ: As we saw last season when Jake Fisher went down, losing your bell-cow lineman can lead to a horrible domino effect. If Johnstone is out, Oregon is in big trouble. With all due respect to Pierson, his loss would hurt, but not to the effect of Johnstone. And, much like the status of Adams, we won't know until around 7:25 Saturday night if these guys can go.
UWDP: Besides the QB situation, the struggles of the Oregon defense have gained a lot of attention. The Ducks look like a physically talented group - fast, strong, athletic - but the results just aren't there so far. Can you diagnose the major issues, and do you think Don Pellum's job is in danger?
AtQ: There's two things at play with the defense: One, they are INCREDIBLY young. I wrote before the season started that this is, from top-to-bottom, the most talented team Oregon has ever had, and that includes the secondary. And at 3-3, I still stand by that claim. The defense is littered with 4* players, who are receiving the trial-by-fire treatment. And, if you re-watch the WSU game from last week, the defense didn't look that bad. But with Oregon -- and this has been the case since 2007, when Chip Kelly arrived -- when the offense is humming, the defense looks a lot better. Those two minute drives don't hurt as much, because the other team is out of their element, and they don't play as well. But when Oregon's offense struggles, their series' still go only 1-2 minutes. The difference is, the other team is more at ease, and they can stick with their gameplan. I'm not defending the scheme Oregon runs defensively -- I find myself cursing coach Pellum as much as anyone -- but things would be a lot less dire if the QB was healthy, and Oregon's offense was clicking. Is Pellum's job in jeopardy? That's hard to say. If things continue to go the way they are, I think it will be very hard for Mark Helfrich to keep him. So much of the struggles seem to be mind-blowingly obvious -- having the secondary give 10+ yards of cushion on every play -- that it seems like it's a schematic problem. If Oregon wants to truly embrace being one of the Big Boys, they may have to make a tough decision, because coach Pellum has been on the staff for over 20 years.
UWDP: Royce Freeman is an absolute beast and has been the best part of the Duck offense so far this season. Washington's defense has been playing at a very high level this season as well, but will be without physically-imposing MLB Azeem Victor for the first half due to a questionable-at-best ejection vs. USC. Will Oregon's gameplan on offense be to try to run the ball down Washington's throat?
AtQ: Because it would be so obvious to make Freeman the focal point, I'm guessing that, especially if Adams is back, Oregon will try to establish the passing game. Oregon, legitimately, goes 9-deep at receiver. Unfortunately, they haven't been able to do anything because of the horrendous QB play. But -- and this is something that gets lost in the narrative of over-reactionary fans -- we have seen exactly three quarters of a healthy Vernon Adams this season. His finger was broken in the opening game, and his greatest strength -- his arm -- has never been on display. If he's back, that means he's healthy. And if he's healthy, he's throwing. Yes, Freeman is the workhorse, but Oregon absolutely needs to establish a passing game, or Freeman will lose all of his effectiveness.
UWDP: Oregon has gone from playing in the College Football Playoffs Championship Game to being 3-3 (1-2) the next season - are the Ducks in danger of folding for the season, or will the Hate Week matchup with Washington be the spark they need to right the ship and finish strong?
AtQ: In danger -- yes. There's no way they cannot be in danger. The program has not seen this type of adversity since 2007, when injuries decimated the season. The players this week have acknowledged that the "show-up-and-win" attitude was creeping in. But with the loss to WSU -- all due respect to them -- showed that any opponent can win. Talent-wise, the Cougars don't belong on the same field, but they won. And they won because they wanted it more. This week, reports coming from practice say that the players are rallying. And it truly is all mental with Oregon. If they don't fold, they'll be fine. As far as it being Husky week, and that playing a factor? I don't think it matter to the players. So many of them are from California, or Texas, and Oregon has been so dominant in the series as of late, that I don't think they realize how important it is to fans. To them, it's another opponent.
UWDP: For the first time in a loooooong time, Washington appears to be the favorite in this one. From S&P to ESPN to Sagarin and now the Vegas lines, Oregon is the underdog. How are Duck fans reacting to this?
AtQ: I don't think fans are surprised at all. Oregon is drowning in uncertainty, while Washington is swimming in confidence. I would honestly have been shocked if Oregon came out as a favorite. Every game in Seattle scares me -- even when the Huskies were completely flat -- because, as we know, Huskies fans hate losing to Oregon. The environment, the momentum, the desperation to end the streak -- all of that is in favor of Washington. I love it, personally... if you remove the last six seasons, Oregon IS the underdog. And, honestly, getting knocked down a peg, like they have this season, could, in the long run, be a blessing for Oregon.
A big thanks to Joel Gunderson for taking the time to answer our questions. And please check out the great work they do over at Addicted to Quack.