Here's what we learned in our Q&A:
UWDP: Coaches seem to never tell us the truth on things like this, but do you think Dakota Prukop is being benched or is he banged up? Is the fanbase pleased about a change to freshman Justin Herbert?
Matt: I get the sense that Herbert is supplanting Prukop not because of anything that either of them have done on the field. Yeah, Prukop's missed some makeable throws, the final interception against Colorado being the most egregious of them, but overall he's been a few different shades of pretty okay. Herbert is going to be a more inexperienced form of the same. This move is for 2017 and beyond, because Prukop was a one-year, win-now option, and Oregon isn't winning now. I get the sense the program has gone into full rebuild and retool mode, and getting the youngster reps will go a long way to improving next year's team.
UWDP: How would you evaluate the play of the offensive line for Oregon so far?
Matt: Considering how inexperienced they were to start the year, a problem that got worse when Tyrell Crosby was lost to injury for the year, I actually think it's been a promising start. Oregon's averaging 6.2 yards per carry, and has only given up 10 sacks all year - and 3 of them were in the opener to UC-Davis. The unit hasn't been dominating by any stretch, but again, Oregon sees this as a rebuilding year and has to be pleased with the play of a very young group.
UWDP: Royce Freeman has been Royce Freeman when he has been on the field this season. How is his health for the UW game? Who else does Oregon have in their usual stable of talented backs?
Matt: Oregon is stingy with injury information, but Freeman started against Washington State last week and finished the game with 19 carries for 138 yards, though 75 of those yards came on one run. He's healthy enough to play, so he's healthy enough to have a big game.
Behind him, here are the three guys to know:
- Tony Brooks-James, who reminds me a lot of Kenjon Barner: smart runner who has a good balance of breakaway speed and between-the-tackles toughness.
- Kani Benoit: hard-nosed grinder who always falls forward and outworks his tackler for those extra yards. He's really fast too, but so is everybody in the backfield.
- Taj Griffin: supremely fast, needs to be more assertive and improve his decision-making. When he's in, expect stretch pays and sweeps to try and get him to the corner so he can outrun people. He's been a "gain of 20 or loss of 2" kind of back so far.
UWDP: OK, so, yeah; the defense. Really struggling so far. What do they need to do to turn in things around? Is Brady Hoke the answer long term?
Matt: Imagine a circus, a really awful circus; the jugglers were terrible, the trapeze artists all fell down, the tightrope walker couldn't take a single step, and the elephants just crapped everywhere. That was the Oregon defense in 2015. This year, it's the same terrible circus, only there's a new ringmaster who's asking his performers to do everything a little differently. Will they get better with practice? Yes. Are they still a hot mess? Yes. Is it entertaining? In a schadenfreude-y kind of way, sure. Is there a bigger metaphor for college athletes as circus performers going on here? Perhaps. Am I using rhetorical questions to distract from the fact that Oregon's defense is in shambles? Of course I am, look away look away look away.
To answer your questions above: a lot of things including, but not limited to, linebackers making the right decisions, tackling in space, getting push at the line of scrimmage, and developing any sort of a pass rush; and (regarding Hoke) probably not, considering he'll finish the year as our interim head coach before taking the Notre Dame job at the end of the season.
UWDP: How would you rate the special teams and Oregon’s kicking game? Charles Nelson and Darren Carrington are fantastic return men. We saw Nelson house a kickoff against WSU. How have they looked so far in 2016?
Matt: Oregon has maybe the best kicker in program history in Aiden Schneider, so of course this is the year when we get overly jolly with two-point conversion tries. Nelson and Carrington are both dynamic in space; Charles Nelson is De'Anthony Thomas-esque in the return game, both in his elusiveness and his overconfidence in his own abilities. Nelson had a couple return errors early, so Carrington has gotten some opportunities.
Matt Wogan has one job: to kick kickoffs really far. He does it well.
UWDP: Are Duck fans still fairly confident that --despite the records-- it will just be the “same ‘ol Huskies” coming to Autzen for another loss?
Matt: Oh heavens no, the sky is falling and the horsemen of the apocalypse are riding in wearing purple pants to crush our dreams.
In all seriousness, Oregon certainly has the talent to beat Washington, at least on the offensive side. But there hasn't been much lately to give Duck fans a very confident feeling heading into Saturday, even though the game is in Eugene. If the "same 'ol Huskies" show up and Oregon wins, we will all be both shocked and giddy. We will be positively sh'giddy.
UWDP: Mark Helfrich… what’s the consensus on his tenure? Is it time for a fresh start with an outsider if Oregon is unable to turn things around?
Matt: More and more Oregon fans are growing fed up and want someone new, partially out of fear that our window of time among the elite programs in the country is closing, but mostly because the defense isn't showing improvement and the offense is going dormant for stretches of the game and making costly mistakes - things that happened far less often under Chip Kelly.
Honestly, if Oregon gets waxed on Saturday, this could be Mark Helfrich's last game as head coach. Oregon would be staring at a four-game losing streak, a Husky win for the first time since 2003, and 13 days off until their next game at Cal. If there's a time to make a midseason change, this would probably be it. So congratulations Husky fans, this could be the chance to watch Oregon crater out in front of your eyes!
UWDP: What is your prediction for this game?
Matt: A reasonable person would predict something like 49-38 Washington. I am an incorrigible homer, so I'll say 59-58 Oregon in something like 2 or 3 overtimes, because that would be just silly, and college football is a silly place.
UWDP: Thanks, Matt. Be sure the check out Addicted to Quack for more about this week’s game from the Oregon perspective.