Ducks wrap up preparation ahead of Las Vegas Bowl

LAS VEGAS — This time last year, Oregon football was focused on getting back to winning ways with a brand new coaching staff. This year, with Mario Cristobal at the helm following the exit of Willie Taggart, the feeling has some familiarity to it.

“Coaching changes are always kind of a tough transition, but coach Cristobal’s done a great job keeping us focused and he’s a great coach and even better person,” quarterback Justin Herbert said at Friday’s press conference. “I know he’s got our backs and we’ll go to battle for him any day.”

With so much uncertainty in December of 2016, there’s a level of excitement in December of 2017 thanks to the Ducks’ participation in the Las Vegas Bowl, creating an immediate chance for the new coaching staff to make an impact and prove a point. For Oregon, the Las Vegas Bowl feels like a new start on a big stage.

“Well last year that wasn’t part of the circumstances so this year it has been invaluable for us,” Cristobal said. “These bowl practices, we’ve only had them 15 days of spring ball as we do in college football, it’s invaluable.”

Oregon has some work cut out for itself when they face No. 25 Boise State on Saturday in the 26th edition of the Las Vegas Bowl. The Broncos, who went 10-3 and 7-1 in the Mountain West Mountain Division, will be a tough test for the Ducks on both sides of the ball.

“They have a lot of great tools they can use,” linebacker Troy Dye said. “Their receivers are great, running backs run really hard, physical. O-line does a great job opening up holes for their running backs to go through. They have two great quarterbacks that they utilize really well.”

And just as much as the Oregon defense is wary of Boise State’s offense, the Broncos offense is wary of the Ducks’ defense.

“We see they have a lot of speed and their secondary is probably one of the biggest we’ve played this year,” Boise State wide receiver Cedrick Wilson said. “I don’t think we’re going to change anything that we usually do. … I think it’s just going to come down to who’s going to make the most plays.”

Oregon’s offense will have Herbert running the show once again with offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo calling the plays for the Ducks.

Running back and Oregon all-time rushing leader Royce Freeman won’t be playing for the Ducks in the game as he prepares for the NFL draft, but senior offensive lineman and Las Vegas native Tyrell Crosby will play in the game, wearing No. 58 to represent the 58 victims of the Las Vegas massacre in October.

“This is so much more than a game to me,” Crosby said. “I take a lot of pride in being from Vegas — especially being a football player from Vegas.”

His involvement with the team over the years has shown a level of leadership that was embodied in the Ducks’ campaign to make Cristobal the head coach, which Crosby spearheaded on Twitter and by gaining signatures to show support.

“The way he handles himself, takes young freshmen under his wing and guides them and helps set the standard every day is invaluable; it’s priceless,” Cristobal said. “He’s had his best week of preparation all year.”

Follow Shawn Medow on Twitter @ShawnMedow

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Shawn Medow

Shawn Medow

Shawn is an associate sports editor and reporter for the Emerald covering football, men's basketball, women's basketball, acrobatics and tumbling, track and field/cross-country and softball. He also hosts several podcasts, including a soccer podcast, on the Emerald Podcast Network. You can contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ShawnMedow.