The Ducks play Wyoming, but they’ll also be battling the altitude
When the Oregon football team takes the field Saturday against the Wyoming Cowboys, it isn’t just projected first-round pick and quarterback Josh Allen that they’ll have to be ready for. They’ll also need to be prepared to play at War Memorial Stadium which sits at 7,220-feet above sea level. It’s a dramatic increase from Autzen Stadium, which is only 418 feet above sea level.
“It plays as big of a factor as you let it be,” co-offensive coordinator Mario Cristobal said.
The Ducks have played at high elevations five times since the Pac-12 added the Colorado Buffaloes and Utah Utes in 2011, and they’re undefeated in road games against the two schools. Oregon has outscored the Buffaloes 143-42 in three games in Boulder, and scored 81 points in two games against the Utes.
However, War Memorial Stadium is over 2,000 feet higher than both Utah and Colorado. But according to wide receiver Charles Nelson, the adjustment isn’t as drastic as you would think.
“You lose your breath a little bit in the beginning,” Nelson said. “But once you get used to it, it’s easy and just another game of football.”
Being in top cardio shape can help players work through the issues that playing at higher elevations present. The Ducks play at a fast tempo and their athleticism could give them an advantage compared to other teams making their first trip to Wyoming.
“It really didn’t affect me that much because it was at the end of the season, we were all pretty conditioned and in football shape,” wide receiver Brenden Schooler said of the game at Utah.
The Ducks benefit from having a trio of coaches on its coaching staff who have experience coaching football at higher altitudes. Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt and cornerbacks coach Charles Clark both coached for Colorado. Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo was an assistant early in his career at Wyoming.
“You can’t acclimate in a few hours,” Arroyo said. “Go out there, work through the first little bit of it and don’t let it mentally get to you.”
One area of the game that could be impacted is in the kicking game. The air is less dense at higher elevations, meaning the ball won’t face as much resistance when kicked. It’s likely that this game will feature field goals that fly further and more kickoffs resulting in touchbacks.
Oregon kicker Aidan Schneider’s longest field goal of his career is 47 yards. This week, Schneider could extend his field goal range, and set a new career high.
While most players and coaches insist that the elevation isn’t going to be a problem for the Ducks on Saturday, playing at higher elevations might require certain in-game adjustments that the players wouldn’t otherwise have to make when playing elsewhere. What impact that has on the game remains to be seen.
“Football is football wherever you go,” quarterback Justin Herbert said. “We can adjust to it when the game comes.”
Follow Zak Laster on Twitter @zlast3445