A year ago the Oregon Ducks left a win on the field in Lincoln that reverberated through the rest of a disappointing season. Had the Ducks come away with the “W” instead of falling to the Huskers 35-32, perhaps they find a way to beat Colorado the following week and that 5-game losing streak that tanked the 2016 season never happens.
Those dominoes did fall however and at the end of the year, wholesale changes were made in the coaching staff and in the culture surrounding the football program.
And now here comes Nebraska for the flip-side of that home-and-home series.
The Huskers opened the 2017 season with a less than impressive 43-36 win over the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
Two new faces helped played a key role in the victory for Nebraska, quarterback Tanner Lee and running back Tre Bryant.
Lee completed 19 of 32 attempts for 238 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Red Wolves but the real damage was done by Bryant. After getting only 43 touches in all of 2016, the 5’ 11”, 200 pound sophomore running back carried the ball 31 times against Arkansas State and surpassed his 2016 season rushing yards total of 172 yards with 192 yards and a score.
Clearly if Oregon hopes to reverse last year’s result stopping Bryant will be a key to that effort.
Nebraska head coach Mike Riley has to be concerned about his defense. After dismissing his long time defensive coordinator Mark Banker after last season, the Huskers have brought in ex-UConn head coach Bob Diaco to right the ship but against the Red Wolves it appears the transition from Banker’s 4-3 system to Diaco’s 3-4 scheme hasn’t been seamless.
Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hanson tossed for three touchdowns and 415 yards and carved up the Husker secondary, completing 46 of 68 passes.
It’s unlikely the Ducks will have Justin Herbert throw the ball nearly 70 times, but with the success Hanson had against Nebraska’s secondary, it is certain he will attempt to stretch the field in order to free up space for Oregon’s running game.
The Huskers did limit the Red Wolves to 82 yards on the ground but with Hanson dropping back into pass formation 68 times the run didn’t factor heavily into the Arkansas State game plan.
Oregon’s balance in their 77-21 win over Southern Utah – 355 yards passing and 348 yards on the ground – should work to the Ducks advantage though the play book against the Huskers may be more “pass first” than it was in week one.
Autzen Stadium has more often than not been a house of horrors for Riley’s teams and if Oregon is able to stretch the field with the pass, then turn to Royce Freeman and crew for ground yards, that trend will likely remain unchanged on Saturday.
~ Rick Morgan