By SPENCER McLAUGHLIN
Contributor, 750 The Game
I’ve sung the praises of Dan Lanning as he’s navigated his second season at the helm to the tune of a 10-1 record thus far. Those praises have been well deserved as the Ducks have played well in big matchups and have dominated when they’re supposed to. His team is in position to make a run to the College Football Playoff amidst a crowded field as we get into rivalry week. The Ducks are about a 14-point favorite against the Beavs, and make no mistake about it: all the pressure is on Oregon here.
I think the Ducks are going to win the game. They’re tough to beat at Autzen Stadium where the Beavers haven’t won since 2007. The Ducks are playing at a high level on both sides of the ball every week, and they’re looking like a team on a mission led by the Heisman betting favorite, Bo Nix.
The pressure on Lanning is twofold. First, one of the few blemishes on his resume as a head coach is he does not have a win in a rivalry game. He’s 0-3 so far against Washington and Oregon State, losing every game by 4 points or less. Secondly, the Ducks’ ability to make the Pac-12 Championship Game, and the CFP by extension, comes down to winning this game. Oregon controls its own fate to get a rematch with Washington in Las Vegas. Should they fall to Oregon State for a second straight year, they would need Arizona State to upset Arizona. I can’t see that happening, given that ASU is depleted and the Wildcats are really good.
No, Lanning isn’t staring down the barrel of “hot seat” discussions if the Beavs pull out a victory here. It would just be a cloud looming over Lanning’s head if a second straight season were to come up short of its potential because of a loss to an arch rival.
Oddsmakers have a lot of confidence in Oregon, reflected in the big point spread. Last year this betting line flipped to the Beavs being favored by a point just before kickoff, which in retrospect may have been the sportsbooks catching wind of ASU’s active (and ultimately successful) pursuit of Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham. No such move appears to even have a smidge of potential with Oregon OC Will Stein, who’s a nominee for the Broyles award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach/coordinator.
Oregon State is a good football team. Their 3 losses, all to opponents ranked at the time of playing them, have come by a total of 8 points. DJ Uiagalelei is the key for the Beavs in this game. Last year, Oregon State was able to put up 38 points on Oregon’s defense (with help from special teams) while completing just 6 passes in the game. I don’t see that same formula working against Dan Lanning’s team this year.
The Ducks are top 3 in the Pac-12 in passing yards allowed (1st) and rushing yards allowed (3rd) this season. Their defense is deep, talented, well-schemed, and when they avoid penalties they’re tough to move the ball on. DJ Uiagalelei has completed under 60% of his passes in 7 of the Beavs’ 11 games so far this year. Oregon State is 4-3 in those games. He will have to be close to his best if the Beavs are going to knock off the Ducks in Eugene. The good news? He shouldn’t be throwing in a downpour as he did last week.
Another aspect of this game I wonder about is the Beavs’ pass rush. Bo Nix has been kept upright by this year’s new-look offensive line, and the Beavs have been good getting after the quarterback this year. They’ve generated 36 sacks, led by Andrew Chatfield Jr. who has 9.0 sacks himself this season.
Oregon State’s defense struggled on the road early in the season, but gave up 27 points at Arizona and 19 points at Colorado in their last 2 contests away from Corvallis. This Oregon offense is better than either of those units, but don’t sleep on the Wildcats in that comparison.
As long as this year’s edition of the game formerly known as the Civil War doesn’t come down to the Ducks needing a field goal, Oregon can get a statement win here. Avoid penalties, and they may even surpass my expectations.
Oregon 35, Oregon State 24
Spencer McLaughlin is an Oregon Ducks football contributor to 750 The Game. He also hosts the “Locked On Oregon Ducks” and “Locked On Pac-12” podcasts and has work featured throughout the season here.