Oregon opens the 2012 season at home against Arkansas State. The Red Wolves bring an accomplished quarterback and an innovative offensive coach into Autzen Stadium looking for an early season upset of the #5 Oregon Ducks.
Oregon enters the game with new starters at several critical offensive positions including the all important quarterback position. In addition to replacing Darron Thomas at quarterback, the Ducks will open the season without the incomparable LaMichael James who has moved on to the NFL San Francisco 49ers.
This early season non-conference match-up will be a chance for the Oregon football team to see where they stand and get a lot of new players into the flow of things.
In this continuing series from Duck Sports Authority we bring you the head-to-head match-ups of the Oregon Ducks and Arkansas State Red Wolves Today the focus is on defense.
Arkansas State: The projected starters for the Red Wolves at defensive tackle have some experience with former freshman All-America Amos Draper (6-3, 270) at one spot and Ryan Carrethers (6-2, 310) at the other. Carrethers started the final six games of the season notching 21 of his 29 total tackles during that span. He also recorded 3 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Draper tailed off after his fabulous freshman season recording just 10 total tackles on the season in a reserve role.
Behind the projected starters is Markel Owens (6-2, 280) a senior who played in 5 games last season as a junior college transfer and Ronnell Wright who signed with Arkansas State this past season as another junior college transfer from Butte College.
Oregon: Unlike their opponent, Oregon will be bringing a wealth of experience at defensive tackle. Starters Wade Keliikipi (6-3, 295) and Isaac Remington (6-4, 301) both saw action as starters last season with Keliikipi starting the final 11 games. Keliikipi recorded a career high 5 tackles in the win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl while Remington recorded 31 total tackles on the season.
The real difference for Oregon will come in the reserves as Oregon not only returns all the defensive tackles from last season, but they got even better with Jared Ebert (6-5, 260) coming off of a redshirt year and Ricky Heimuli (6-4, 305) showing promise with 22 total tackles in his 14 reserve appearances. The Ducks are also versatile here as Taylor Hart can move inside if needed.
The Ducks have more experience, depth and talent at this position than Arkansas State and a decided advantage.
Arkansas State: The Red Wolves lost their best defensive player from the defensive end group last season and, along with him, 19 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. Projected starter Tim Starson (6-5, 255) played in all 12 games and started 4 last season, but recorded just 14 total tackles on the season. Across from him will be Shervarius Jackson (6-2, 230) who played in just three games last season after transferring in from Fresno City College. He will look to be their "hybrid" defensive end/linebacker. He was very successful in a pass rushing role at Fresno City College, so could create some difficulties. Nonetheless he is very raw and inexperienced.
Like defensive tackle, the depth at this position is very inexperienced. Darius Dunaway (6-5, 260), a redshirt junior from Louisiana, has played in just 4 games through his first two seasons recording 4 total tackles. Chris Stone (6-3, 245), projected as the back-up to Jackson is coming off of his redshirt year last season. A converted tight end, Stone has talent, but no experience.
Oregon: Oregon has a first team All Pac-12 defensive end hybrid in Dion Jordan (6-7, 243) who terrorized Pac-12 quarterbacks and coaches last season en route to 42 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. The other side will be taken over by Taylor Hart (6-6, 292) a junior from Tualatin. Hart moves over to defensive end after starting 14 games last season as a defensive tackle. Hart was second among all defensive linemen last season recording 44 total tackles and received honorable mention All Pac-12 last season.
Behind Hart is possibly the most highly touted defensive linemen at Oregon since NFL All Pro Haloti Ngata. Arik Armstead (6-8, 297) graduated high school early and participated in Spring football for the Ducks getting a jump on others. He made the most of his early arrival and has earned rave reviews early on from coaches and team mates alike. Backing up Jordan will be Tony Washington (6-3, 244) a sophomore who also moved over from defensive tackle. Washington saw action in 10 games as a freshman and recorded 18 total tackles.
The Ducks simply have too much talent and experience at this position. Arkansas State has very little experience at the defensive tackle position as Wade Keliikipi has more starts than all of Arkansas State's defensive tackles combined.
Arkansas State: Nathan Herrold (6-3, 235) is the top returning defensive player for the Red Wolves. A senior, Herrold recorded 66 tackles last season starting 11 of 12 games at middle linebacker. He has 21 career starts under his belt and had his best game against the best opponent, Virginia Tech when he recorded 10 total tackles against the Hokies. On the Outside, the Red Wolves should be led by Nick Nelms (5-11, 225) and Don Jones (6-1, 208), both seniors. Jones played extensively last season recording 54 tackles for the Red Wolves with 10 starts. Nelms played as a reserve in every game and notched 41 total tackles for the year.
Behind the starters, LeAngelo Albright (5-11, 205) has the most experience having played in every game as a reserve last season and recording 15 tackles. Qushaun Lee (5-11, 225) saw action on every game including 2 starts en route to 49 total tackles. Charleston Girley (6-1, 190) is projected as the back up on the weak side. A redshirt freshman, this will be his first action.
Oregon: The Ducks will be breaking in two new starters at the linebacker spots. One starter that is rock solid, though, is Michael Clay (5-11, 225) who started 10 games last season and recorded a team high 102 tackles even though he missed three games due to injury. Clay had the best game of his career against Wisconsin recording 13 tackles and 2 tackles for loss. Alongside him will be two players that, though they have not started, have been exceptional players for the Ducks. Boseko Lokombo (6-3, 233) has been "Mr. Lucky" for Oregon having scored 4 touchdowns as a reserve linebacker over the past two seasons (2 interception returns,a fumble recovery and a blocked punt that he returned). He has also been the top reserve linebacker with 36 tackles two seasons ago and 33 last season. Alongside him is Kiko Alonso (6-4, 242) one of the most physically gifted linebackers to play for Oregon. Alonso recorded 46 total tackles as a junior along with 6 tackles for loss 2.5 sacks and 2 interceptions. The Rose Bowl Defensive MVP, Alonso is no stranger to excelling in big games.
Behind the starters there is not as much experience with Derrick Malone (6-2, 219) the most experienced having played in all 14 games as a freshman recording 15 tackles. Tyson Coleman (6-1, 222) and Rahim Cassell (6-0, 215) are both coming off of their redshirt seasons.
EDGE: Slight lean to Oregon
Outside of Michael Clay, the Red Wolves have the experience factor with five of the six players having game experience. While the competition may not be at the same level, the have the experience that Oregon's back-ups do not. Oregon, though, has more pure talent at the position and should be able to out play the Arkansas State linebackers, so the edge is slightly in Oregon's favor.
Arkansas State : Corner back is a position where the Red Wolves will struggle mightily early. Their top returning corner, Don Jones, will be playing more of a hybrid role as an outside linebacker/defensive back. The two projected starters on the corners, Terrious Triplett (6-1, 185) and Andrew Tryon (5-10, 185) have never appeared in a college game. Tryon is a redshirt sophomore while Triplett is a redshirt freshman.
Behind the projected starters, Chaz Scales (5-9, 170) played in all 13 games last season recording 33 total tackles and 1 interception. On the other side, Artez Brown (6-0, 170) saw action in all 13 games as a true freshman last season, mostly on special teams.
At the strong safety spot, Kyle Coleman looks to move from reserve special teams player to starter this season. Appearing in all 13 games last year, Coleman managed two tackles as a freshman. At the rover spot will be Sterling Young (6-2, 182) a former team mate of Oregon Safety Brian Jackson from Hoover, Alabama. Young was outstanding last year recording 51 total tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one interception and two fumble recoveries.
The reserve safeties will likely be Cole Lorigan (5-10, 170) and Jonathan Victorian (6-0, 185) both seniors in 2012. Lorigan has played mostly on special teams. Through his junior season he has 14 total tackles for his career. Victorian saw the first action of his career as a junior last season appearing in 9 games and recording 1 tackle.
Oregon: Oregon returns Terrance Mitchell (6-0, 189) a 12 game starter as a freshman last year. Mitchell recorded 45 tackles as a freshman to go along with 2 interceptions, 10 pass break ups and 3 forced fumbles. At the other corner will be Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (5-10, 190) who appeared in all 14 games and started 2 as a true freshman in 2011. Ekpre-Olomu notched 34 tackles and 8 pass break-ups on the year.
At safety, Oregon brings John Boyett (5-10, 205) at one position. Boyett has had a stellar career at Oregon. A freshman All-America in 2009, a second team All America in 2010 and honorable mention last season, Boyett has been a rock in the defensive backfield for Oregon. Boyett led the team with 108 tackles last season including a career high 17 tackles in the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. Next to Boyett will be Brian Jackson (5-10, 205), the aforementioned Hoover, Alabama, native. As a reserve defensive back last season and special teams stalwart, Jackson recorded 27 tackles. Backing up Boyett will be Avery Patterson (5-10, 185) who, as a reserve in 2011, notched 55 total tackles and 5 pass break ups. Behind Jackson should be Erik Dargan (5-11, 205) who appeared in 9 games as a freshman last season and recorded 15 total tackles.
Oregon has at least two potential All-America candidates int eh defensive backfield with Boyett and Mitchell along with considerably better depth. This is a clear advantage for the Ducks.
Arkansas State: Arkansas State was very good at pass rushing and creating turnovers last season in Sun Belt Conference play. However, against the better, BCS teams they played, they were unable to do much to stop either Illinois or Virginia Tech. The team lost its best defenders and are extremely inexperienced at many defensive positions. With the pace Oregon plays, the Red Wolves will need to tap into their bench pretty deep, and there just is not a lot of experience.
The best returning defender is a middle linebacker and he will be important to the Red Wolves defense as he tries to corral the Oregon running game.
The defensive line is inexperienced and not very deep which could spell trouble against what will possibly be the best offensive line the Red Wolves see all season.
Oregon: This will quite possibly be the best defense to play at Oregon. Ever. The Ducks are deep at every position with incredible talent and a lot of experience. The defensive tackles can easily play two deep. With the flexibility of players like Taylor Hart, Isaac Remington and Jared Ebert, the defensive line will be a force against Arkansas State. Dion Jordan will likely be impossible for the Red Wolves to stop.
The linebacker corps will be the most athletic the Red Wolves face all season. Clay, who led the Pac-12 in tackles per game last season returns to anchor the linebackers while Rose Bowl defensive MVP Kiko Alonso looks to take his talent to a higher level. Boseko Lokombo, playing for two years behind current Miami Dolphin Josh Kaddu, has a lot of game experience.
The reserves are exceptionally talented if not yet experienced.
Int eh defensive backfield, the Ducks have at least 6 defenders that can make plays. The corner backs are two deep as are the safeties. The talent and experience in the defensive backfield is something that could give Arkansas State a lot of trouble as they try to throw the ball.
Arkansas State will try to use a fifth defensive back to slow down the Oregon spread option attack. But the speed that the Ducks will employ on offense will get the Red Wolves on their heels very early. The pace at which Oregon plays will wear them down quick as Arkansas State does not have great depth in this match-up.
Oregon's defense, on the other hand, will look to contain Aplin to the pocket and force him to throw into coverages. While he threw for plenty of yards last season , Aplin struggled with interceptions throwing 16 for the season against just 19 touchdown passes. Expect that struggle to continue against a superior defense with better talent at every position.
SCORE PREDICTION: Arkansas State is a passing team The Red Wolves will attempt to install a better running game under first year head coach Gus Malzahn, but they do not have a lot to work with this season. Their biggest threat will be quarterback Ryan Aplin. Expect the Red Wolves to try and get Aplin out of the pocket to create mismatches and opportunity for him to get the ball down the field. You can also look for Arkansas State to try and take advantage of the size mismatch between their receivers and the Oregon defensive backs.
Oregon will likely concede some short passes early until they get a lead and then clamp down on those passes. If Arkansas State cannot establish a run game early, and the Ducks are able to clamp down on the short passes and contain Aplin to the pocket, the Red Wolves will become one dimensional very early and struggle to gain yards and score points.
When Oregon is on offense, expect them to take advantage of the inexperience in the defensive backfield and the defensive line. Arkansas State will struggle on zone reads and does not have the speed to contain any of Oregon's running threats. Expect the Ducks to look to the air early with quick passes to set up a couple of deeper routes. With the defensive backfield on its heels, Oregon will go to work on the ground and begin to gain large chunks of yards.
This game will likely not be very pretty and decided early.
Arkansas State struggled with the three good teams they played in 2011 (Illinois, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois) and gave up more rushing and passing yards than their season averages. Oregon should be able to rush for over 300 yards and throw the ball for over 250 against Arkansas State. On defense, the Ducks will still give up some passing yards to Aplin. Look for the Ducks to hold him under 250 passing yards, though, and for the defense to keep Arkansas State under 75 rushing yards.
On the scoreboard, the Red Wolves will likely score late, but it will not be enough to cover the spread.
Final: 59-13 Oregon