Editor’s note: The following is a Q&A between Jane Kenny, football beat reporter at The Daily Californian, and Jack Aaron, sports writer at Daily Emerald, the University of Oregon’s independent student newspaper. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Can you give a quick rundown on the Ducks and some of their storylines so far this season?
We have had a transfer quarterback starting for this whole year, Bo Nix, he has done unbelievably and is becoming a Heisman dark horse, you could say. We also have a first-year coaching staff. We got whooped by Georgia in week one, but ever since then we have been really solid.
If you could sum up Oregon’s season thus far in a few words, what would they be and why?
Unexpected. Improvement. After watching week one, morale was really low, but ever since then, I have seen this team grow from being a disappointment to one of the Pac-12’s best. That has been really fun to watch.
How do you think the Ducks’ non-conference match-ups, with a loss at No. 3 Georgia and a win over No. 12 BYU, impacted the team’s outlook for the rest of the season?
Personally, I think the loss to Georgia was a good thing. We got humbled really early on, and after the loss we knew exactly which issues we needed to resolve and how. Our game versus BYU, that really gave us a lot of confidence, that was much needed after losing so badly to a ranked opponent in Georgia. Then to get a ranked win against BYU, that was huge for team morale. It set us up to be on the win streak that we are on right now.
What would you say are the Ducks’ strengths and weaknesses?
Strengths: Definitely offensive line. We have had two guys in the past three weeks that have won Pac-12 Offensive Lineman of the Week. We have been able to control the line of scrimmage, pretty much run inside or outside, they set up play-action passes for us, which Nix has been absolutely great on with his deep ball accuracy.
Weaknesses: Right now, our cornerback is a little weak. Our linebackers, as well, we have been missing a lot of tackles and our run defense is shaky. I don’t think we have any weaknesses on offense, really.
Last week, quarterback Bo Nix recorded 283 yards and five touchdowns, dominating an undefeated UCLA program. Can you speak to his contributions to the team this season?
Not just on the field, but off the field too, you can really feel a buzz in Eugene — we have not had a quarterback this good since Justin Herbert was here. Every week he has grown as a player, he has improved and is making the guys around him better, most importantly.
Who are other players Cal should really look out for on offense Saturday?
Running back Bucky Irving. He is a sophomore transfer from Minnesota, and he has been amazing for us. We don’t really have a number one running back, but I would say he is our lead guy, he has a crazy yards-per-carry, somewhere around six. We have good depth in our tight-end room with Cam McCormick and Terrance Ferguson. Our best receiver is definitely Troy Franklin, he has made some really crazy acrobatic catches downfield, so look out for him.
What are some names on the defense that have stood out to you through the first four games of conference play?
We have a Colorado transfer, his name is Christian Gonzalez. We didn’t really know what to expect out of him but he has been an absolute stud. He has played so well that a lot of mock drafts are naming him to go in the first round. There has been great safety play from Bryan Addison, he has been amazing for us.
With eyes now set on the College Football Playoff, the Ducks are now looking to earn some “style points” in this Cal match-up. What might that look like?
Unfortunately for you guys, it may be running up the score. If we can hold your offense to under 20 points, that would look really good on our resume.
That said, what’s your score prediction for Saturday?
Off the top of my head, I will say 42-14, Oregon. Our downfield passing is really going to be shown off here, I fully expect Nix to add to his Heisman campaign. I would expect Troy Franklin to have another 100+ yard game. I think we will have three running backs with at least 50 yards rushing, that has been a trend for us because we don’t have a lead running back, but we have three or four guys that are consistently in there. I do think we will be able to contain Jaydn Ott, though I am a little worried about our tackling, but now is a good time to improve that this week.