2022 Pac-12 Football Preview: Ducks Primed to Shine

After the tragic passing of Spencer Webb, the team will play for something greater than itself

Posted on August 1, 2022

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

This Oregon preseason football preview is the ninth of 12 to appear over as many weeks as we count down the days to the start of the 2022 Pac-12 season on September 1st.

Pac-12Each preview consists of nine sections: OverviewBest-Case ScenarioWorst-Case ScenarioWhat Should HappenWhat Must HappenGreatest StrengthBiggest ConcernDeciding Factors, and Schedule Analysis.

Nothing is set in stone, however, as rosters and depth charts continue to evolve over the summer.

Oregon Ducks Fast Facts

2021 Record: 10-4, 7-2
Head Coach: Dan Lanning (0-0 at Oregon)
Offensive Coordinator: Kenny Dillingham
Defensive Coordinator: Tosh Lupoi
Home Stadium: Autzen Stadium (54,000) Eugene, OR
Last Conference Title: 2020 Pac-12 Champion

Beset by a rash of injuries in 2021, the Ducks fell short of expectations after pulling off a Week Two upset of Ohio State in Columbus.

A controversial loss at Stanford in early October was a blow to the program’s Playoff chances, but the 38-7 defeat in Salt Lake City sealed the Ducks’ fate.

The Pac-12 Championship Game was another massacre at the hands of the Utes, as former head coach Mario Cristobal appeared to already have his foot out the door.

Yet, the blowout defeats to Utah and the 47-32 loss to Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl, coupled with Cristobal’s exit to Miami, set the stage for a new coaching staff to takeover.

Oregon HC Dan Lanning | The Oregonian/OregonLive

Former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning was hired in mid-December, immediately working to secure the Pac-12’s No. 1 recruiting class.

Auburn transfer quarterback Bo Nix has been brought in to lead the Ducks in Lanning’s first season, along with UCLA wide receiver transfer Chase Cota, and Texas A&M wide receiver transfer Caleb Chapman.

In the backfield, Minnesota running back transfer Mar’Keise Irving has been added to the mix, while on the defensive line Washington transfer Sam Taimani made the jump.

And in the defensive secondary Christian Gonzalez from Colorado was loaded into the arsenal.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Oregon is implementing a new offensive system that promises to take more shots down the field.

The prior scheme under Cristobal appeared to discourage deep passes, setting the stage for the UO offense to be unleashed under Lanning.

And after the tragic passing of Spencer Webb, the team likely rallies together to play for something greater than themselves.

Best-Case Scenario

Led by one of the top offensive lines in the country, Oregon’s points per game tops the Pac-12 as the Ducks run the table in the league.

Nix plays consistently week-in and week-out, limiting turnovers and operating offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham’s system with efficiency.

Bo Nix | Abby Parr/Getty Images

Sophomore receivers Kris Hutson and Troy Franklin have breakout years catching passes from Nix, while Cota and Chapman are consistent options.

Running back Byron Cardwell thrives in the new play calling, posting over 1,000 yards rushing and more than 10 touchdowns on the ground. Irving acts as the second punch, delivering short yardage gains in critical situations throughout the year.

Finishing the regular season with an 11-1 record with the sole defeat in Week One to Georgia, Lanning wins a Pac-12 Championship in his first season and secures UO’s first Playoff birth since 2014-15.

Worst-Case Scenario

Nix makes too many mistakes and miscues, forcing poor throws into tight windows leading to interceptions. The aggressive shot taking downfield backfires at times, taking away possessions the offense needs in close games.

But the decision-making is worse during broken plays, where Nix uses his legs to keep the play alive only to give the ball away with a bad throw.

Projected backup Ty Thompson doesn’t have the explosiveness or confidence to make the dangerous throws Nix risks, limiting the offense and resulting in a disappointing third down conversion rate.

Oregon’s Ty Thompson | Andy Nelson/Associated Press

Forced to roll with Nix, the team lives and dies by his execution.

On defense, the secondary breaks down too often, getting burned over the top without enough pressure generated by the D-Line. In the trenches, the Oregon line gets bullied against bigger offensive lines, leading to defeats against Georgia, UCLA, and Utah.

The regular season ends with a close victory against Oregon State, capping a 9-3 record in Lanning’s debut year.

What Should Happen

The defense should shine under Lanning’s tutelage.

Led by Noah Sewell, the linebacking corps is elite if Justin Flowe stays healthy. The top teams in the country are always anchored by stalwarts on the second level, and Oregon has two of the best.

Sewell and Flowe’s command of the defense should produce plenty of third-down stops and force opposing coordinators to game plan around the duo.

Noah Sewell | Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images via KSL Sports

In the secondary, Bennett Williams, Jamal Hill, Dontae Manning, and Gonzalez should combine to form one of the deadliest DB units in the Conference.

Fifth in the nation last season in total interceptions, the group should once again provide the Oregon offense with extra possessions in pivotal moments.

Up front, Brandon Dorlus should lead the way along with Taimani, Bradyn Swinson, and Popo Aumavae, helping to improve on UO’s paltry 1.64 sacks per game.

What Must Happen

With all the well-earned respect Oregon’s offensive line garnered last season, its struggles along the defensive line were arguably overlooked.

Kayvon Thibodeaux dealt with injuries during the season, but the group only managed to finish the year tied for 104th in sacks per game.

The lack of penetration into the backfield was reflected in the defense’s third down conversion percentage, which ranked 118th in the country and 10th in the Pac-12.

Brandon Dorlus and other Duck defenders | NBC Sports

But it gets even uglier.

Oregon’s fourth-down conversion defense was 11th in the league and 111th in the FBS, its tackles for loss per game was 110th, and its Red Zone defense was 95th.

Each of those categories indicates struggles along the defensive line, clearly pointing to what Lanning must improve in his first season.

Greatest Strength

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Oregon’s offensive line is World Class.

Alex Forsyth, T.J. Bass, Ryan Walk, and Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu all return to lead a unit that was No. 12 in the country in tackles for loss allowed per game.

The group was similarly strong in pass protection, finishing fourth in the Conference in sacks allowed per game.

UO offensive lineman T.J. Bass blocks vs UCLA | Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

But the strength up front was most felt in UO’s third down conversion percentage. The Ducks were No. 4 in the nation on third down, converting 51.1 percent of the time.

The high conversion rate is directly correlated to an elite O-Line, which garnered national attention the way it bullied Ohio State in Week Two.

The unit returns nearly all of its starting members along with five-star freshman Josh Conerly Jr., solidifying Oregon’s image as a team that wins the offensive trenches.

Biggest Concern

The Ducks have enjoyed elite recruiting over the past several years, but enter the season with some potential questions along the D-Line.

Thibodeaux is off to the NFL, taking away the primary weapon up front that opponents game planned around.

Washington transfer Taimani and Nebraska transfers Jordon Riley and Casey Rogers have been brought in to help.

UW transfer Sam Taimani | 247Sports

Taimani probably ends up starting and playing a major role along with Dorlus, but Aumavae and Swinson are both capable of contributing their fair share.

DJ Johnson is another option on the edge, although he may line up mostly at linebacker this year.

Yet, for a team expecting to contend for the Playoff, the relative concerns up front are worrying. Lanning’s command of the group figures to have a sizable impact on the trajectory of the season.

Deciding Factors

All teams tend to live and die by their quarterback, but with Nix at the helm it could be a double-or-nothing result for Oregon.

Thompson and Jay Butterfield could steal the starting role if he struggles, but with plenty of experience in the SEC, it’s hard to see Lanning going away from the senior.

The offensive line should provide gobs of time for the veteran QB, and the backs should do plenty of damage, arguably putting games on the shoulders of Nix and his receivers.

Duck WR Kris Hutson | Oregon Athletics

The wideout group is a mix of returners with experience and talented transfers. Cota and Chapman combined for almost 500 yards receiving last year, while Hutson, Franklin, and Seven McGee together notched a total of over 700 yards receiving.

The group did lose its leading WR in Devon Williams and its third-most productive wideout in Johnny Johnson III, but the young talent is primed to takeover this season.

The unit is arguably the sole question on UO’s offense, and their production could be the difference between a Playoff appearance and another loss in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Schedule Analysis
2022 Oregon Ducks Schedule

Sept. 3 vs Georgia (Atlanta)
Sept. 1o vs Eastern Washington
Sept. 17 vs BYU
Sept. 24 at Washington State
Oct. 1 vs Stanford
Oct. 8 at Arizona
Oct. 22 vs UCLA
Oct. 29 at California
Nov. 5 at Colorado
Nov. 12 vs Washington
Nov. 19 vs Utah
Nov. 25 at Oregon State

Oregon opens the year in Atlanta against the defending National Champions. The matchup pits Lanning against his old team, creating an extra layer of intensity in what promises to be one of the top games of the season.

The game is probably closer than many expect, but figures to end in a Duck loss.

A game against Eastern Washington bridges another significant showdown when BYU comes to Eugene. The Cougar fan base has been constantly bragging about their team’s record against the Pac-12 last season, but should be humbled by a double-digit loss to Oregon.

Conference play begins with a real test against Washington State in Pullman, followed by games against Stanford and Arizona. A 3-0 mark over this stretch is a clear expectation.

The matchup with UCLA in late October, however, is a different story.

UCLA could challenge the Ducks in Autzen. | | Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

The Bruins promise to have a deadly run game and might have an improved defense, creating some questions that UO must answer. Still, with the game at Autzen Stadium, the Ducks should emerge with the win.

Lanning and Company then travel to Berkeley to take on California in another contest that perks the upset alert antenna.

The Bears have plenty of young talent on defense to contend, and likely have their most potent offense in several seasons. Although the final score could be close, Oregon should walk away with the “W.”

The road test continues against Colorado in early November, a hurdle that the Ducks should clear.

Washington then comes to Eugene, where the Dawgs are 1-8 dating back to 2004. Anything less than a 2-0 mark over this stretch would be a significant disappointment.

The year ends with two tough battles against Utah and Oregon State.

The Utes dominated Oregon in two games last season, setting the table for the Ducks to get some revenge in Eugene. Despite the strength of Kyle Whittingham’s team at nearly every position, UO should defend Autzen successfully.

The matchup with the Beavers is a bit more of a wildcard. OSU has a strong offensive line and defensive secondary, along with an experienced quarterback and a well-regarded freshman running back with high expectations.

Oregon should come out on top, but it could come down to one of the final drives to seal the deal.

With a docket like that in front of it, Oregon should do no worse than nine wins and could end the regular season 11-1.

—More from Dane Miller—