Last week Dominic from the Oregon blog Addicted to Quack contacted me with some questions about our return trip to Eugene. The Ducks 32-26 double overtime win in West Lafayette last season was one of the most exciting games of the year. many Purdue fans have openly wondered how things would have been different if we had held on to the lead. We get a chance to avenge ourselves September 12th out in Eugene. Be sure to visit Addicted to Quack for my answers, but here is what Dominic had to say.
Hammer & Rails: Purdue's history against the Pac-10 has not been kind at 10-19-3 overall. It has been even worse on the road as Purdue is just 3-7-2 in Pac-10 venues (winning at Arizona in 2005, Stanford in 1970, and Washington in 1961). What has Oregon fans afraid of Purdue even though we were just 4-8 last year and have such a poor Pac-10 record?
Addicted to Quack: Unknowns all over the place. Who is Joey Elliott, how will our new defensive look be affected by the short passing game, what will Danny Hope surprise us with. Last year, the short passing game of Purdue gave us fits. Our linebacking core is supposed to be a lot faster and more reactive than last year but only time will tell if we will be able to stop the passing game from eating us up.
H&R: Oregon looks to have some questions of its own having to replace several players along the offensive line and in the secondary. Who is in line to step into these positions after so many guys went pro?
The offensive line has been battered by injuries this spring so it has been a bit hard to gauge who will emerge as the leaders of the unit in the fall. (ED note: Be wary. This was Purdue at this time last season.) C.E. Kaiser and Bo Thran are both out with injuries and are projected starters. Jordan Holmes at center will be a key person on the line when the season starts. Steve Greatwood, our offensive line coach, has an amazing mind for the game and has produced some really great units the past few years. Most everyone coming back will have game experience. The key factor in all of this will be how the offensive line gels together with that experience.
H&R: You guys had a great one-two offensive punch of Blount and Johnson last year. With Johnson gone to the NFL who will pick up his production?
ATQ: This is a big question mark right now for the team, especially since LaGarrette Blount came into the spring about 15 pounds overweight and a step or two slow. Most people say he is one of the hardest working guys on the team and that he will get it together by fall but I personally hate to see all of this time wasted. Injuries have really hurt the playing time of guys behind Blount also. Remene Alston has had foot problems since last year and appeared to have re-injured that same foot in the spring. LaMichael James has been nursing a bad shoulder all spring and has been kept out of contact drills. Andre Crenshaw is the only other healthy true running back on the roster but he has been extremely inconsistent throughout his career and would have to make a huge jump up to equal the ability of Jeremiah Johnson in the backfield. Injuries have hurt the backfield so much, Kenjon Barber (normally a defensive back) has been taking a lot of snaps at tailback and played significant minutes in the spring game.
If I had to make a bet right now about who would be starting alongside Blount in the backfield for Oregon, I would go with LaMichael James. He redshirted last year and was specifically used to replicate Jacquizz Rodgers in preparations for Oregon State. I can't wait to see him on the field. Also, look for some sets that feature QB turned WR turned all round awesome guy Chris Harper.
H&R: Why is Eugene, Oregon the most dangerous place on the face of the earth for the human anterior cruciate ligament? Why do you have so many of these injuries, specifically to the quarterback?
ATQ: It really depends on who you talk to but there are a lot of theories floating around. Some people blame the spread offense, saying that it puts too much stress on the quarterback to make plays with movement. Other people claim it just happens to be bad luck and that quarterback injuries are a fact of life for any team. I think the answer is right in the middle. When Jeremiah Masoli was injured last year during the Boise State game, it was due to a blind side late hit. Justin Roper's injury in last year's Purdue game was on the option but it was a freak thing in the way he was tackled. Dennis Dixon had the same thing happen to him in 2007. We weren't even running the spread when Kellen Clemens was injured. I do think the spread offense puts quarterbacks in more precarious positions than a traditional power I does but these guys are athletes. Most everyone saw Masoli run over a cornerback in the Holiday Bowl last year. How many teams are blessed to have a quarterback that can run like a running back? Higher risk, higher reward.
Jeremiah Masoli torches Oklahoma State
On the upside, we have this built into our recruiting pitch for new recruits. "Come to Oregon! Be a Duck! When you tear your ACL, we have the most experienced staff and best facilities available to help you return to form!"
H&R: What are the major areas of concern after Spring practice?
ATQ: We are pretty banged up in a number of areas and unfortunately, it just so happens that each one of them is a concern. Offensive line will be a major concern going into fall but the progress we've made during the spring has been astronomical. Without a great offensive line, the rest of the offense just doesn't click very well. Since we run almost all of our offense out of the shotgun, we've had quite the challenge in replacing NFL draftee Max Unger at center. Snaps are getting better though and it appears that the offensive line is starting to gel a bit better. Coming into the spring, the defensive line was a huge question mark, mainly because of the loss of Nick Reed. From everything we've seen in spring, it appears that we won't lose as much as we thought. Hard to tell completely though because we have a new offensive line going against a new defensive line. Our kicking and punting game has been awful this spring. Unless something dramatic happens in fall camp, this will be an area of concern the entire season.
H&R: What should Purdue fans expect in the way of hospitality at Autzen Stadium? Are there any other "must see" sights in the area?
ATQ: There are always a few bad apples in every crowd, but generally Oregon Fans are pretty friendly to opposing fans, especially in non-rivalry games. You will always have the random knucklehead that can't keep his mouth shut but there are 10 times as many positive stories as negative ones. The Autzen Stadium complex is quite the sight to see in itself. I recommend getting there early to tailgate and make sure you check out the Mo Center, our indoor practice facility. Fall in the State of Oregon is beautiful. Eugene is 45 minutes from the Oregon Coast and about an hour from the mountains for skiing. If there is one thing you should check out, it would be some of the local breweries here. The Northwest is known for microbreweries and several companies offer factory tours that are a lot of fun. Specifically check out Rogue Ales and Widmer Brothers Brewing. If you make it up to Portland, make sure to check out Voodoo Doughnut . Oregon is all about outdoor activities so bring your hiking shoes, swim trunks and fishing poles because this place is unlike any other. Travel Oregon has some great information about places to check out while you are here.
H&R: In your Q&A with me you asked about the transition from Joe Tiller to Danny Hope. Is Oregon's transition from Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly roughly the same in terms of offensive styles?
ATQ: There will be little to no difference in offensive styles from last year to this year. Mike Bellotti was much more of a program "manager" than he was an actual coach on the field. The buck stopped with him of course but Chip Kelly was calling all of the plays and running the offense schemes. If anything, I expect more wrinkles to show up in the offense next year because of how many of the skill position players are coming back. Kelly also recently hired Colorado Offensive Coordinator Mark Helfrich to be the new quarterbacks coach on his staff. Helfrich was looking at coming to Oregon in the early part of the decade but decided against it because he didn't want to run the spread. In an interview, Chip was asked about Helfrich being more of a "pro style" offensive mind and Kelly quipped, "Why would I get someone who runs the spread? I know the spread". At least for the next year, Chip will be calling all of the plays and things shouldn't change drastically.
H&R: Do you view Purdue as a bit of a trap game since it falls between two quality non-conference opponents in Boise State and Utah?
ATQ: It could be a trap game, yeah but not because of Utah persay. To open the season, Oregon will travel to Boise State for a game on the smurf turf. That game will set the tone, not only for the season, but for the Chip Kelly era at Oregon. After the 2008 game, Oregon fans became polarized after a late hit put on Jeremiah Masoli, knocking him out of the game.
Boise State threw some fuel on the fire last year with this late hit.
Chris Peterson, coach at Boise State (and Oregon alum) was called out for backing his player in the situation and even, in some fans' eyes, being a coach who encourages dirty play. The fanbase is calling for blood this year and having to go to Boise to start the season is absolutely gut wrenching. Purdue is the home opener for us the following week and the outcome of the Boise State game will greatly impact how Oregon treats that game. The last time a Big 10 team came into Autzen, they ended up with a loss in a nationally televised game. Even though Purdue had a down year last year, they are still a Big 10 team and when you talk about Big 10 teams in this area of the country, you start talking about the Michigan loss at Autzen in 2003. If Oregon wins against Boise State, look out because Autzen will be rocking on opening weekend. Utah isn't being discussed as nearly as much as the Purdue and Boise State games, primarily because of the belief that Utah is nowhere near the same team that beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last year. Whether that is true or not, the Oregon Fanbase isn't giving them much credit... at least at this point. Oregon will be focused on Purdue coming home, especially if they get a win in Boise. If Oregon loses to the Broncos, Purdue will be in great shape to steal one from a deflated Oregon team.
Final Thoughts: Thanks for stopping by, Dominic. As for a prediction like you asked, I have a weird really good feeling about this game. Purdue is long overdue for a shocking road win and I really like what I saw in spring practice. I say Purdue pulls off a stunner on the road 31-28. Of course, what do I know?