By Rob Moseley
Venue: Moshofsky Center
Oregon’s walk-through two days prior to a game features work on offense, defense and all phases of special teams. That includes kickoffs, which could be of particular importance Thursday at Stanford.
The Cardinal boast perhaps the nation’s most talented return man, Ty Montgomery. He’s second nationally averaging 32.52 yards per return, and is one of three guys in the country who has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
Of course, Montgomery isn't alone on a Stanford return unit that leads the nation overall with 29.44 yards per return.
"They've got really good players blocking for him," UO special teams coordinator Tom Osborne said. "And they do as good a job fundamentally of blocking as anyone we'll have faced."
Assuming the Ducks score at a rate close to their season average, and avoid last season’s shutdown performance by the Stanford defense, Oregon will be kicking off a few times over the course of the night. In those instances, with Montgomery waiting to help the Cardinal answer quickly, UO freshman kicker Matt Wogan will have one thing on his mind.
“Get touchbacks,” Wogan said today. “Don’t give him any chances.”
With a powerful leg, Wogan has provided touchbacks at an improved rate for Oregon this season. The freshman has 16 total, or 21.62 percent of his kickoffs; last season the Ducks had 13, or 11.9 percent of their kickoffs.
But Wogan also has put seven kicks out of bounds. Yes, two were in the true freshman’s debut game, the opener against Nicholls, and three were in monsoon-like conditions against Cal. But he didn’t use those factors as excuses, blaming technique and his mental approach.
Wogan said he might be psyching himself out at times, being overly aware of not wanting to send a kick out of bounds. Osborne compared that with his own golf game.
“I can’t golf,” Osborne said. “When I hit a bad shot, I’m worried I’m going to shank it, hook it, pull it, whatever. So what do I do? Shank it, hook it, pull it, whatever. It’s the same kind of thing.”
Like Wogan, Osborne said the Ducks would prefer touchbacks against the Cardinal – as they would against any opponent. That’s easier said than done, for a couple of reasons.
One is Wogan’s consistency. Sometimes, he’ll put a kick four yards deep in the end zone, with an impressive 4.8 seconds of hang time. Others, the ball will land at the 6-yard line, short of the end zone, on 3.7 seconds of hang time, a much more returnable kick. Wogan is working to more consistently send high, arching kicks deep into the end zone.
But even when that happens, the ball doesn’t always stay there. Teams have been more aggressive returning balls from the end zone; if the Ducks have 16 touchbacks, Osborne guessed they might have 25 that were into the end zone but brought out.
“You’re just not getting a lot of people like the old days going, ‘I’m two, three yards deep, I’ll just down it,’” Osborne said. “We don’t see that as much anymore.”
Still, getting the ball deep into the end zone against Stanford on Thursday will be Wogan’s goal when kicking off.
“This week has been my best week of kickoffs,” Wogan said. “So I’m so ready for it. I can’t wait.”
Other observations: With rain falling in Eugene, the Ducks took their walk-through inside this morning. … Now that Jake Fisher is back in the mix, and with Cameron Hunt playing well too, the Ducks have more than five viable starters on the offensive line. It’ll be interesting to watch how they’re deployed over the final month of the season. … If it’s not Hunt, tight end Evan Baylis might be Oregon’s most improved player over the last few weeks. Both young guys have stepped up their play due to depth chart shuffling at their positions. … It’s not all serious business at these workouts; Josh Huff dancing to a country song late in practice is an example.