Ohio State Up Next For Ducks
It was nine years ago that Oregon and Ohio State announced they would play a home-and-home series during the 2020 and 2021 seasons.
Since that announcement in October 2012, the Ducks and Buckeyes met for the first College Football Playoff national championship in January 2015. Then the scheduled meeting in Eugene for 2020 was canceled by the pandemic; the schools intend to play another home-and-home series in 2032 and 2033.
The current home-and-home thus reverted to a one-off meeting at Ohio State, which will take place in Ohio Stadium this Saturday (9 a.m. PT, FOX). The game matches two nationally ranked teams expected to contend for conference titles and potentially playoff berths this season, each of which is 1-0 after a season-opening win last week.
"If you're a real competitor, you always want to test yourself against the very best," UO head coach Mario Cristobal said. "And Ohio State is an elite program, from top to bottom.
"You come to a place like Oregon to have opportunities like this — understanding what a tremendous challenge it is — to go against the very best."
The Buckeyes opened 2021 with a Big Ten win over Minnesota, 45-31, that featured four touchdown passes from freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud. Oregon opened the season with a 31-24 win over Fresno State in which senior quarterback Anthony Brown capped his first career start for the Ducks with a game-winning rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Oregon will travel to Ohio a day earlier than usual for a regular-season road game, departing from Eugene on Thursday around midday.
Saturday's game will be played at Ohio Stadium, known as "The Shoe," which boasts a capacity of 102,780. A year after playing in empty stadiums due to the pandemic, Oregon could potentially play before a crowd of at least 100,000 for the fourth time ever; the biggest crowds the UO football program has experienced were in 2007 at Michigan (109,733), in the 1995 Rose Bowl (102,247) and in 2010 at Tennessee (102,035).
"It's probably in the top three of (challenging) places I've coached throughout the years," said UO offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, the offensive coordinator at Penn State when the Nittany Lions lost 39-38 at Ohio State in 2017. "You're down there and the stands seem like they go straight up in the air forever. And (they have) a very intelligent and passionate fan base that can get very loud."
Oregon had hoped to benefit from a home-field advantage against the Buckeyes in Autzen Stadium a year ago. Instead the Ducks will have to anticipate a meeting in Eugene in the next decade, with excitement building in future years for that matchup the way excitement has been building for Saturday's game since long before this week.
"Now it's game week and this game is finally here," Cristobal said. "So you can acknowledge this is a prime-time game on a big stage in front of just about everyone that's watching. So you're extremely excited about it.
"But you know every ounce of your potential success in a game is completely dependent on your preparation and your focus, and your ability to execute under pressure."
Speaking of executing under pressure, the Ducks did that extremely well in their season-opening win, finishing strong in all three phases of the game to complete a fourth-quarter comeback and beat Fresno State.
Of course, more consistent execution earlier in the game would have prevented the need to come from behind. Which the Ducks will look to work on in practices leading up to the Ohio State game.
Cristobal said he was "very pleased" with the play of Brown in his UO starting debut, and Moorhead called the performance "solid" with room for improvement. Moorhead said a focus moving forward will be finishing blocks better, and maintaining the integrity of the pocket on plays when Brown looks to pass.
The Ducks had four explosion plays of at least 20 yards, which was middle of the pack through a week of games in the Pac-12 Conference. It's a number Oregon wants to improve on.
"You want to be physical, you want to be balanced and you want to score points," Cristobal said. "And you want to continue to evolve. We never want to lose our physicality, but we still want to be more explosive."
Linebacker Dru Mathis won't play at Ohio State after suffering an injury in the opener, Cristobal said, but Kayvon Thibodeaux is considered day-to-day after an ankle sprain that sidelined him for the second half against Fresno State.
Cristobal said he may have an update on Thibodeaux's status later in the week, depending on what kind of progress he makes in the next couple of days.
"If a guy can't practice, we don't think it's in his best interest or the team's best interest to put a guy out there who hasn't been able to rep," Cristobal said Monday, the Ducks' designated off day from practice during the season.
Receiver Troy Franklin, who was listed as a starter prior the opener, instead played off the bench against Fresno State. That was due to a minor injury suffered in practice last week, Cristobal disclosed Monday, but he said Franklin was able to participate in practice Sunday.
Oregon's pregame depth chart for the Ohio State game, released Monday afternoon, included Thibodeaux as the starting "Joker," the terminology coordinator Tim DeRuyter uses for an edge player in his defense.
The depth chart also listed DJ James as a potential starter at boundary cornerback, and Jamal Hill as the backup "Star," or nickel defensive back. James and Hill were suspended for the start of preseason camp due to an off-field incident and joined practice in late August. They missed the Fresno State game but will be available to play this week, Cristobal said.
"There was a little rust they had to get knocked off," DeRuyter said. "But they've been looking good in practice this week, so they'll be competing for jobs right away."