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May 16, 2011

Hamani Stevens and a Few Other thoughts about Oregon Ducks Football

There have been wide spread reports that Oregon is not the same team that played in the BCS national championship but that can be said of any team that played last year.  I have been casually observing LSU's first opponent, Oregon, much like a Louisiana alligator might causally observe a duck in the wild.  I can tell you that Oregon is quick on offense and swarms to the ball on defense and that this year they are national contenders and worthy opponents for our Bayou Bengals.  I have also noticed some things that may have the Ducks concerned about coming South at the end of summer.  According to reports from Oregon, there have been losses at key positions - namely the offensive and defensive interior as well as the loss of a proven go-to wide receiver.

First, let me say that when I watched Oregon overcome Tennessee last year, the game was very even until late in the game when Oregon broke two or three big runs that seemed to break the will of a young Tennessee squad.  That same Tennessee squad looked much better against LSU in Tiger stadium last year.  And the key running threats,  running backs La Michael James and Kenjon Barner and QB Darron Thomas, are all back for another season.  According to ESPN statistics these three guys accounted for 32 of Oregon's 42 rushing touchdowns and Thomas completed 61.5% of his passes for another 30 touchdowns against 9 interceptions.  I have read somewhere that James and Barner are two of Oregon's 4 X 100 track relay team and that both are 100 meter runners on the track team.  If memory serves, one of the other members of the 4 X 100 relay team is a defensive back for the Ducks and is also a 100 meter participant on the Duck track team.

All that being said, it is hard to be effective rushing if you don't have an offensive line making holes to run through up front.  Up until very recently I had been following stories that there was trouble for the Ducks at center.  The anticipated first and second string centers have not doing a very good job and that is a big key in the LSU match up.  LSU lost both starting interior defensive linemen to graduation and the NFL from last year's team but LSU is stocked with really great prospects in the interior.  Last year Michael Brockers was expected to have a breakout year and may have, had it not been for playing behind two really good defensive tackles.  I expect Brockers to have a breakout year this year while anchoring the LSU interior on defense.  To add to the mix, LSU has possibly found the next great NFL defensive tackle in a freshman recruit named Anthony Thomas.  I think these two guys are going to be a terror for even the best offensive linemen in the country let alone a redshirt freshman struggling to keep pace or a 260lb sophomore at center for an Oregon Duck team that lost a team leader at center from last year.  Given the chance, LSU has plenty of depth in the rotation on the defensive line and the strength of LSU's defensive line may make long runs difficult to come by for the Ducks.  However, a wrinkle worth considering has emerged in the Duck offensive line.  Just recently the 2008 #2 center prospect in the country, Hamni Stevens, announced that now that he has completed his LDS 2-year church mission, he plans to enroll in summer school at the University of Oregon and compete to play center on the offensive line.  When in top form, many speculated that Stevens might be better suited to play on the defensive interior line because of his size (depending on where you read 6'2" to 6'4" and 290lbs) and because of his nasty mean disposition but, Stevens is committed to playing center.  Stevens reportedly has a good first step and is a great drive blocker.  The Eugene Register-Guarding voiced some concern that Stevens may not be in tip-top shape and noted that he admittedly had put on some pounds, now weighing in the range or 305lbs.  I am not convinced that when a 290lb man "balloons up" to 305lbs in two years  that it means he is now totally out of shape but, there has to be some rust on the guy that the Tigers may benefit from September 3rd.  And here is the other thing Tiger fans, the Tigers currently play against the best offensive linemen in the country in their regular schedule and in practice daily.  To support my point, the #1 offensive center in the 2008 class was Barrett Jones that went to Alabama, the #7 center on that 2008 list was Georgia's Ben Jones, and the #10 was Mississippi State's John Paul Alford.  And by the way LSU offensive guard and backup center T-Bob Hebert was the #2 offensive center in 2007.  So, Oregon may have solved a serious weakness at center (maybe not) but, this should not be overwhelming to the Tigers.  In fact, facing solid opponents should be the goal of any player eager to prove he is the best.

Another thing to consider is the Ducks' receiving game.  Oregon lost its two top receivers from last year's squad.  2010 senior wide receivers Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis combined for almost 120 receptions(119) for almost 1550 yards (1546yds) and 15 receiving touchdowns last season. Reminder from earlier in the article:  the Ducks had 31 passing touchdowns last year and these two guys caught 15 of those.  The third leading receiver is tight end David Paulson and the fourth leading receiver from last year's squad is Lavasier Tuinei.  These players are big - 6'4" and 6'5", respectively and weigh over 200lbs. And both caught around 400yards each and 3 and 4 touchdowns.  From a little scouting and watching the Oregon Spring game on ESPN, I noticed that the Ducks may have a couple of other receiving targets in incoming freshman standout tight end Colt Lyerla and Tony Dungy's son, redshirt freshman wide receiver Eric Dungy.  But while the Duck receivers may be solid, count on LSU to bring possibly the best defensive backfield in college ball to Jerry World in September.  Though the LSU secondary loses all-world corner back Patrick Peterson, there are young but experienced and outstanding defensive backs all over LSU's roster.  Expect the Tigers to shutdown Duck air offenses.  This is going to be a great match up for fans on both sides!

My final thought on the Ducks is one born of curiosity.  When you compare the rosters of Oregon and LSU one thing jumps out - only 23 of nearly 100 players on the Oregon roster are from Oregon whereas 67 of the nearly 100 players on LSU's roster are from Louisiana.  Oregon has 7 players from Texas and LSU has 15 players from Texas.  Three of Oregon's top profile players - QB Darron Thomas, and running backs La Michael James and Lache Seastrunk are from Texas and several key Tiger players (about 15) are from Texas.  A few of the LSU Texans have returned home after being displaced from Louisiana after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. But even considering that fact, it makes sense that LSU would have several players from Texas.  When you look at where young men aged 17-21yrs choose to play college football the overwhelming factor is geography: they tend to play at a school within a days long drive from their home.  This may be because they have grown up following the local college team or because they want mom and dad to be able to drive to the game to see them.  It may be because most young men realize that having family close by provides a safety net, should something go wrong at college.  But the fact remains that very few colleges outside of Notre Dame have been able to successfully cherry pick prized football prospects from very far beyond their state boundaries.  Oregon seems to be gaining this ability and their playing a season opener in Texas against a national contender is no mistake in the recruiting game.  A lot of Oregon's players (49) originate from California.  That is not too surprising - there are a lot of good players in California and it speaks well of Duck recruiting considering the number of solid college programs in California and other nearby states.  LSU had a couple of solid recruits from California in recent years.  One guy, Akiem Hicks, looked like a great defensive line prospect but it turned out that an LSU coach assisted him in some way that I cannot recall - either helping Hicks with travel or helping him find adequate housing - and Hicks never played a down for LSU and the LSU coach that helped Hicks no longer coaches at LSU.  The other California guy that LSU got a verbal commit from in the last couple of years ended up staying in California and playing, I think, at Cal.  Not surprising, considering the pull factors of playing close to home.  I am not sure what the draw to Oregon is but I believe LSU has gathered the best players anywhere in the country without having to go very far from home.  And though I think the Ducks will bring a solid game to the Tigers, I really like the Tigers' chances come September 3rd.          


Anonymous said...

Bob, I thank you for your blog and giving a little insight into how LSU fandom thinks about the Oregon football team and its upcoming game. I am an Oregon fan but I live here in Atlanta, in the heart of the SEC with many friends in New Orleans. So, I can honestly say that I have a pretty goot view on both sides. I think you view of Oregon is exactly what everyone is thinking, not to say its a bad thing, but it is not a complete picture. Here's why: 1) Although there is some questions about our O-line, ALL the players have had significant playing time last year. More importantly, they played in the 9:24 4th Qtr grind out drive against Cal, whos DT's were bigger than Auburns and every other SEC team, including LSU's. So, if these so-called backups can handle that in a critical situation, then I think they can handle LSU's D-line. 2) Again people down Oregon about their WR's and appearance of no deep threat. First, Oregons DB's are fast and talented, most if not all run a sub 4.5/40. Really, who is going to out run them? Realistically, they are going to be arguably the best backfield in the country. In addition, we will be getting an infusion of speed and talent this summer when Sumler, Kelly, Blackmon, Vaughn, and DeAnthony Thomas. Lastly our speedster Josh Huff did not play in the spring game. 3) You're right about recruiting. Unfortunately the state of Oregon does not produce a lot of D-1 football talent, part of this reason is just population. It just shows that Oregon has become not just a national powerhouse but also a national brand. MY PREDICTION: Oregon wins by 4 TD's. This is realistic. Why? 1) LSU is breaking in a new Offensive Coordinator. 2) Jordan Jefferson, on career he throws LESS THAN 1 TD PER GAME. Say that out loud 3 times. Plus he goes up against the best backfield in NCAA and an all-american CB Cliff Harris & FS John Boyett. 3) No proven RB's or WR's. Sure they have all the hype that any player is going to receive for an upcoming season but what have they proven? Our D-line is not only BIG but fast and talented. When I say BIG I mean BIG! I took your starting DT's and compared it to Ore DT's and LSU outweighs them only by 6 lbs! 6 pounds! So, Ore DT's are BIG but they are also FAST and TALENTED. They are going to shock the world this year. 4) Lastly but not least - LES MILES! Need I say more?

Texas Tiger said...

Your viewpoint sounds exactly like ESPN talking about Oregon, LSU, Alabama, etc. You may be good, but you will loose September 3rd. The SEC isn't the PAC 10. Any sports person with sense will tell you that!

Geaux Tigers!

Jay said...

Texas Tiger - I hate to burst your bubble but Oregon will win in Dallas in September. You are right on one point and that is the SEC is not the Pac12. Yes, the Pac12 actually play against REAL FOOTBALL TEAMS, the SEC plays only 6 real games and 6 games against Chattanooga St., Fashion Institute, McDonald University, etc... That is why NorthWestern cancelled on Ore last year and Georgia canceled on us for next year and that is why LSU will not leave home to play against ORE. They are too scared to play them on their turf! Please don't say that Dallas, TX is a real "away" game for LSU. Its literally in their back yard! LSU fans should be ashamed of themselves because they refused to play near Oregon!!! Why is that? Oregon went TO TENNESSEE. Oregon is going TO LSU's BACKYARD. You should be called the LSU CHICKENS or LSU SCARED TO PLAY OUTSIDE TIGERS! YES, the PAC12 will play anywhere, and anyone. Thats what REAL TEAMS DO!

Jay said...

Tiger Texas - When the SEC actually plays real teams then you can come on this blog and talk. Beating McDonald University doesn't count... LSU wouldn't break .500 in the PAC12 because their not use to playing an actual 12 game schedule!

Anonymous said...

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