Quack Attack Is Almost Back
When the Oregon football team kicks off its 2021 season against Fresno State on Saturday (11 a.m., Pac-12 Network), it will have been 644 days since fans last filled the stands at Autzen Stadium to watch the Ducks.
In between, the UO football team won two Pac-12 titles and a Rose Bowl. The Ducks also endured a 2020 season shortened by the COVID pandemic, featuring two wins in Autzen Stadium with only cardboard cutouts of fans in the stands.
On Saturday, those seats finally will be filled with fans again for a regular-season football game.
"Autzen is a game changer; we know that," UO coach Mario Cristobal said Monday, in his first weekly pregame press conference with local media of this season. "Our fans for us are family.
"It's priceless, is the best way to describe it."
Saturday's home opener will not be a complete return to normal at Autzen. Fans must show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test along with a piece of ID before having mobile tickets scanned at the gates. The athletic department is urging fans to begin entering the stadium earlier than usual, to account for the new procedures.
During his press conference Monday, Cristobal said the percentage of players on his roster who have been vaccinated is in the "mid-90s." Those who aren't have stricter protocols by which to abide.
"This means a lot to them," he said. "So they want to take every precaution they can."
Oregon's starting quarterback against the Bulldogs will be senior Anthony Brown, which Cristobal announced following the Ducks' practice this past Friday.
Brown was listed atop the organizational chart for the game released Monday by the football program. The Ducks' three freshmen – Ty Thompson, Jay Butterfield and Robby Ashford – remain in a battle for the primary backup spot, Cristobal said.
Brown began this offseason atop the practice order and that seldom changed through spring practice and preseason camp. When Brown was available, he was with the No. 1 offense.
"He's really done a nice job of creating explosive plays, protecting the football and making plays with his feet," UO offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead said. "Now we just want to see that play out on Saturday."
Offensive lineman Jonathan Denis was in contention for a spot in Oregon's rotation before suffering an injury over the weekend, Cristobal said.
Thus, Denis was not listed on the organizational chart released Monday. Also not listed were tight end Patrick Herbert and linebacker Jackson LaDuke, who previously were banged up in camp.
Also not listed were defensive backs Jamal Hill and DJ James, who were suspended prior to the start of preseason camp following an incident off the field. Hill and James rejoined the team for practice Friday but will not be available for the Fresno State game, Cristobal said.
Along with Brown, Oregon's potential first-time starters Saturday could include tight end Moliki Motavao, receiver Troy Franklin, defensive linemen Popo Aumavae and Keyon Ware-Hudson, linebacker Justin Flowe, safety Bennett Williams and cornerbacks Trikweze Bridges or Dontae Manning.
Bridges and Manning remain engaged in one of the most competitive position battles of the preseason, Cristobal said. Flowe is still battling senior Dru Mathis at linebacker, Steven Jones and Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu could split reps at right tackle and returning placekickers Henry Katleman and Camden Lewis are also fighting for playing time.
New Oregon defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter was on the opposite sideline the last time the Ducks met the Bulldogs.
DeRuyter was head coach when Fresno State lost 42-25 in Autzen Stadium on Sept. 8, 2012.
"I remember it being a very, very loud stadium," DeRuyter said. "Unfortunately I was on the wrong side of that noise that week, and it was difficult to execute against Oregon."
Kenjon Barner scored three touchdowns that day, and De'Anthony Thomas scored twice. It was the second career start at quarterback for Marcus Mariota; Fresno State's quarterback that day, Derek Carr, is now backed up by Mariota with the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders.