By The Sports Xchange
Oregon football's first road game of the season, against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, will include a "Sea of Red" as a sellout crowd of over 87,000 will be on hand to welcome the No. 22 Ducks. There also will be a very familiar face pacing on the opposing sidelines. Mike Riley is in his second season at Nebraska (2-0) after serving 14 seasons as head coach at Oregon State. Riley went 4-10 in Civil War battles with Oregon (2-0) but lost his final seven games against the Ducks including a 47-19 loss on Nov. 29, 2014, five days before he left for Nebraska.
Nebraska leads Oregon 5-1 in the all-time series, with the two teams last meeting in 1986, a 48-14 Cornhuskers' victory. Now Riley gets another shot at trying to cause the Ducks some misery. "That is bizarre," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of having to face his old rival again. "We were talking about that when Coach Riley took the Nebraska job, that would have been the office pool of all office pools on that one." Helfrich is 2-0 against Riley, beating Oregon State during his first two seasons as coach: 36-35 on a Josh Huff touchdown catch with 29 seconds remaining in 2013, and then the 47-19 blowout in 2014.
Riley is off to a 2-0 start at Nebraska this season, the Huskers outscoring a pair of middle of the road Mountain West Conference teams in Fresno State (43-10) and Wyoming (52-17) by a combined 95-27. But this is the contest that many of the folks in Lincoln have been waiting for to see just how good the Cornhuskers can be in 2016. "With coach Riley being here, there is a bunch of hype about playing them and I want to play well for myself and my team and staff, but we all agree this is like any other game," Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong said. "We need to make sure to prepare the right way and don't let the hype get to our heads and lose focus on the bigger goal, which is to go out and win the game."
"They've done a fantastic job, they're rolling, two huge victories," Helfrich said. "Huge differential on the turnovers, two games that kind of hinged on a five-minute span." Oregon's defense is allowing 27 points per game in wins over UC Davis, a FCS school, and Virginia, which opened the season with a loss to FCS Richmond. "This is a little different football team," Oregon's new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke said of the Cornhuskers.
Oregon allowed 193 rushing yards to Virginia, but that included minus-51 yards on sacks. The Cavaliers' three running backs ran 31 times for 220 yards, an average of more than seven per carry. "There were still too many runs that got out there," Hoke said. "Part of it is tackling and part of it is fitting the defense the right way. There were too many runs that were eight-plus that we have to take way." Oregon's offense looks as good as usual with an average of 48.5 points through two weeks.
New quarterback Dakota Prukop, a senior transfer from Montana State, is completing 68.9 percent of his passes for an average of 301 yards per game with six touchdowns. Running back Royce Freeman is averaging 147 yards per game on the ground. And explosive wide receiver Devon Allen, who got a late start to the season after finishing fifth in the 110-meter hurdles at the Olympics, had four catches for 141 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown, against Virginia.
The big question is how will the Ducks handle a raucous road environment for the first time this season? "They're a really good football team, veteran quarterback, veteran line, a bunch of skill guys that have been around for a long time," Helfrich said. "Then defensively, special teams, a lot of schemes that we've seen for many years. They've done a great job for a long time. The biggest thing in dealing with any environment is us, just our mindset going on the road. It's a great environment, an awesome college football venue. Our job is to take care of us."
Mike Riley talks Oregon
“Looking to Oregon, we’ve got I think a pretty typical picture of what we’ve seen historically – lots of speed, athleticism on their team, they’ve got an outstanding runner, Royce Freeman – he’s been there forever. He’s a real good player. They’ve got a returning tight end that broke his foot a year ago, they’ve got three tight ends that are real good players that they’re utilizing a lot more than it seems in the past. They’ve got real good speed and athleticism at receiver. (Darren) Carrington is a real good player and of course Charles Nelson is a playmaker all over the place. They’ve used him on defense before, he’s a returner, they use him on their swing gate extra point stuff, so he’ll be back there causing you problems. He’s a playmaker receiver.
Devon Allen who’s the Olympic hurdler, plays receiver for them. He’s got unbelievable speed, and they’re very balanced. (Dakota) Prukop, the new quarterback, appears to be very comfortable with what they’re doing. He’s obviously selected because of that versatility, but they’ve been really balanced averaging 570-something yards in their first two games, about 300 passing and then whatever is left of that—270—to running the ball. It’s been balanced defensively. They’re in a new scheme from what we’ve seen. Nick Aliotti ran for years the three-four. They’re now in a four-man front, corners coverage, but do a lot zone blitzing, quarters coverage, three-deep. They’ve shown a variety of pressures and corner blitzes in the first couple of ball games.
Their defensive tackle, No. 50, (Austin Maloata) is a good player, 97 (Jalen Jelks) is a good pass rusher off the edge. Their linebackers are all very active and that one safety, No. 2 (Tyree Robinson) that is 6-4, 205, good-looking new athlete for us, No. 8 (Reggie Daniels), their nickel is an outstanding player so that’ kind of a snapshot of who they are. It’s an exciting opportunity for our team right now. We’ve put ourselves in a good position to play this game, and now it will just be exciting and like I said, a great opportunity for our team to play the Ducks here this weekend.”
Football Recruiting Competition
Battling over several top prospects, Nebraska finds a new recruiting rival in Oregon
Big Red Staff Reports
The battle between Nebraska and Oregon will extend past the field this weekend and onto the recruiting front until February. The Huskers and Ducks are clashing for several recruits in the 2017 class, especially with Nebraska’s push into California, which is a hotbed for Oregon recruiting. These two teams will likely continue to fight over lots of prospects over the next few years. Oregon had the upperhand on Mike Riley while he was the head coach at Oregon State. During a 10-class period from 2005-14, Oregon State finished with a higher team ranking only once, according to Rivals. The Ducks’ average class ranking during that stretch was 22.8. Oregon State’s was 49.5.
But Riley beat Oregon in his first full recruiting class with the Huskers. In 2016, according to Rivals, Nebraska finished 26th while the Ducks were 28th.
Nebraska also has the early lead in Rivals’ team rankings for 2017 with the Huskers 31st and Ducks 40th. But Oregon has landed a couple players NU recruited heavily — cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, who visited for the spring game, and defensive lineman Rutger Reitmaier, a player NU pressed hard for during the spring.
There are plenty more, though, that could end up deciding between Nebraska and Oregon by signing day. Here are 10 members of the Husker Big Board — our list of Nebraska’s top targets — that are also seriously interested in the Ducks:
Defensive end Martin Andrus: The four-star from Los Angeles had both schools in the Top 10 he released in June. He was originally set to visit NU this weekend but according to Husker Online had a change of plans. He told The Oregonian last month that he has a visit to Oregon scheduled for Nov. 12. Offensive tackle Aaron Banks: Coming out of the Bay Area, Banks also has both NU and Oregon in his Top 10. He took an official trip to Oregon last weekend, and Nebraska is hoping to secure one of his remaining trips. Safety Trajon Cotton: Both schools occupy a spot in his Top 12, and Cotton will be in Lincoln this weekend on an official visit. According to Rivals, the Ducks are set to host him Oct. 8 for the Washington game. Tight end Josh Falo: Ranked No. 4 nationally at his position by the 247Sports composite, Falo hasn’t yet scheduled any of his official visits. But he’s visited Oregon unofficially before, and the Huskers hope to get a chance to host him at some point. Both schools were in the Top 10 he released Aug. 10. Offensive tackle Chuck Filiaga: Another big lineman out of California, Filiaga had both schools in the Top 10 he released earlier this month. He took his first official visit over the weekend to Oregon, and Nebraska hopes to land one of his remaining visits.
Cornerback Elijah Gates: He released a Top 7 late last month that included both Nebraska and Oregon. He’s still in the process of scheduling visits, but both schools are on the short list to receive one. Cornerback Thomas Graham: Graham was one of several recruits that took official visits to Nebraska for the season opener against Fresno State. Oregon is also scheduled to host him on Nov. 12 for the game against Stanford, according to 247Sports. Cornerback Jaylen Kelly-Powell: Nebraska and Oregon were the first two schools to host this four-star from Detroit on official visits. Kelly-Powell was in Lincoln for the season opener, and the Ducks brought him in this past weekend. Wide receiver Joseph Lewis: This five-star pass-catcher has already taken two unofficial visits to Nebraska, and his official is set for Oct. 1 when the Huskers play Illinois. The following week, he’s scheduled to take his visit to Oregon for the Washington game, according to Rivals. Cornerback Jaylon Redd: A high school teammate of Graham, he too was in Lincoln for the Fresno State game. He’s also set to join Graham in Eugene on an official visit Nov. 12 for the Stanford game.