Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:
UWDP: How’s Justin Herbert? Is he going to be ready to go this weekend? Will he be diving head-first into a wall of defenders or is he taking that out of his repertoire?
Matt: To be honest, I have no idea. It'll be five weeks since the injury, which is within the 4-6 week timetable. I would assume, and hope, that with relatively low stakes for the rest of the season that Herbert won't return until he's 100% ready to go. For what it's worth, Braxton Burmeister practiced with the first-team offense on Tuesday.
As for changing his game based on the injury, I certainly hope not. Herbert's fearlessness translates to why he's become a leader so quickly for this team. I look for that to continue once he's full-go.
UWDP: How would you evaluate the play of the offensive line for Oregon this season?
Matt: ALL THE FALSE STARTS. A new coaching staff, midseason QB change, and a tempo that lends itself to precision has led to a massive number of penalties that have really stunted the Ducks on offense. From a blocking perspective they've been good; Tyrell Crosby is NFL ready now, and the rest of the line is young and talented. If they can all get started at the same time, Oregon should look good on the ground against anybody.
UWDP: Royce Freeman is healthy and averaging six yards per carry. Does he look as good as he did his first two seasons? Tell us about Kani Benoit and Oregon’s other talented backs.
Matt: Royce Freeman is back to his top form after an injury-plagued 2016. He's already over 1000 yards for the season, with six 100 yard+ rushing games and 10 touchdowns (though he hasn't scored in his last five games despite averaging 111 yards per). He's a decisive runner, with the rare combination of size and speed that should get him paid at the next level. Behind Freeman, Kani Benoit has been the first one up, the biggest of the four backs behind Royce.
Tony Brooks-James has endless speed and acceleration, and he's coming off an enormous game against Utah (105 yards and a TD on only 6 carries). Taj Griffin is even faster than Brooks-James, but has been used almost exclusively out on the edges this year. If he gets the ball, he's just gonna try and beat everyone to the corner and turn up. We might even see a dose of true freshman Darrian Felix this week as well.
UWDP: Defensively, a huge improvement in the stat column from 2016. Less than 370 yards per game and under 30 points, versus... well... a whole lot more a year ago (518 ypg/41 ppg). What has been the key? Who are some defenders to watch?
Matt: To be honest, they look like they give a shit, which could not be said about last year's team. Linebacker Troy Dye remains the leader for the unit, and his move to ILB this year has really freed him up to get into the backfield and disrupt. Edge rusher Jalen Jelks is having a terrific year, with 12 tackles for loss. CB Arrion Springs is second in the country in passes defended, and freshman CB Thomas Graham has has a really promising first year. More than anything, it's just night and day from last year in terms of energy and confidence. Defenders are flying to the ball, particularly to stop the run. Additionally, they're averaging less than 5 penalties per game, good for 18th among all FBS defenses.
UWDP: How would you rate the special teams and Oregon’s kicking game? Is Charles Nelson still the primary return man?
Matt: Since Tony Brooks-James housed the opening kickoff of the season, Oregon's looked really ordinary on special teams. Charles Nelson has battled injuries all season, so Dillon Mitchell has been returning punts, with Brooks-James and Kani Benoit returning kicks. I really have nothing to say about special teams, they've been pretty boring all year.
UWDP: Five receivers have over 200 yards catching the ball this season, but no one with more than 300 yards. Is this the “Burmeister Effect?”
Matt: I mean, sure; Oregon's passed for 321 yards total in Burmeister's four starts, so there aren't a lot of yards to go around. I think also with Darren Carrington's dismissal from the team during the offseason and Nelson's injury problems, there's no go-to receiver for Oregon. As a result, the Ducks are spreading the ball around to anyone they possibly can, including converted safety Brenden Schooler. Tight end Jacob Breeland is emerging as a weapon, as is freshman WR Johnny Johnson III. Now if we could only get them the ball...
UWDP: What are your thoughts on Willie Taggart in his first season?
Matt: The defensive improvement has been really encouraging. He inherited a big mess, and this season was never going to be pretty even if Herbert stayed healthy. Save for the end-of-game strategy in the loss to Arizona State, I've been satisfied with the start to the Taggart Era, and with the recruiting class we're currently holding on to, things are looking up.
UWDP: Prediction for this game?
Matt: Ha. Washington big. Oregon isn't ready to take back the rivalry yet. Best case scenario would be a repeat of the Oregon-Washington State game, where the Oregon defense can be disruptive enough to allow the Ducks to hang around for a while. But it wouldn't surprise me a bit if Washington just jumped on Oregon from the get. Since 2000, the Oregon-Washington game has only finished with a single-digit margin of victory twice. That stat won't change this year.
Y'all won't score 70 though.
UWDP: Thanks Matt. For more on the game from the Oregon perspective, check out Addicted to Quack.
To read my answers to Matt’s questions, Click Here.