With the news coming out this week that both John Boyett and Carson York are done for the season, Oregon’s game Saturday against Tennessee Tech takes on a slightly more important tone.
The Ducks are currently 2-0, but aside from their first-half effort against Arkansas State have not looked as dominant as some fans thought they would. Fresno State managed to put up 25 points against the Ducks and Robbie Rouse rushed for 115 yards — something that defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti cannot be pleased about.
With this somewhat bitter taste in the mouth from last week and especially without the luxury of having Boyett roving the secondary, the Tennessee Tech contest begins to take a different feel.
Now let me make something clear: I firmly believe that Oregon will beat Tennessee Tech — and beat them convincingly. However, I think this this game can provide valuable in-game experience prior to the conference opener next week against Arizona.
Outside of the physical gifts that Boyett possesses, he is the unquestioned leader of the defensive unit. The absence of Boyett, a four-year starter from Napa, Calif., means that someone on the defensive side of the ball needs to rise to the occasion and take control of the unit. Chip Kelly has continuously reinforced the idea that the team operates on the “next man up” premise and that the team keeps striving for their goals and does not dwell on the loss of a single player.
The at times criticized nonconference schedule that Oregon played to start this year served a single purpose: to gain experience for young players and to have the team moving at a decent clip to begin conference play. Yes, Oregon has beat both their non-conference opponents but they have not done so in typical Oregon fashion. Oregon is considered, and for good reason, a national title contender this year. However, the past two results do not reflect these high Duck aspirations.
I believe, like most people, that the success of the 2012 campaign will come down to the matchup with USC in L.A. on Nov. 3rd. The team that arrives in L.A. to battle the Trojans that weekend must be confident, know their specific roles and be playing their best football of the year on both sides of the ball. Now, looking that far into the future is a slippery slope, and I’m sure Coach Kelly has the squad focused solely on the next opponent whether it be Tennessee Tech or a top-three program like USC.
Each game in college football is the most important of the year, and for the Ducks their most important game right now is against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles on Saturday. I believe that the game on Saturday has the ability to change the tides for Oregon. A dominant team effort in all aspects of the game would not only appease some borderline frustrated fans, but also give a team that has recently been riddled with injuries the confidence that they can maintain their national championship-caliber play even without these parts.
This game is more than an FCS school battling the reigning Rose Bowl champion; while the final score might not be interesting, how we get there sure will be.