For our weekly chat with a beat writer of UW’s opponent, we turn today to Ken Goe, who covers Oregon for The Oregonian newspaper in Portland.
As always, my questions, his answers:
Q1: From the outside, it seemed like there was a lot of off-season turmoil at Oregon. But here it is the start of November and the Ducks look the same as ever. Has it really been smooth sailing to this point and how has Oregon managed not to get caught up in any of those distractions?
A: In some ways, the turmoil probably helped the team turn inward and focus only on what it could control, which is preparation and the action on the field. The players have been thoroughly inoculated in the Chip Kelly philosophy in which every game is Oregon’s Super Bowl. It sounds corny, but the Ducks really do seem to take it one play at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a time. And, they have some good veteran leadership.
Q2: Oregon’s QB situation sounds like it’s somewhat up in the air. Does the offense change much depending on who is in charge?
A: The offense stays the same. I think Darron Thomas (pictured at right in an AP photo) has a better overall command of it, as he should since it’s his fourth year in the program. Bryan Bennett is the more dangerous runner of the two, and more apt to make something happen if the play breaks down.
Q3: Does it appear as if LaMichael James will be 100 percent after dislocating his elbow Oct. 6? If not, it looks like Oregon has been getting all it needs from Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. Has Thomas been a surprise?
A: LaMichael James says he is 100 percent, and, in truth, he looked better against Wazzu as the game went on. I’m sure he had some initial apprehension about how the elbow would hold up in a game and he showed some rust in the first half last week. I thought he looked better as the game went on and it was clear the elbow would be OK after being smacked and yanked on. I don’t think Oregon falls off much, if at all, when Barner plays. De’Anthony Thomas is a jet, but very slight — maybe 160 pounds. They’re spotting him, and using him a lot as a slotback. I don’t think he’s ready to take the every-down pounding.
Q4: Oregon’s defense looks like it gives up yards at times, but the Ducks keep winning big. What is the general feeling on how the Oregon defense is playing and can we expect to see Cliff Harris Saturday?
A: The defense was young up the middle to start the season, and then had some suspension/injury problems at inside linebacker. It’s more seasoned and relatively healthy now. The Ducks play with a lot of looks and formations, and will run a lot of zone blitz stuff. They give up some yards. The goal is to confuse the QB and force mistakes, while at the same time, not getting beat deep. I think it’s worked pretty well, for the most part. If I told you I knew what was going on with Cliff Harris, I would be lying. We aren’t allowed to watch practice, and he hasn’t talked to the media since spring ball. As far as I know, he’s still suspended. If he gets reinstated there is no guarantee he would play much — if at all. He hasn’t started this season.
Q5: Finally, it seems as if Oregon always makes some big special teams plays to break open games against UW. Are the special teams still as dangerous as ever?
A: Jackson Rice, the punter, is having a great year and is a real weapon. However, he has some sort of right hip injury, so I’m not sure he even will be available for this week’s game. Alejandro Maldonado has been doing much of the place kicking. I’m not sure what is going on with Rob Beard, last year’s kicker. Some people think he has had a quad injury, but it’s not for sure. And Beard did kick off last week. The punt return game was good early, when LaMichael James was returning. Since he was hurt against Cal, it hasn’t been anywhere near as good. De’Anthony Thomas was spectacular on the kickoff return against Wazzu. We might see more of him in that role.