The 12th-ranked Oregon Ducks put a 17-game winning streak at home on the line this weekend, when they welcome FCS foe Missouri State to Eugene.
Chip Kelly's Ducks were expected to vie for a national title this season, but the team got derailed right out of the gate in the season-opener, with a 40-27 loss at the hands of LSU. The dejected Ducks took out some frustration on the Nevada Wolf Pack last week, pulling even on the year with a 69-20 victory.
Terry Allen's Bears have opened up the 2011 season with a pair of losses and look like they will struggle in the FCS' Missouri Valley Football Conference this year. An ambitious schedule to say the least, Missouri State is facing its second FBS top-25 opponent in the first three weeks. The Bears were routed in the season-opener at Arkansas (51-7). The team played much better last weekend against Eastern Kentucky, dropping a heart-breaker, 28-24.
This game marks the first-ever meeting between these two teams on the gridiron.
The MSU offense has had its problems early on, with the team averaging under 300 yards total (287). The hope is that the insertion of sophomore Trevor Wooden under center will help. In his MSU debut last week, Wooden set a school record with 262 passing yards and two TDs. He also added 71 yards rushing and a third score. Wooden, who started at wide receiver as a freshman a year ago, sat out the Arkansas game with a one-game suspension.
Wooden is expected to get help on the ground from senior tailbacks Chris Douglas and Stephen Johnston. In the vertical game, Wooden will look to senior WR Jermaine Saffold (seven receptions, for 159 yards, three TDs) first. Freshman Julian Burton (seven receptions) will factor in as well.
The defensive numbers for Missouri State will be skewed a bit due to the blowout loss at Arkansas, but will undoubtedly get worse with the potent Ducks on deck. The Bears come into the weekend allowing just over 428 yards per game, giving up big chunks of yardage on the ground (173.5 ypg) and through the air (255 ypg).
Youngsters have made an impact on this defensive unit, starting with redshirt- freshman LB Andrew Beisel, who currently leading the team in tackles with 18. Fellow redshirt-freshman Mike Crutcher isn't far behind with 17 stops from his free safety position. Senior LB David Ingram (16 tackles) provides a veteran presence in the middle of the unit.
After getting stifled by a very good LSU defense in the opener, Oregon returned to offensive form against Nevada, blowing the doors off the Wolf Pack, putting up 69 points and 603 yards of offense.
Oregon's Heisman hopeful LaMichael James has been bottled up in terms of yardage over the first two games, but his dynamic playmaking ability was certainly on display in the rout of Nevada, scoring three touchdowns, one rushing, one receiving and one on a punt return. Although he is averaging just 60.5 ypg thus far, he has scored four TDs in the first two games. It is only a matter of time before he erupts with a monster performance.
Quarterback Darron Thomas, has played well for the most part and after two games, has now thrown for 535 yards and seven TDs, against just one INT. Six of those touchdowns came in a record-setting day against Nevada last weekend.
Kelly was pleased with the way the offense rebounded and played against Nevada.
"I made a big emphasis on cleaning up penalties and turnovers. I am happy how they came out at practice and I am happy how they came out today. Darron did good things for us and a 7-0 lead put us in a good start. I thought Darron played outstanding today. He got the ball to the right guys. We want to be a balanced football team and take what the defense gives us. Our offensive line cleaned up penalties and did big things for us. They were always moving forward."
Lavasier Tuinei has emerged as Thomas' favorite target, with 10 catches and one TD. De'Anthony Thomas (eight catches, 140 yards, two TDs) and James (eight catches, 117 yards, one TD) are certainly adept and making plays coming out of the backfield. A freshman, Anthony was extremely impressive in his Autzen Stadium debut last week, amassing 204 all-purpose yards and two TDs on both his receptions.
Anthony received kudos from Kelly after his performance.
"He is a young freshman and still learning. He is explosive when you put the ball in his hands, and a fierce competitor. He was fundamentally sound when he carried the ball today. Now he has two games under his belt."
While the offense brought back plenty of talent from last season's prolific unit, the Oregon defense had to fill plenty of holes. The early returns aren't very positive, as OU has been gashed by the run to the tune of 229.0 yards per game, including 283 by Nevada last week.
Junior LB Michael Clay has accepted his role as defensive leader and has been all over the field, pacing the team in tackles (21), with two TFLs and one sack thus far. The unit should be much better now that All-American candidate Cliff Harris has been reinstated (suspension). Harris is a solid cover corner, but is even better on special teams, as one of the nation's finest returners.