Tuesday, August 30, 2011

August 30, 2011
Okay, here they are, the long anticipated thoughts on Oregon-LSU. What's that? No one was waiting in anticipation for these thoughts? Oh, well, let's try that again then.

Okay, here they are, the long delayed thoughts on the Oregon-LSU game.

We have heard considerable talk about the rebuilt Offensive Line against the stout Defensive Line of LSU. And there is validity to that thought process. Pundits have hearkened back to the opening game in 2009 as evidence of what the Oregon offense looks like with a rebuilt offensive line. The problem is, that those are two very different scenarios.

2009 OL vs. 2011 OL


It has been well chronicled just how little playing experience the 2009 offensive line had entering the Boise State game. Combined the unit had a total of 19 starts under their belts in the previous season. Carson York was coming off of a redshirt season in which he did not play. Bo Thran had 4 starts the previous season as did Jordan Holmes. C.E. Kaiser was the “veteran” of that group with 10 starts to his name. They were truly an inexperienced line. What's more, due to the lack of quality depth in 2008, there was not a whole lot of game experience for that group, period. They just had not seen much action.

Carson York (Photo Courtesy Goducks.com)


Contrast that true lack of game experience in 2009 with the group entering the season in 2011. Two of those players, York and Asper each have more individual starts than the entire 2009 squad (Asper 24, York 23). A third starter, Darrion Weems started 8 games last year and appeared in 3 more games as the unit's top reserve lineman. A fourth starter this season, Ramsen Golpashin saw action in all 13 games last season. He has been in the pits against the likes of Auburn. He has seen fire as well. That leaves one, glaringly inexperienced lineman, Center Hroniss Grasu.

Certainly there is always concern when you graduate offensive linemen. However, these Duck linemen are not as inexperienced as that 2009 group. Considering two of those starters against Boise State are still stalwarts on the 2011 OL (York, Asper) line, the offesive line in 2011 is in considerably better shape than it was in 2009.

Furthermore, the quality behind the starters is significantly better as well. Nick Cody and Ryan Clanton are the top two backup linemen. Nick appeared in 10 games last year and Clanton would start for many other Pac-12 teams.

This Offensive Line will fare considerably better than the 2009 version.


Nick Fairley (Photo Courtesy nola.com)
Many people point to the last two bowl games as “proof” that Oregon struggles in big games. Unfortunately, this is a much too simplistic method to analyze the outcomes of those games. There are two very important factors for those games that came into play. The first one is discussed here, Defensive Linemen.

Looking first at Ohio State; lost in the discussion of that game is that the Ducks out-rushed the Buckeyes (UO 33-179-5.4 ypc; Oh. St. 51-153-3.0 ypc). The Buckeyes success was not as much that they controlled the running game; they controlled the passing game. Masoli went 9-20-81 yards and 1 INT that day; a miserable performance.

From a rushing standpoint, though the Ducks did not put up some crazy video game number, it's not as if Ohio State was throwing the Ducks for a loss on every other play. Lamichael James' total yards lost were 9. Masoli also lost 9 yards (James had 79 yards gained, 9 yards lost for a net of 70 on 15 carries; Masoli gained 18 yards and lost 9 for a net of 9 on 6 carries).

You see THERE is the difference in that game; the Ducks circa 2009, were heavily reliant on the running threat of Masoli; if you bottled him up, then the others were not running wild. Ohio State bottled him up and, simply put, Masoli's arm could not compensate.

Looking at Auburn, well, two words, Nick Fairley. Without Nick Fairley, Auburn is not in Phoenix. Without Fairley, Auburn could not have beaten the Ducks. That can be said confidently as he was directly responsible for at least 9 points (Ducks safety and at least 1 TD the Ducks did not score).

LSU does not have a Nick Fairley. More importantly, Darron Thomas has proven time and time again, that his arm is most certainly capable of overcoming adversity in the running game. The Ducks no longer rely on the QB to be the person running the ball to make a defense honest.

Sam Montgomery (Photo courtesy theadvocate.com)
In fact, LSU has a very young defensive line. The one player who was a difference maker for them last year is a 245 pound defensive end. Sam Montgomery , in the first 5 games of 2010 recorded 18 tackles and 6 sacks before a knee injury ended his season. But he is young (sophomore) and aggressive. Duck fans should understand that an aggressive DE is a good thing, not a bad thing. Aggressive defensive ends play a pivotal role in the zone read. There are some new wrinkles in the playbook which are specifically designed to take advantage of this aggression.

On the other edge, they have a rotation of guys with different specialties as defensive ends.

As Montgomery told Tigerbait.com

"Kendrick (Adams, the other projected starter) has really caught up to the game. He has the athleticism of a receiver. He can really get off the edge. Lavar (Edwards) has the key role of keeping everybody calm. He's the wise old man. Lavar has been in the system for four years. He knows how to practice.
(Barkevious ) Mingo is nothing but a speedy guy. He is learning how to play the run. Chancey (Aghayere) is the run-stopper. He knows how to hold the edge."

The depth at defensive end is impressive, but each has an area of weakness that can be attacked. Certainly none of them compares to Cameron Heyward of Ohio State at defensive end.

As for the defensive tackles, LSU is extremely young up the middle with a true freshman (Anthony Johnson) and a sophomore (Mike Brockers ) as their projected starters. Johnson was the #1 rated defensive tackle in the nation by Rivals.com in the 2010 recruiting class and stands 6-4, 294 pounds while Brockers, who has put on 45 pounds since his arrival in 2009, now stands 6' 6” and weighs 300 pounds. The defensive tackles are certainly talented young men, but they are not yet Nick Fairley.

Does this mean that the LSU defense will be pushovers? Certainly not, that defense is always one of the best around. However, to point to the inexperience of the Oregon Offensive Line and use that as the barometer for how this game might turn is a little bit lazy. The current Oregon Offensive Line is nowhere near as inexperienced as the 2009 OL was in their first game. Comparatively speaking, this year's OL are grizzled veterans! And they will be going up against young, talented aggressive defensive linemen. There is no significant size advantage nor experience advantage for LSU in this game. This changes the tone of the “inexperienced OL of Oregon versus the elite defense of LSU.” The Duck OL actually has more starting experience than the starting DL of the Tigers.


Okay, this factor will be brief. Even had LSU played Jefferson in this game, as talented as he is; he is not Terrelle Pryor; he is not Cam Newton. The LSU offense will be nowhere near as dynamic as Auburn was last year or Ohio State the year before.


There will be no score prediction here, only a look at some of those factors which many others have used as a reason that the MIGHTY SEC will, once again, trounce upon the lowly Pac-12 school with the gimmicky uniforms and even more gimmicky offense. It should be established by now, that those factors are a little bit of a myth. Concepts taken out of context to garner nice headlines and “click-throughs.”

In reality, the Duck OL is not “rebuilt” like the 2009 group. In reality, this LSU DL is nowhere near as accomplished, at this point in time, as either Ohio State or Auburn were when the Ducks faced them. In reality, the LSU offense is nowhere near as dynamic and explosive as any of Boise State, Ohio State or Auburn. It should be noted here that Oregon held all three of those schools below their season average for points. Expect that trend to continue.

The only conclusion offered here will be that Oregon most certainly has the tools to beat LSU. The Oregon offense should be able to move the ball relatively well against the inexperienced LSU defense. The Oregon Defense should be able to contain a depleted offense that was not very dynamic in the first place.

This Dallas trip could be just the beginning of another magical season for the Ducks.


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