The Oregon Ducks are 4-0, ranked third in the latest Associated Press poll and have one of the signature wins of the season, a 35-28 victory at Ohio State.
But there have been some poor stretches, including the team’s second-half play against Fresno State in the opener and in the victory over Arizona on Saturday. The Wildcats scored nine unanswered points after halftime on Saturday before Oregon recovered with a strong fourth quarter to close out a 41-19 victory.
Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal was asked about the Ducks’ slow starts after halftime during a press conference on Monday.
“It’s something we weren’t very pleased about,” Cristobal acknowledged before speaking specifically about the third quarter against Arizona. “We didn’t control the line of scrimmage as well as we have in other instances. And we didn’t allow ourselves to get off the field on defense, therefore not getting the ball for very many plays in the third quarter. And when we did, we didn’t do much with it.”
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The Ducks are hoping to put together a stronger 60-minute effort this week against Stanford (2-2, 1-1 Pac-12). The Cardinal fell 35-24 to UCLA on Saturday.
Despite that loss, Cristobal is highly impressed by Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee, who threw for 295 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Bruins.
“He’s different. He’s going to play for a long, long time,” Cristobal said. “He can do it all … he’s that impressive. When you have that type of command of an offense, when you understand everything from top to bottom, A to Z, run game, pass game, protection and schemes, outnumbered, out-leveraged areas, how to flip protections, flip fronts, all that stuff, it’s like having a coordinator on the field.”
One reason for the Ducks’ success this season has been their ability to create turnovers. Oregon had five interceptions against Arizona, the most in a single game since 1999, and picked off three passes in the win over Stony Brook. Oregon has forced 13 turnovers in four games.
Safeties Verone McKinley III, with four interceptions, and Bennett Williams, who has three interceptions, are responsible for most of those takeaways. The secondary will face a different challenge against Stanford, which boasts an array of big targets on the outside, including John Humphreys (6-foot-5), Elijah Higgins (6-3), and Brycen Tremayne (6-4).
Oregon defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter said Stanford has “a blueprint for what they’re looking for there in their matchups.”
“They’re going to have a bunch of basketball players out there that they’re going to try to get bodies on and our guys have to understand that. So you’ve got to do a great job of being in position and be able to almost box them out as they try to box you out,” DeRuyter said.
Williams was named the Walter Camp National FBS Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Arizona. He had eight tackles and two interceptions in Oregon’s victory, returning his second interception 68 yards for a touchdown to help put the game away for the Ducks.
Williams was also recognized as the Pac-12 defensive player of the week. This is the second consecutive week an Oregon player has won the award. McKinley III received the honor following the Ducks’ win over Stony Brook.