In the Illiad, Achilles faces a gruesome choice. If he reenters the battle he’ll be a hero but die young. If he stays home, he’ll live long and safely but unremembered. The Ducks aren’t thinking Homeric thoughts this morning, but if they did, they’d be comforted by the fact that they have the longest road winning streak in the nation at 15 games.
Here are 15 facts designed to quiet the pre-battle jitters as Oregon gets set to clash swords with the Cavaliers:
Ballroom blitz: Oregon racked up 772 yards and 66 points in a rout of Nicholls State last week. They averaged 11.1 yards on the ground. All this despite holding the ball for just 19:46 of the 60-minute game. Chip Kelly was right: time of possession is a severely overrated stat.
Photo left: Mana Greig, De’Anthony Thomas and Hamani Stevens celebrate after DAT’s 4-yard touchdown run just a 1:31 into the first quarter last Saturday (Greg Wahl-Stephens, AP photo).
The quick and the dead: Eight of Oregons 9 touchdowns last week took less than two minutes. Their most time consuming scoring drive came in the fourth quarter, Jeff Lockie piloting the #2 offense 75 yards in 8 plays, taking 2:11 off the clock.
Unbreakable: The Ducks were pinned deep at their own end four times in the game, but each time they had no trouble getting out of the hole and moving the ball. They started drives from their 10, 10, 1 and 3, resulting in touchdown drives of 90, 90, and 97 yards. The other time the first-team offense advanced the ball 85 yards to the 13 but turned it over on downs when De’Anthony Thomas was stoned on an outside run on 4th and 3.
Good will punting: Virgina punter Alec Vozenilek was a fierce weapon in their week one win over the Cougars, pinning the visitors inside the 20 four times. In all he punted 13 times for a 41.3-yard average.
A moveable beast: Vozenilek can pin the Ducks, but can the Wahoo defense keep them there? Their defensive line is big and mobile, providing stern tests for Oregon’s fat kids living the dream. Defensive end Eli Harold is a matchup nightmare at 6-4, 230, a former five star player who had two sacks and 11 tackles last week. He’s quick out of the blocks, so Ducks left tackle Tyler “Moose” Johnstone has to be on his game.
Inside, Ducks guard Mana Grieg (5-11, 287) has the tough task of blocking montrously strong Brent Urban, who is 6-7, 295. Urban batted down three passes last week, and it’s only the third time Greig has started a game.
Family ties: Oregon receivers coach Matt Lubick has a couple of Cavalier connections. He coached against the Wahoos while at Duke for three seasons, and new UVa. offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild used to work for his dad at Colorado State. Sonny Lubick won five conference titles and nine bowl games with the Rams, and Fairchild was on his staff for 8 years, first as a quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator. The well-traveled Fairchild was an NFL assistant for the Rams, Bills and Chargers, succeeded Lubick as CSU head coach for four seasons. He was hired by Virginia coach Mike London last winter to overhaul the offense, installing an attack that combines both a pro style offense and the Pistol formation.
Road warriors: The Ducks haven’t lost a road game since 2009 since when Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart steamrolled them in Palo Alto. They have lost three games at neutral sites since that fateful afternoon, the 2010 Rose Bowl, the 2011 National Championship and their 2011 opener against LSU in the Cowboys Classic.
Josh Huff, speaking to Gary Horowitz of the Statesman-Journal, explained why the Ducks have been so successful as strangers on a plane. “We just come out with the mindset that every time we go on the road or every time we go to a neutral site that we’re gonna make it our home,” wide receiver Josh Huff said. “That’s our main focus. Just go in and take the crowd out of the game.”
Brian Jackson added that the team excels at blocking out the noise and distractions of the home crowd. “You have to be more close minded when you’re going on a road trip,” he said.
Youth is served: Freshman Thomas Tyner is expected to play today. Gary Campbell told Horowitz that the freshman is finally ready to make his debut after a fall camp injury and sitting out game one. “What we saw of him in high school is transferring into college football,” the coach said. Campbell has mentored Oregon running backs for 30 years. He’s an expert on readiness and running ability.
Secondary considerations: Virginia defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta is likely to pack the box to stop the run today, a strategy they used succesfully in holding BYU to less than four yards per play. He blitzed and twisted Cougar quarterback Taysom Hill into a very bad day, 13-40 passing for 175 yards. Tenuta got great play from his secondary. Cornerback Maurice Canady had 13 tackles, and strong safety Anthony Harris erupted for 11 tackles, a sack, a blocked punt and a fourth quarter interception that set up the winning touchdown. He was named national defensive player of the week by the Walter Camp Foundation.
Hydra-headed monster:Three of head coach Mike London’s assistants are former head coaches, Fairchild (CSU), tight end coach Tom O’Brien (Boston College and North Carolina State) and running backs coach Larry Lewis (Idaho State). Add Tenuta who’s been rumored for a half dozen head coaching jobs after serving as defensive coordinator at Kansas State, Ohio State, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame, and you have a very brainy, accomplished staff.
New kids on the block: Fairchild, Tenuta, Lewis and O’Brien are all new on the staff, giving the team new coordinators on offense, defense and special teams. There’s a wealth of experience but an absence of continuity, something the Ducks have loads of.
Five year plan: What they also don’t have is depth and experience on the field. Jason Quick of the Oregonian reported yesterday that the Cavs have only 8 seniors, the second fewest in the country. There’s 34 underclassmen on the two-deep, which Quick reports is the most in the nation.
Help on the way: The Hoo staff has already landed verbal commits from two five-star recruits, and both will be making official visits for today’s game. 6-2, 206-lb. defensive back Quin Blanding and 6-3, 298-lb. defensive tackle Andrew Brown will both be in the stands. Part of the reason Oregon schedules trips like this one is to get exposure: there’s a wealth of recruiting talent in the Virginia Tidewater area and in nearby Maryland and North Carolina.
Under Pressure: The first time Oregon punts will be the first time this year, and the Hoos blocked a BYU punt last week. The oft-maligned Alejandro Maldonado handles the rare punting duties for the Ducks, winning the job in fall camp in a battle with redshirt junior Dylan Auscherman after Jackson Rice graduated.
Speed Racer: The two opening games against no-huddle teams became a source of motivation for the Virginia players during summer workouts. Mark Gionnotti of the Washington Post reported that strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus would give them just 8 seconds rest between sprints, because that’s how fast BYU and Oregon would snap the ball. BYU ran 93 plays last week, but the Wahoo defense stayed strong, limiting them to 16 points and 362 yards.
Gionnotti notes that the Ducks are the only team in the country to finish in the top five in each of the past three seasons (3rd, 4th and 2nd). Left tackle Morgan Moses says that neither the pace or the reputation intimidates him or his teammates.
It’s just another chance to put us on the map,” he said, “I think about my first year when we played USC down in California. We took it to those guys. The outcome wasn’t what we expected [Virginia lost, 17-14] but it just shows . . . we can play with the best.”