Q & A with the Daily Emerald

Get the scoop on the Ducks with Daily Emerald sports reporter Ryan Kostecka

To help preview ASU football's upcoming game at Oregon this Saturday, The State Press reached out to Daily Emerald sports reporter Ryan Kostecka to get the inside scoop on the Ducks and answer our burning questions about the matchup. 

The State Press: When ASU and Oregon last met, it seemed like the two teams were on similar trajectories, yet Oregon won six straight to close the 2015 regular season, while ASU limped to a 2-4 finish in the second half. How much will the result of this game affect the temperature of head coach Mark Helfrich's seat, if at all?

The Daily Emerald: I don’t think Helfrich’s seat will be affected a ton whether Oregon wins or loses. A win will help his cause but it’s more about how Oregon plays than the result. Does Oregon roll over like it did against Washington or do the Ducks show heart and fight like last week against Cal? If the team gives up again, it’s a telling sign that the players have lost faith in their coach, while another gritty performance shows how much they’re willing to fight for him. Oregon is probably out of bowl contention so the game that carries the most weight will come in the last week of the season against Oregon State. Although, like last year, a victory over the Sun Devils could go a long way in turning the season around.

SP: How secure is freshman Justin Herbert as the starting quarterback for the Ducks, and how would you assess his play so far? What are some differences between Herbert and Dakota Prukop?

DE: I’m shocked by how good Herbert has performed. I believed Oregon was throwing in the towel when it named him starter against Washington, but I was wrong. What impresses me most is how mature he is when going through his progressions. He does a phenomenal job of looking off the safeties and linebackers to throw receivers open. Obviously he’s young, but he brings a lot of emotion and fight to the Oregon offense, something it was missing to begin the year. The biggest difference between Herbert and Prukop is the threat of running. While Herbert is an underrated athlete and moves well, Prukop was a legitimate threat to run and kept opposing defenses honest. Still, the team seems to believe in Herbert more and be behind him completely.

SP: The injury bug is starting to bite teams across the country, and both ASU and Oregon are no exception. With Devon Allen out for the year and Dwayne Stanford questionable, who are some playmakers who have stepped up alongside running back Royce Freeman on the offensive side of the ball?

DE: Freeman has been bit by the injury bug and struggled a lot lately. He lacked his usual burst and physicality against Cal last week despite declaring himself “perfectly healthy” after the game. Tony Brooks-James has excelled in his place, though, averaging more than 6.5 yards per carry the last four games and amassing two 100-yard performances over that time span. Charles Nelson found his form last week when he caught his first two touchdown passes of the year. Oregon doesn’t lack playmakers on offense. Between Nelson, Brooks-James, tight end Pharoah Brown, wide receiver Darren Carrington and running back Taj Griffin, the Ducks will always be in good hands.

SP: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Oregon defense, and who have been some of the standouts on the unit this season?

DE: It’s no secret that this defensive unit is one of the worst in the country. The Ducks rank in the bottom 10 teams in the nation in points allowed, rushing yards allowed, passing yards allowed and total yards allowed. This unit struggles with the basics: getting lined up correctly, being on the same defensive scheme, getting off blocks and tackling. The stars have been two true freshmen: Troy Dye and Brenden Schooler. Dye is great at playing in the opponent's’ backfield, amassing 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in six games. Schooler has stabilized the safety position for the Ducks and ranks second on the team in tackles – behind Dye – and leads the team with two interceptions.

SP: And finally, your prediction? 

DE: This is a battle of high-powered offenses with struggling defenses. My prediction is Oregon pulls out the 46-42 victory. The team – and almost as important, the fanbase – was inspired enough after last week’s comeback effort that Autzen Stadium should be rocking. Oregon plays better on emotion, so playing in front of a crazed home stadium could be the jolt that puts the Ducks over the edge.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @Ryan_Kostecka and The Daily Emerald's coverage @ODEsports.


Reach the reporter at smodrich@asu.edu or follow @StefanJModrich on Twitter.

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