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June 8, 2011

An Interview with Oregon Duck's Autzen Zoo Blogger Kristi Rifenbark

With LSU's season opener already sold out the eyes of Tiger Nation are focused squarely on our first opponent. As if playing a highly touted North Carolina team in a season opener last year was not enough, the Tigers have scheduled last year's National Champion runner up. The Oregon Ducks are a strong national contender again this year and whichever team wins the LSU/Oregon game is clearly a team on the fast track to the BCS National Championship this year. While I know Tiger fans want to read about LSU's football team, I think it might be interesting to find out what Oregon writers are thinking about their own team and about LSU's team. Today I have an email interview with Kristi Rifenbark who is the writer for the Oregon blog, Autzen Zoo. (Autzen Stadium is the name of the Oregon Ducks home field.) I found Kristi's answers to my questions to be well informed and interesting and I think you will too.

Bob/Bob's Sports Blog: Who are two or three of the top defensive players that Duck fans can expect to have a breakout year? Tell us a little bit about what is special about these players and/or why this may be a big season for these players.

Kristi/Autzen Zoo: The top defensive player that Duck fans should expect to have great year is cornerback Cliff Harris, but this is no secret. Harris stood out last season as the most decorated return man in a single season in Oregon history. Harris will be going into this season as a junior and there has already been talk of his placement in the 2012 NFL draft. In last year’s BCS Championship game alone he gained his first career fumble recovery, an interception returned for 22 yards, two breakups and three solo tackles. Harris’ biggest downfall last season was an apparent lack of maturity, but going into this season the coaching staff has already commented on a change in maturity level with Harris this year. Harris has proven he is a game-changer for the Ducks and now that he’s harnessing in his immaturity without losing any confidence, he will be a force to be reckoned with.

Defensive Tackle Jared Ebert could also be a Duck defensive player to watch. Coming in from Iowa Western Community College, he’s 6’5’’, 270 and he’s feeling right at home with the Ducks. Ebert describes his own playing style, "Speed. I try to play as fast as I can, be a playmaker. I'm always there to make a play. A lot of guys who play on the interior line tend to just soak up blocks but I want to make a play whenever I can." (quote from Duck Stops Here blog)

Speed is what Oregon is all about and Ebert is ready to bring exactly that. Ebert will have to adjust to Oregon’s level of competiveness, speed and competition but all signs point towards good things for Ebert. As a JC transfer Ebert may spend most of this season in a reserve roll but expect him to shine when he’s on the field and look for him to move into a bigger roll quickly.

Bob/Bob's Sports Blog: I noticed that Oregon lost two starting receivers from last year's team.  Who do you see emerging as the top receivers for the Ducks in 2011? Do you envision a 2011 recruit emerging at either Tight End or Wide Receiver?

Kristi/Autzen Zoo: One position to expect great things from in Oregon is the receiver. The Ducks are loaded and dangerous for the upcoming season. Oregon lost two wide receivers, Jeff Maehl and Drew Davis so they knew they needed to reload this year. So not only do they have returning receivers, Lavasier Tuinei and Josh Huff (among others), but their 2011 recruiting class is fully loaded. Three of Oregon’s highest rated recruits are coming in at the receiver position. Devon Blackmon, Deanthony Thomas and Tacoi Sumler will be coming to Oregon as three of the fastest guys in this year’s recruiting class. With this much talent among Oregon receivers it’s hard to pick out one or two key players to watch out for. As a collective whole, Oregon’s receivers will shine this year and will put a kink in the competition’s defensive strategies this coming season.

Bob/Bob's Sports Blog: As an outsider, what are your first impressions of LSU's offense and defense?

Kristi/Autzen Zoo: As an outsider my first impression of LSU’s defense is that they are powerful. Coming up against a scoring defense that finished No. 2 in the SEC and passing defense finishing No. 1 last season isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Yes, Oregon’s offense is fast, explosive and unpredictable but they are not perfect and, as we saw against Auburn, they can be stopped. Oregon’s loaded with receivers and they will immediately be put to the test against the Tiger’s defense. Oregon can be happy that LSU lost some of their talent from last season but they had a young defense a year ago so, looking ahead, those returning players just got a year better. It could be a tough test for Oregon’s offense.

My first impression of the LSU offense is that there is work to be done. There seem to be questions about how senior QB Jordan Jefferson will perform this year and the Ducks defense could take advantage of that possible weakness. This looks like the Tigers’ biggest challenge to remain national title contenders. If the Tigers have had success getting their offensive puzzle together then they will be scary. If things still look shaky now that spring ball is over then it could be a major weakness against a team like Oregon who will do everything they can to put lots of points on the board.

Bob/Bob's Sports Blog: At what positions do you see the key matchups in the LSU/Oregon game? Which of those match ups favor the Ducks and which matchups favor the Tigers?

Kristi/Autzen Zoo: I think the key matchup for this game will be strategy. Oregon comes into this game an arsenal of offensive threats. They have major talent in their receivers, they have major rushing talent and QB Darron Thomas is a threat with his versatility. The basic idea is that Oregon’s offense has options and LSU will have to be just as versatile to stop them. It comes down to who will be able to adjust quicker. I feel like the Tigers will play catch-up in this game and if that is the case then it will be Oregon’s game. If LSU happens to control the tempo of the game then I think Oregon will be in trouble – I don’t think a low scoring game will be Oregon’s friend.

Bob/Bob's Sports Blog: What score do you predict for the LSU/Oregon game? and How do you think the game will play out to equal that final score?

Kristi/Autzen Zoo: I’m going to predict Oregon beats the Tigers in this one; 49 to 31.

I think Oregon will score a quick TD in the first quarter and another late in the first quarter. I expect the Tigers to score in the first quarter as well; Oregon 14 Tigers 7.

I predict Oregon and LSU score one TD each in the second quarter - one field goal for the Tigers in the second as well; Oregon 21 LSU 17.

Third quarter the Ducks score one TD. I think this will be an early strike after half. LSU will get
two TDs during the third; Oregon 28 LSU 31.

During the fourth I think Oregon seals the game with three TDs and LSU remains scoreless
during the final quarter. Game ends; Oregon 49 LSU 31.

Thanks to, Autzen Zoo, and Kristi Rifenbark for participating in the email interview.  I think it is interesting to learn what is in the minds of the Tigers first opponent. Clearly,  Oregon Duck fans see a clear path to victory in the first game of the season.  This game is shaping up to be quite a clash of the titans.  I cannot remember a season opener any bigger than this one.  Our Bayou Bengals are going to earn the "Fighting" in "Fighting Tigers" for the opening whistle signaling the first kickoff.  Tiger football is heating up early this season.  What do you think about all of this Tiger Fans?

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