By Steve Mims
Tony Stubblefield sacrificed a trip to Spain to add a recruit. The Oregon men’s basketball assistant coach stayed home while the team took an 11-day exhibition tour of Spain last month to host Georgetown transfer Paul White on his recruiting visit. Stubblefield secured a commitment from the 6-foot-8 forward before the Ducks landed back in the United States. “I need to stay out of the way and just let those guys handle it,” Oregon coach Dana Altman joked. “I wasn’t on campus for the visit, which is very unusual. I’ve got a great deal of confidence in coach Stubblefield and he stayed back and handled everything.”
Altman first watched White play when he teamed with Jahlil Okafor with Chicago’s Whitney M. Young High School during the 2013 Les Schwab Invitational in Hillsboro. Young averaged 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists and four steals as a senior while leading the school to a Class 4A championship. “I like his skill level,” Altman said. “I think he has a good blend of athleticism and skill. At 6-8, he gives us the versatility to play a number of spots.”
Ranked as the No. 16 power forward in the country by Rivals.com in 2014, White signed with Georgetown and averaged 5.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in 18 minutes per game as a freshman. He averaged 1.6 points and 1.6 rebounds in seven games last season before suffering a season-ending abdominal injury in January. White will have to sit out next year before playing for the Ducks in 2017-18 as a junior. He can appeal to get a medical redshirt for last season and regain a year of eligibiity that would make him a sophomore when he returns to the court.
“Coming off an injury, he had to sit out a year and now he will have to sit out another year, so a couple of years away from competitive basketball will be a change for him,” Altman said. “I think he will make our practices better and that is underrated as far as development is concerned. He can really develop if he approaches it right and we talked to him about that. The redshirt year does not automatically make you better, you have to approach it with the right mentality. If you do that, it can be very beneficial to improve your skill level and get in the weight room more often. If Paul approaches it right, his combination of athleticism and skill makes him someone with real exciting potential for our team.”
White’s addition gives Oregon 12 players on scholarship next season, one below the NCAA limit. With only two seniors, Chris Boucher and Dylan Ennis, on the roster next year, Oregon has three openings for its next recruiting class unless any players transfer or leave early for the NBA.
By Ryan Thorburn
…….Coach John Neal was encouraged after the Ducks opened the season with a solid, albeit uninspiring, 53-28 victory over UC Davis. Even though Ben Scott threw for 303 yards, there’s a reason why Dakota Prukop was the Big Sky quarterback Oregon targeted as a graduate transfer. The Aggies only averaged 6.4 yards per pass attempt with no touchdowns and one interception. The experience Oregon’s defensive backs gained in 2015 should translate into fewer busted plays and missed assignments this fall.
“Last year we didn’t have the amount of communication that we had last Saturday,” starting safety Juwaan Williams said. “You saw it in the coverage breakdowns, we weren’t communicating across the board. … The leadership roles that we have here, if you don’t understand the defense, you can’t really communicate. That’s when you get hesitant, that’s when things break down. “Once you have the knowledge of the defense and the knowledge of what the offense is going to throw at you, then you can actually communicate with everybody effectively.”
There were still a few missed tackles and late rotations on the back end of defensive coordinator Brady Hoke’s new 4-3 scheme. Neal said the Ducks “gave away” 14 points in the game. Overall, there was noticeable improvement in the secondary from last season when Oregon ranked 126th out of 128 FBS teams in passing defense. “I want us to be a great tackling team,” Neal said of the emphasis in practice. “You don’t tackle, you play bad defense. If you give up plays that are covered and you can’t finish, that’s bad defense. … “Tackling is the hardest skill in football, there is nothing even close to tackling. Right behind it is press-man coverage. Why am I (coaching) on that side of the ball?”
Starting cornerback Arrion Springs pointed out to his roommate, safety turned wide receiver Charles Nelson, that his two fumbles on special teams led to a 33-yard UC Davis touchdown drive and a field goal attempt, which was blocked by Pac-12 defensive player of the week Troy Dye. "Charles put us in a couple binds, and we talked about that,” Springs said. “He locked me out of the house at one point.”
Springs finished with five tackles and a pass breakup, and fellow starting cornerback Ugo Amadi added two tackles and two pass breakups. Freshmen backups Brenden Schooler and Malik Lovette combined for six tackles. Veteran safeties Williams, Tyree Robinson and Reggie Daniels combined for eight tackles. Backups Khalil Oliver and Foto Leiato didn’t get as much playing time on defense as Neal would have liked with UC Davis trailing only 8-7 after the first quarter and then scoring 14 points in the third quarter.
“It didn’t go as well as we wanted it to,” Williams said. “We wanted to make more plays, give up less yards, but it is what it is. We’re working to get better as a unit. “We know Virginia is a better team, they have athletic receivers and their quarterback likes to run and throw a lot. It’s just another test for us.”
No. 24 Oregon is a 24 1/2-point favorite over Virginia entering Saturday’s game at Autzen Stadium (7:30 p.m., ESPN). Quarterback Kurt Benkert completed 26 of 34 passes for 264 yards with three touchdowns and an interception during the Cavaliers’ 37-20 loss to Richmond. The Ducks, hardened by the disappoints of last year’s 9-4 finish, say they aren’t overlooking Virginia or looking ahead to the marquee non-conference matchup at Nebraska. “At this point, we are chasing everybody,” Springs said. “We have to prove it every week, we have to come with the energy to get where we want to be. We’re not the hunted anymore, we have to hunt. It’s not hard for us to get up to play.”
Reports from Virginia ----------------
By Eric Hobeck
It’s hard, if not impossible, to sugarcoat this one. And I’ll try not to. Virginia, a Power Five team, got throttled on their home turf by Richmond, an in-state FCS team, on what was supposed to be a day of celebration and affirmation. The Bronco Mendenhall Era couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start, and we learned some truths on Saturday about where this program is – some good, some disconcerting. Here are three of them.
“Franchise” is in quotes because “program quarterback” doesn’t hit the ear as well. The ECU transfer, in his first collegiate start, went 26-34 for 264 yards with three touchdowns and one interception while being sacked three times. Benkert looked fairly comfortable when not under pressure and the timing on his releases were generally quick enough. With a deeper offensive line in front of him, the UVa offense probably would have scored more than seven points in the first three quarters, even if the result might have been the same. More adventurous playcalling from offensive coordinator Robert Anae would have been to Benkert’s benefit, as well. Benkert had a net gain of 28 yards on five rushing attempts (not including the three sacks for a combined loss of 25 yards). Wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, who sat out the first half due to a violation of team rules, ended the day with five catches for 75 yards. It again may not have led to a different result, but his availability could have made the game more competitive in the first two or three quarters.
This isn’t a “quality loss” and I don’t mean to imply that. There were, however, some minor positives evident in an otherwise dreadful game. Most notably, there were no penalties! None. Zero. From 2012-2015, UVa ranked 89th, 91st, 85th, and 100th nationally in penalty yards per game. At least in this regard, the team proved that the talk of improved discipline and improving on the details was more than mere rhetoric. Punter Nicholas Conte also deserves a tip of the cap, as his three punts went for an average of over 46 yards, which helped to keep the margin of victory at 17 instead of something closer to 30. To be sure, these are nothing to phone home about -- this was FCS Richmond, after all.
Just in looking at the numbers, Virginia’s defense was largely the reason for Richmond coming away with the win. With 24 first downs given up, no turnovers created, and 524 yards allowed, UVa was wholly ineffective at stopping the Spiders either through the air or on the ground. Up front, the Hoos were frequently moved off the line of scrimmage by the UR offensive line, and Richmond had a solid 4.6 yards gained per attempt. The secondary woes were apparent on the first drive, with a 17-yard completion by Kyle Lauletta on the first play from scrimmage, then an 18-yard run from Gordon Collins one play later after he broke through the second level.
What went wrong? To be blunt, everything. Schematically, Mendenhall said after the game that the defense “didn’t execute well the entire day and did not play physical and didn’t play well not only on first down, but on third down,” before adding that he thinks he gave the group “too much” from a schematic standpoint. “Too many variables defensively to execute effectively … it appeared that we were a little bit tentative in our adjustments and not really adjusted and ready in anticipating what was happening, kind of being a step behind in many cases,” he said.
Richmond head coach Danny Rocco did an outstanding job of opening up the playbook and stretching Virginia’s thin secondary all over the field. Open Benkert’s options. Build on Week 1’s discipline. Simplify the defense. Three things we’ll be watching for heading into Saturday night’s showdown at Oregon.
By MIKE BARBER Richmond Times-Dispatch
Bronco Mendenhall watched his Virginia football team in the spring and preseason and saw a unit that quickly gained a handle on his 3-4 defensive scheme. Saturday, in its season-opening loss to Richmond, the first-year Cavaliers coach saw something very different.
“I overestimated the amount and volume of defensive schemes and calls and the number of things that our defense could handle in Game 1,” Mendenhall said. “And so simplicity will be a factor just to allow fundamentals and assignments to take over. And I think that will be significant help there.”
The Cavaliers (0-1) lost 37-20 to Richmond on Saturday, their first loss to an FCS program since being upset by William & Mary in 2009. They gave up 524 yards of total offense, allowed four touchdowns — including three passing scores — and didn’t force a single turnover.
The Spiders averaged 4.6 yards per rush, with Gordon Collins running for 114 yards on 13 attempts. Quarterback Kyle Lauletta completed 68.6 percent of his passes, throwing for 337 yards and the three scoring strikes.
Mendenhall, who runs the team’s defense and did so very successfully for his 13 seasons at BYU, said he “overshot” his expectation of how much had been mastered leading up to the opener.
“I was really impressed with how quickly they were picking things up,” Mendenhall said. “But a little overestimation on how ready some of the first-time players were in relation to the volume that I gave them.”
Redshirt freshman defensive end Eli Hanback, one of at least eight Cavaliers playing a major defensive role for the first time in their careers Saturday, said the team hasn’t lost any confidence in Mendenhall or the system he’s installing.
“It’s new for everybody,” Hanback said. “Right now, we’re just trying to focus on getting used to the system as soon as possible, because Coach Mendenhall knows it works. It has worked with him in the past, it’s going to be work with us, but it’s up to us how fast that happens.”
Mendenhall praised the play of Hanback, senior nose tackle Donte Wilkins and junior end Andrew Brown, and the Cavaliers got steady performances from veteran linebackers Micah Kiser, who led the unit with 14 tackles, and Zack Bradshaw, who was second with nine stops.
Mendenhall also was pleased with the debut game for freshman linebacker Jordan Mack, who finished with three tackles.
U.Va. used only 15 players on defense Saturday against Richmond.
Virginia gave up four plays of 30 yards, though the Spiders’ longest gain, a 55-yard touchdown run by Collins, came late in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided.
“We had a lot of room for improvement,” said sophomore cornerback Juan Thornhill, who made his first collegiate start. “We had a couple busts. We made some simple mistakes that gave up some points.”
Simple mistakes could be even more costly this Saturday when the Cavaliers travel across the country to play No. 24 Oregon (1-0). Mendenhall may adjust and run a simpler defensive game plan against the Ducks, but U.Va. also will be facing a much more talented opponent. Oregon’s high-octane offense put up 53 points in its opening win over another FCS school, UC Davis.
Of course, the Cavaliers believe they’re ready for the fast-paced attack because they’ve been practicing against their own no-huddle, up-tempo offense since the spring.
“We practice fast,” Hanback said. “That in itself I think will help us against the speed of Oregon. And we have fast guys on our team, too. But just the speed of how we practice, I think we’ll be prepared for their speed.”