Oregon Football: seven predictions for the 2022 Ducks
Spring ball is over. The dog days of summer are upon us. That means it’s talkin’ season. Time to make predictions that will be laughably wrong and go out on completely unnecessary limbs all in the name of giving Freezing Cold Takes more Twitter fodder.
Here are seven predictions about the 2022 Oregon Ducks. Please save them for future enjoyment.
Post-Week 1 discourse will be nauseating
At the Duke’s Mayo Classic last season, No. 3 Clemson met No. 5 Georgia. The Tigers were sporting a new quarterback, DJ Uiagalelei, but still entered as a slight favorite of the Bulldogs. What ensued was an absolute strangling by the Dan Lanning-led Georgia defense. Georgia sacked Uiagalelei seven times. As a team, the Tigers ran for a whole 2 yards on 23 attempts. Clemson’s only points that day came via a 10-play, 82-yard crawl that ended in a field goal.
And the discourse surrounding the Tigers after that game was awful. Georgia, as we know, would go on to win a national championship thanks in no small part to one of the best modern-day defenses we’ve seen. Clemson won 10 games. But for weeks after that Georgia game, one would have thought Clemson was losing to FCS opponents. “Georgia broke Clemson,” except not really. Clemson had to go through the natural growing pains that come with starting a freshman quarterback against elite competition.
Oregon faces Georgia Week 1 this season. The defense will be different. The guy who led the 2021 UGA defense now leads the Ducks. Oregon will most likely trot out a quarterback more experienced than the one Clemson sent out to face Georgia last season. But Georgia will still be excellent. Kirby Smart is still kicking it in Athens. We already overreact to Week 1 games as is, but if Oregon fails to keep things close, you might see the Ducks left for dead. You might see “this is going to take some time” takes. You might even see “is the North up for grabs?” takes.
That’ll be fun. And it’ll be a massive overreaction.
Oregon will have a very vertical passing game
Last season, Anthony Brown went 20-plus yards downfield once every seven or so pass attempts, according to PFF. Among quarterbacks with at least 20 such attempts, that was a downfield frequency that ranked 91st nationally. We’re not talking about efficiency here (he completed 37% of those throws), simply just tendency. Nearly 60% of Browns throws traveled less than 10 yards downfield. There’s nothing wrong with that approach stylistically speaking, but it didn’t maximize what the Ducks had. Oregon had the 82nd most explosive pass offense in the country.
From the sound of things, and the brief looks in the spring game, Oregon is going to look to push the ball more in the pass game under new offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham. “When you think of Oregon, you think of explosive offense,” Dillingham said this spring. “You think of fun, you think of flash, you think explosion.” The Dillingham-Bo Nix partnership at Auburn in 2019 saw Nix look downfield on 16% of his throws. That number declined each of the next two seasons after Dillingham left. With a potentially dangerous rushing attack and a nice complement of receivers, look for the Ducks’ starter to be around 18-20% next season. That would be top-40 or so.
Seven McGee reaches 750 receiving yards
The sophomore wideout finished Oregon’s spring exhibition with 116 yards and a score on six catches. He earned a red-zone target flashing across the middle of the defense and paying off a drive that began with a 70-yard bomb from Nix on a crosser. McGee finished the 2021 season with seven catches for 84 yards and thought about leaving the program after the coaching change, but decided to stick with Lanning and Dillingham. Anytime there’s a change at the top, there are talented players who emerge from seemingly out of nowhere. A fresh set of eyes leads to opportunity, and there should be plenty of opportunities for Oregon pass-catchers in what looks to be an aggressive, downfield approach. McGee looks like the kind of playmaker who has done well at Oregon in years past.
Noah Sewell plays his way into a top-10 draft pick
The 6-foot-3 Sewell is, before the season even begins, the best off-ball linebacker in college football. Maybe that’s a prediction on its own, but I’m here to tell you that should probably be accepted as fact. The physical gifts are stuff to marvel at. Only five FBS defenders last season had at least 100 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and five pass breakups. He’s been promising in limited opportunities to rush the passer. Very curious to see how Lanning and defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi can utilize his ability and what they do with him from a coverage standpoint.
Oregon fields a top-25 defense
From 2008 to 2013, Oregon never finished a season outside the top 30 in defensive SP+—Bill Connelly’s ranking system built upon five factors: success rate, explosiveness, field position, turnover luck, and finishing. That included top-20 finishes in four of six years. In the seven years since, Oregon has just two top-30 finishes. The defense ranked 60th in 2021.
While there are a few key pieces that need to be replaced, Oregon has talent all over the field and two of the best defensive minds in the business putting that picture together. Christian Gonzalez should be an upper-echelon corner in the conference. Brandon Dorlus will be one of the best defensive linemen in the league. Sewell has already been covered. If DJ Johnson proves to be a legit force, Oregon could have one of the most interesting defenses in the country. Because it has a number of players—hello, Justin Flowe—who could pop and just haven’t yet done so. By the time the season concludes and Connelly reveals his final SP+ rankings, Oregon’s defense will sit inside the top 25.
Oregon enters the final three weeks of the season 8-1
That would leave matchups with Washington, Utah, and Oregon State on the board to determine the Pac-12 North and settle some questions about the College Football Playoff.
Revenge comes on Nov. 19
If the Ducks are rolling into a home matchup with Utah sitting at 9-1 or 8-2, the atmosphere will be electric. The coaches might be different, but Lanning and his staff should absolutely make sure reminders of “76-17” are plastered in every visible space within the football facilities. The players who endured that embarrassment should be ready to make amends. Oregon getting this game at home is key, and the game within the game that’ll be Lanning’s defense against Cameron Rising’s offense will be fascinating to watch. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is 1-3 in Eugene. Once again these will be the two best teams in the league. Autzen Stadium makes a major difference.