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Know Thy Enemy: The Oregon Ducks

University of Oregon vs Tennessee Technological University Set Number: X155491 TK1 R1 F50

Georgia has twelve regular season football opponents in 2022. And you should know about them. Every. Single. One. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

We begin our tour of the schedule with the Oregon Ducks, an unfamiliar opponent with a very familiar face at the helm.

The Duck File

Location: Eugene, Oregon

Home field: Autzen Stadium, seating capacity 54,000 (though if you’ve seen the place you know that seems like more a suggestion than a rule).

Notable alumnus: Brilliant novelist and counterculture luminary Ken Kesey, who wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and once loaded a bunch of drug-addled misfits on a dilapidated school bus. So he was basically Paul Johnson before Paul Johnson was cool.

The 800 Pound Gorilla In The Press Room

All summer both of them were asked about each other. As a result we know that Kirby Smart isn’t interested in talking about Dan Lanning. Dan Lanning isn’t interested in talking about Kirby Smart.

Sure, Coach Smart is happy that his former defensive coordinator landed a plum assignment as the new head coach of a national power based largely on the work he did in Athens. It’s great advertising.

But one cannot help but get the impression that Smart sort of wishes Lanning had gotten a job that doesn’t involve taking everything he’s learned about the Bulldogs schemes and personnel and then using it to try to beat them in week one. Not least of all because it will serve as a showcase for what the guy who knows as much as anyone about this Bulldog team believes might work to defeat them. It’s not often you get to watch a college football coach attempt to destroy his own work like a six year old demolishing the majestic sand castle he just built. But that’s Dan Lanning’s charge.

Make no mistake, Lanning is a formidable strategist, a dogged recruiter, and an energetic motivator. He also inherits from Mario Cristobal a roster as close to SEC specifications as any on the West Coast, with solid talent along both the offensive and defensive fronts, but some questions at the skill positions. That’s SEC as it gets.

The Electric Kool Aid Bone X Test

Offensively Oregon struggled at times in 2021 under now-departed quarterback Anthony Brown. They’re looking to find more consistency by replacing Thompson with….former Auburn signal caller Bo Nix. I hope that’s as funny to you as it is to me.

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, Nix’s reputation for wild unreliability is at least a little embellished.

To be fair, following that tweet Nix threw 3 interceptions in his next 4 games, broke his ankle in a come-from-ahead loss to Mississippi State, and never played another down of football on the Plains, where Tiger fans genuinely believed coming into the season that he was a dark horse Heisman candidate. Though to be fair once more, 35% of Auburn fans over the age of 18 are still fooled by the “got your nose!” trick your uncle Harold used to pull when you were three.

But I digress. My point is that Bo Nix is capable of dizzying highs and crushing lows, often within a matter of minutes of each other. He’s going to make about five brilliant throws and two dazzling runs in any given game. And then he’s going to accidentally set the stadium on fire while trying to pour a cup of Powerade. Like Stetson Bennett, Nix is what he is at this point, and that is a physically gifted quarterback who is susceptible to getting out of rhythm and making bad reads under pressure. Georgia’s ability to force that to happen with a rebuilt defensive front seven, under the watchful eye of the guy who built their 2021 front seven, will help decide the outcome of this one.

The Oregon offense is not all about Bo Nix, however, the guys he’ll share the backfield with don’t have a lot more experience in green and garish yellow than Bone X. Gone are 2021’s leading rusher Travis Dye (1271 yards on 211 carries), who transferred to USC, second leading rusher Brown, and fourth leading rusher CJ Verdell, who left for the NFL. The Ducks’ leading returning rusher is sophomore Byron Cardwell, who managed 471 yards on 61 Carrie’s as a freshman. Cardwell is a shifty, versatile back, but Lanning will need some transfers or freshmen to shoulder the load.

Elsewhere though there’s good news. Oregon returns a solid nucleus at receiver, including sophomore Troy Franklin (18 catches, 209 yards, 2 TDs in 2021), Kris Hutson (31 catches, 419 yards, 2 TDs) and the shifty Seven McGee, who could also see carries out of the backfield.

The offensive line is also solid, returning five players who started all or most of 2021, all of whom are either fifth or sixth year seniors. Guard TJ Bass (6’4, 325) was an All PAC 12 first teamer in 2021, is an Outland Trophy watch list selection this year, and is a legitimate NFL prospect. It’s a unit composed of grown men who have played a lot of tough football, and will be counted on to run new offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham’s attack. Dillingham worked with Lanning at Memphis, but took the offensive coordinator position at Florida State in 2020. Lanning threw him what feels like a life line when he made Dillingham his first assistant hire in Eugene.

Kayvon’s out the Thibo-deaux, but he left his friends.

The Ducks’ defense was just okay in 2021, finishing ninth in the PAC-12 in scoring defense and fifth in rushing defense (to the extent that anyone in the PAC-12 is concerned with rushing the football). I expect a multi-year upgrade under Lanning, though I hope the renaissance really takes off after they play the ‘Dawgs. Oregon will miss explosive edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux, the former top recruit turned NFL first rounder. But the Ducks’ front seven still has some serious dudes. Brandon Dorlus, Popo Aumavae and Keyon Ware-Hudson were all significant players in 2021, but all also sat out the spring with injuries. Their return will be a big factor early. Bulldog fans will remember Noah Sewell (114 tackles, 36 TFL, 4 sacks in 2021), a former five star recruit hotly pursued by Kirby Smart who now may be the best linebacker in the PAC-12, and Justin Flowe (6’2, 246 lb), another former five star UGA target with elite potential. Bradyn Swinson (24 TFL, 3 sacks in 2021), and DJ Johnson return on the edge and will likely benefit from Lanning’s style of play.

The secondary has a few more question marks. Verone McKinley III, the 2021 team leader in interceptions with six, is gone. But Lanning may have landed a replacement from the transfer portal by signing Christian Gonzalez from Colorado, who started all 12 games for the Buffs in 2021. Dontae Manning is the likely starter at the other corner spot, but is coming off a minor knee injury in the spring.

Bennett Williams was one of the best safeties in the country last year before going down to injury in week four. To that point he’d already snagged 3 interceptions and may have been on his way to an All-conference season and an NFL payday. As it is he’ll be back and will be a guy Stetson Bennett and Todd Monken have to account for on deep balls.

The Bottom Line

I don’t expect Georgia to lose to this Oregon team. Make no mistake, the Fightin’ Lannings begin the season ranked #11 in the AP poll and on paper will be potentially the biggest test on the Red and Black’s regular season slate. They’re going to improve through the season and may well win the PAC-12. But the Ducks have a lot of new moving parts to get humming in week one, and there’s still a pretty marked talent differential between the two squads.

As much as Lanning is familiar with this Bulldog roster and how to attack it, Bo Nix isn’t exactly an unknown quantity for Will Muschamp and Glenn Schumann. I expect this one to be week one sloppy and to give everyone involved enough stuff to worry and yell about in order to get ready for the meat of the schedule. But it won’t change the trajectory of either team’s season. In that respect it’s a perfect week one matchup. The Ducks keep it close before Georgia scores a late TD, the defense gets the ball back, and then the UGA ground attack squats on the ball for the final five minutes.

Prediction: UGA 31, Oregon 24.