Commentary: What You Need To Know About Oregon Ducks

By Jeff Robbins Channel 3000 Staff Writer

The CBS reality show Survivor
has its Redemption Island, but the castaways stoically discarded by Jeff Probst have nothing on the Wisconsin Badgers and Oregon Ducks, two football programs who have the chance to avenge some recent big-time painful losses when they meet in Monday?s 2011 Rose Bowl Game.

To be fair, Wisconsin has already tasted some revenge this season with its December 3 victory over Michigan State in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, but Oregon still has some scores it would like to settle.

Most obviously, the Ducks are coming off back-to-back BCS bowl game losses: Oregon lost to Auburn 22-19 last year in the BCS National Championship Game, allowing the Tigers to march 75 yards in the final 2:33 to set up a game-winning field goal as time expired. The year before, they lost in the Rose Bowl to Ohio State 26-17, in a game that really wasn?t as close as the final score would indicate.

Oregon?s recent struggles in big games are nothing new: The Ducks are 9-15 all-time in bowl games and haven?t won the Rose Bowl since 1917.

For anyone scoring at home, that?s a full 17 years before Walt Disney introduced perhaps the world?s most famous duck.

No wonder that Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti stated flatly of BCS games, ?We need to win it. We need to win one of those.?

Can they win this one?

Well, they?re favored by 5-1/2 points for a reason. Several, actually.

Just like Wisconsin, Oregon had a highly impressive 11-2 season that included two losses that no one would consider embarrassing: An opening 40-27 road loss to eventual No. 1 LSU, and a close 38-35 home loss to USC that ended Oregon?s 21-game home win streak.

Like Wisconsin, Oregon can pile on the points: Their 46.2 points per game was third in the nation this season, just above Bucky?s 44.6 points per game. (Which could mean that the Rose Bowl will be a low-scoring affair, just as last year?s much-ballyhooed TCU/Wisconsin ?shootout? wound up instead a 21-19 defensive struggle.)

But unlike Wisconsin, which still likes to grind out the yards, the Ducks like to score in a hurry: They had 35 touchdown drives this season that consumed 70 or more yards that ate up less than three minutes of clock time.

The Ducks’ fantastic running game matches Wisconsin’s: Their 3,844 total rush yards on the season ranked third in the county among FBS teams, and their 6.5 rushes per carry led the nation. Junior LaMichael James is the focal point of the Ducks? ground game, eating up 1,646 yards despite missing two games due to injury. (In comparison, Wisconsin?s Montee Ball rushed for just 113 more yards on 53 more carries.) Plus, James is likely going to be angry about this picture showing him terrified of Disneyland?s Space Mountain, a ride most over the age of seven enjoy with unbridled delight. He probably won?t show the same fear in Pasadena.

And like the Badgers, the Ducks? run game is so effective that the passing game ? at least statistically ? looks meager by comparison. But while QB Darron Thomas completed a full 10 percent less of his passes this season than did Wisconsin?s Russell Wilson, the Ducks? starter is no quack (get it?): He?s racked up a 22-3 record over the past two seasons, and this year threw 30 touchdowns with only six picks. Thomas is the first QB in Oregon history to throw 30 touchdowns in two straight seasons. In short, his numbers compare very favorably to Michigan State?s Kirk Cousins?s stats, and Badger fans remember all too well how incompetent Cousins made their secondary look.

On the receiving end, emerging Oregon freshman De?Anthony Thomas might have some Badger faithful longing for the days of David Gilreath. Thomas is a true multi-faceted player, leading all FBS freshmen with 16 touchdowns ? five rushing, nine receiving, and two returning — and ranking fourth in the conference with nearly 148 all-purpose yards per game. The concern for Oregon is that Thomas left the conference title game with a head injury, but the team said he did not suffer a concussion and is expected to play in Pasadena. Thomas could cause the Badgers fits.

One bright spot for Wisconsin fans is Oregon?s defense: It is statistically nowhere near as stout as Bucky?s, allowing over six more points a game and 88 more yards per game. However, one aspect of the Ducks? game that stands out is their ability to get after the quarterback: Their 43 sacks this season are tied with Texas A&M for tops in the nation. But Wisconsin?s offensive line is a bit, well, how do we put this nicely . . . beefier . . . than what Oregon is used to seeing. The line play upfront when the Badgers are on offense will be one of the more intriguing matchups to watch on Monday.

If Wilson is able to elude the Ducks? formidable pass rush, he could have a field day hooking up with receivers Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis: If neck and shoulder injuries keep senior cornerback Anthony Gildon out, freshman corners Troy Hill, Terrance Mitchell, and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will have a very difficult time keeping up with the Badgers receivers.

While getting after the quarterback came easy for the Ducks in 2011, kicking field goals did not. Kicker Rob Beard was hurt in the season opener and the transition to replacement Alejandro Maldonado has decidedly not been a smooth David Lee Roth-to-Sammy-Hagar-type move: Maldonado has converted only 6 of 11 field goals and has been simply awful from longer range, hitting only 2 of 6 attempts from 40 yards or more. If the game is close, the kicking game could be a huge advantage for Wisconsin.

For anyone looking for intangibles to help predict the game?s eventual outcome, certainly karma seems to be on the side of the Ducks after offensive lineman Mark Asper used the Heimlich maneuver to save the life of a choking man on Wednesday.

Or perhaps instead the Ducks are cursed: Besides their lack of Rose Bowl success, nine of their players were trapped in a hotel elevator for two hours on Monday night.

To say nothing of that terrifying Disneyland ride they had to endure.