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5 Things To Watch: Stanford

Nov 6, 2020

The Oregon football team finally gets the chance to open the 2020 season Saturday, when the No. 12 Ducks host Stanford in Autzen Stadium at 4:30 p.m.

Oregon is the defending Pac-12 Conference champs and won the Rose Bowl to kick off this year. Stanford was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 North this year according to a preseason poll of media who cover the conference.

The game will be televised by ABC, with Chris Fowler on play by play, Kirk Herbstreit providing analysis in the booth and Maria Taylor reporting from the sidelines.

Some storylines to follow in the game …

1. A heavyweight battle between Oregon and Stanford is always compelling, but let's not lose sight of the big picture: It's just going to be great to see the Ducks playing football again.

It seems like ages ago that Oregon was putting the finishing touches on its Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. The year 2020 couldn't have gotten off to a better start. How little we knew then about what was to come!

The Ducks only got four practices in March before the pandemic ended spring drills. The Pac-12 announced in August that football wouldn't be played in 2020, then worked out a plan to allow for daily testing of football players in September, clearing a path for the season to begin this week.

It's going to look and feel different in a lot of ways. But it's incredibly comforting to have the Ducks back on the field in Autzen Stadium, even if just a few times this fall.

2. One year after radically altering the narrative about Oregon's defense, coordinator Andy Avalos is looking to lead an encore performance by his unit.

The Ducks no longer have Troy Dye in the middle of the defense, after he led the team in tackles each of the last four years. Corner Thomas Graham Jr., nickel Jevon Holland and safety Brady Breeze opted to sit out this season and prepare for the 2021 NFL draft. But there's talent aplenty on the UO defense.

Jordon Scott, Austin Faoliu and Kayvon Thibodeaux form a formidable line. Isaac Slade-Matautia and Mase Funa lead the linebackers. Deommodore Lenoir and Nick Pickett are seniors in the secondary.

Given that the Ducks are starting a new quarterback and offensive line, the defense may need to make a few stops, particularly early while the offense finds its rhythm. The talent is in place to handle that task.

3. Speaking of that new-look offense, what to expect in the absence of quarterback Justin Herbert, and the six-player rotation that played the bulk of the offensive line snaps last season, led by Outland Trophy winner Penei Sewell?

Tyler Shough has been groomed to replace Herbert, and Anthony Brown is on hand to ensure depth and competition at the position. Steven Jones and Alex Forsyth look like future mainstays on the line, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu and T.J. Bass were recruited out of junior college to ease this transition, and Ryan Walk and George Moore have bided their time, preparing for this moment.

If they experience any growing pains, that talented defense can bide some time. And there's a ridiculous amount of skill among the running backs and receivers. The quarterback doesn't have to win this game single-handedly. Just get the ball to the likes of CJ Verdell, Johnny Johnson III, Jaylon Redd and Mycah Pittman, and let them go to work.

4. The Ducks signed another elite recruiting class in 2020. What kind of impact will that class have in the season opener Saturday?

Bass is a projected starter on the offensive line, and the two-deep includes freshmen Jaylen Smith and Marcus Harper II, with Jonathan Denis also in the mix. Kris Hutson had as good a preseason camp as anyone at receiver.

But all eyes will be on those elite young linebackers. Noah Sewell pushed veteran Dru Mathis for the starting job at MIKE linebacker. Justin Flowe looks like the heir apparent to Slade-Matautia at WILL linebacker. And Jackson LaDuke provides depth on the edge, and also looks like a big-time special teams contributor.

5. It's gonna look different. It's gonna sound different. But the Ducks can't afford to let that affect them.

There will be no fans in the stadium Saturday, although a couple thousand dedicated Ducks purchased cutouts to fill the first few rows in each end zone. The noise echoing around Autzen will be artificial, with a level for ambient crowd noise and then an elevated level for big plays.

Mario Cristobal said the Ducks will need to "pack your juice, your energy," before heading to the team hotel Friday night. But he called the artificial crowd noise " a great idea" that "really does add a little bit to the game."

As for the players?

"When it comes to a juice standpoint, and us being ready, I don't think that will be a problem," running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio said. "I know it won't."