By Rob Moseley
Venue: Moshofsky Center
Format: Full pads
After two hours of bashing into Oregon’s fearsome defensive front, Lane Roseberry joined his teammates for an ice bath Sunday afternoon.
The redshirt freshman running back, a walk-on from Bly, typically spends practices sharing reps on the scout team. This week he’s on the field for pretty much every snap, as the Ducks take advantage of Roseberry’s 6-foot, 235-pound frame by having him play fullback – something this week’s opponent, Stanford, uses more than anybody else Oregon has faced so far this season.
“I love it,” Roseberry said as walked to the locker room.
The need to have a scout-team fullback illustrates the unique challenge of preparing for the Cardinal. Whether it’s a blocking back or an extra tight end (or three), smash-mouth Stanford deploys its offense unlike anyone else in the Pac-12.
“Stanford’s really smart,” UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. “While everybody went to the spread, they’ve gone the opposite way. …
“They just have a lot of big bodies in there and try to push you around, knock you off the ball. And they’re good at it.”
And so, preparing for this week’s game is not without stress for the UO coaching staff. But, that said, the Ducks are in a markedly different place entering this season’s matchup with the Cardinal, as opposed to a year ago.
Consider: To start last season’s game on defense, the Ducks used true freshmen at all three spots on the line. Alex Balducci had been pulled out of a redshirt season the week before at Cal, due to Wade Keliikipi’s injury that sidelined him the final month of the regular season. Ricky Havili-Heimuli and Isaac Remington also didn’t play at Berkeley, and then Taylor Hart was hurt in that game, forcing the Ducks to start Balducci, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner against the Cardinal. (Havili-Heimuli, Remington and Hart all did play in reserve that night.)
The secondary was on equally thin ice. John Boyett only started one game in 2012 before being sidelined by knee problems. At Cal his replacement, Avery Patterson, tore his ACL. Thus, Erick Dargan entered the starting lineup against the Cardinal the next week.
Because Patterson was also a backup cornerback, along with being a starting safety, the Ducks lost depth at both positions. The week of the Stanford game, backup quarterback Bryan Bennett took reps at safety, and running back De'Anthony Thomas reviewed some basics at cornerback, in case either was needed on an emergency basis.
Remarkably, Oregon’s defense responded to all those personnel changes by limiting the Cardinal to 14 points in regulation, half of them on a controversial touchdown catch by Zach Ertz. Michael Clay had a career night, with 20 tackles, and the Ducks forced three turnovers.
Contrast that chaotic week of preparation with this one, which truly does feel like just another week when the Ducks are on the practice field. There are a predictable number of nicks and tweaks at this time of year, but nothing like the M*A*S*H* unit Oregon fielded a year ago.
(Interestingly, both Aliotti and Mark Helfrich had to be reminded of all those details this week. I figured they would have been more memorable to the coaches; perhaps that week of the Stanford game last season wasn’t as chaotic internally as it seemed from the outside.)
All of that isn’t to say Aliotti is without stress this week. Yes, his two-deep is healthier and more stable. But the uniqueness of the Stanford offense is more than enough to keep him on edge.
“That’s the part as a coordinator that’s uncomfortable,” Aliotti said. “There’s plenty of things we have to work on.”
It seems to be the same story on the other side of the ball, too. Marcus Mariota told media Saturday that “It’s hard to say that there’s not a chip on my shoulder” after last season’s loss, the only one of his career. He said Stanford’s defensive fronts might have confused the Ducks, who hope to react better on Thursday to whatever they might see from the Cardinal.
“They just didn’t get our best shot last year,” Helfrich said today after practice. “… Our guys are preparing well, and we’re looking forward to playing our best Thursday.”
Highlights: Today’s practice opened with Helfrich putting the ball at the 2-yard line, with the offense given one snap to score a “game-winning” touchdown. Both the No. 1 offense and No. 2 offense did so. That’s two days in a row the offense has won a “clutch” scenario, which have mostly been won by the defense the last few weeks. … Mariota was very sharp today, spreading the ball all over the field. He had a couple of beautiful, teardrop passes to receivers in the end zone, one to Thomas Tyner in seven-on and another to Josh Huff in 11-on-11. …
Brian Jackson and Dargan had interceptions on consecutive snaps against the scout team early in practice, Tyson Coleman picked off a ball in seven-on and Dargan got another one late in the morning. … Rodney Hardrick tracked down a quarterback from behind and forced a fumble in the first team period, and Derrick Malone later stripped a scout-team running back before racing down the field with the ball.
Other observations: Both Tyner and Darren Carrington left defenders grasping at air with notable cuts over the course of the morning. … Running back J.J. Jones, who was in the scout-team spotlight a couple weeks ago, looks like a candidate again this week. He really runs hard. …
Oregon’s defense allowed a long run on a reverse today; the good news was, as the receiver weaved his way some 40 yards downfield to the end zone, Havili-Heimuli was hustling as well and almost was able to make a tackle. … Helfrich spent some time on the defensive half of the field today, watching over those preparations. … NCAA rules allow for an occasional meal to be served to non-scholarship players, and there’s one scheduled for tonight. The scout team will feast in the H-D Complex dining hall.