We have a 12-pack of questions with Autzen Zoo lead editor and Oregon Duck super-fan Justin Phillips about this Saturday’s game between the Oregon Ducks and the Cal Golden Bears.
Golden Bear Lair: Oregon is considered one of the best teams in the nation. Year in and year out, they produce one of the best offenses in the game and a potent defense. What is it about Oregon that makes them so damn dominant on a consistent basis?
Justin Phillips: A lot of it has to do with the coaching staff and, of course, recruiting. When you have a team with the collective experience of 30+ years, it helps. Plus, when you look at the product and now the #2 team in the country that is winning – and on TV a ton – what kid watching doesn’t want to play for ‘that team’?
GBL: Oregon features an offense with the second best rushing attack in the nation. What kinds of things does the Oregon rush attack do that makes them consistently rush for so many yards?
JP: The best part of the rushing aspect of the Ducks offense is that it exists this year. Some questioned after LaMichael and Kenjon left what would be, but clearly it isn’t all passing this year. When it comes to the ground game for the Ducks, there are always those nice surprises like Johnny Mundt, who against Tennessee hit the ground for over 100 yards and two scores.
GBL: Marcus Mariota is just the latest in a long line of great quarterback Oregon features. Tell us what kind of a player he is.
JP: Two words. Cool and Confident. In the Tennessee game, he wasn’t even aware of how many yards he passed for until it was over and someone told him in the locker room. He goes out each game and does his job whether it’s with his arm or his feet.
GBL: Mariota has yet to throw an interception this year. Is that because the defenses he’s taken on so far have been bad, or is that due to the playcalling being spot on in terms of putting the sophomore in positions to succeed?
JP: A lot of it has to do with his receivers and his ability to get them the ball. Communication is a big part of that process and the team knows that he is the leader.
GBL: Would you say the offense is more prone to pass the ball, or are they a rush first team? And why?
JP: Honestly, it depends on the situation. The Ducks have so many weapons on offense it can go either way.
GBL: Defensively, Oregon is 5th in the nation in points allowed (just allowing 9 points per game). Is this due to the fact that Oregon has played opponents who are not as talented as they are, or is Oregon just the best defensive team out right now?
JP: It has to do with the quality of the opponent. If Oregon faced Stanford every week, I’m sure that number would be different. Playing FCS teams has inflated things a bit as it has across college football. In Week 4, Top 25 Teams in the AP Poll won by an average of 33.7 points over FCS opponents.
GBL: Oregon is an impressive +5 in takeaways, with three of those takeaways coming by way of interception. Can you talk a little bit about the secondary?
JP: The best part about this secondary is the talent. Olomu is the clear leader on D and they will be tested against Cal no doubt. So far what the secondary is is good, but they haven’t had a really solid test yet to know how good. That comes on Saturday vs. Goff and the Bears.
GBL: Jared Goff, Cal’s freshman quarterback, is going up against his stiffest test this season against Oregon. He performed admirably against Ohio State and has looked like a lock to win the Pac-12 freshman of the year. What are the kinds of things you think Oregon will throw at him this coming weekend?
JP: Not sure.
GBL: What have been your take aways from the team’s first three games this year?
JP: Offense can score in multiple ways, as is the standard with Oregon. Mariota is definitely more confident than last year. This offense is scary in what they can put up in both points and yards and so far no one has gotten in their way. They seem to be able to do whatever they want.
GBL: Can you tell us how the transition has been from Chip Kelly to new head coach Mark Helfrich?
JP: Oregon under Helfrich, aside from the name change at Head Coach, has really been no different. Everything just keeps rolling along.
GBL: Can you tell us which Oregon players we should be watching this weekend?
JP: I am looking forward to watching QB Marcus Mariota and Cal QB Jared Goff throw the ball around on Saturday night. I really think that if Goff had another year in the Cal offense, this would be a much better matchup. Josh Huff should have a solid game for Oregon and we could again see multiple receivers/rushers hitting or eclipsing the 100 yard mark.
GBL: Finish the sentence: Oregon wins if…
JP: The defense can get to Goff and disrupt his rhythm. I can see Oregon feasting on passes throughout the night. The Ducks come into the game as a big favorite. What matters for Cal is can Goff grow up quickly after a 1-2 start in a loud Autzen Stadium.
Make sure to tune into Saturday’s game. Kick off is set for a 7:30pm (PT) live from Eugene, Oregon. The game will be aired on the Pac-12 Network. You can catch more analysis about the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Zoo.