Saturday's matchup with Nevada was supposed to be a triumphant return to Autzen Stadium for Oregon. The thought process was the Ducks would come home riding high after a pivotal victory over a ranked team to set in motion a push for the College Football Playoff.
But Week 1 didn't quite go as planned for Oregon. The plucky preseason pick to win the Pac-12 — mostly by default — did everything right in Arlington, Texas, only to lose late, 27-21, to No. 16 Auburn in the opening week's marquee tilt.
So what now for the Ducks for their home opener against the Wolf Pack, a team that doesn't have near the sizzle of Auburn?
Are they dead Ducks? Or does the Quack Attack regroup to turn back the Wolf Pack?
It had better be the latter if Oregon wants to shake off what was a missed opportunity at Jerry's World in a bid to stay in the chase for a CFP berth.
And it needs to be a dominant victory.
"I think we felt that as the game started rolling we were prepared," Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal told reporters of the loss to Auburn. "We were making the right plays (and) making the right decisions and certainly did a lot of good stuff. We didn’t finish the game.”
Cristobal & Co. will definitely want to finish this one against Nevada. But the Wolf Pack have already knocked off a Power 5 team, surprising Purdue 34-31 behind a fierce rally capped off by a 56-yard field goal at the buzzer from freshman kicker Brandon Talton. It was one of four victories against P5 competition by Mountain West teams (Hawaii over Arizona, Wyoming over Missouri, Boise State over Florida State) in Week 1.
Nevada is coming off an 8-5 season (5-3 in Mountain West), including wins over Oregon State and Arkansas State in the Arizona Bowl. So triumphal return or not, the Ducks better not count on the Wolf Pack to be intimidated by the Autzen atmosphere that awaits them.
Nevada at Oregon
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Oregon -24
When Nevada Has the Ball
Talk of Week 1 in Reno centered on redshirt freshman quarterback Carson Strong, who was forced into duty — and stepped up to sparkle — with the hand injury to fifth-year starter Cristian Solano.
But for the Wolf Pack to will out a win in Eugene, the offense needs to get the very best out of talented sophomore running back Toa Taua. And the Ducks defense had better watch out for him, especially since he's already got eyes on him as a candidate for the Doak Walker Award for the country's top running back. After bursting on the scene with 872 rushing and 202 receiving yards as a freshman last season, Taua kicked this campaign off with 56 yards on 12 carries and 64 more on eight catches to lead his team in both categories.
If Strong can step up again in Week 2 — with Solano possibly asked to be a change-of-pace QB after an unexpected early return to the lineup —then it'll give Nevada a better chance to pull off another upset.
Strong was sharp in his debut, going 30-of-51 for 295 yards and three touchdowns in the upset of Purdue.
"Certainly their quarterback does not play like a freshman," Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal told reporters of Strong earlier this week. "He's a big guy who has a lot of length and athleticism."
When Oregon Has the Ball
Justin Herbert is among second-tier contenders in the hunt for the Heisman Trophy.
But the Oregon QB missed his chance on the national stage in Week 1 to earn a signature victory that's often associated with winners of the stiff-armed trophy.
Sure, he had a ball dropped in the end zone by receiver Bryan Addison, and Camden Lewis missed a 20-yard field-goal, but Heisman contenders need to will their teams to marquee victories, and that didn't happen against Auburn.
Herbert, who bypassed last spring's NFL draft for a chance to win a national championship with Oregon, went 28-of-37 for 242 yards, one TD and one fumble against a tough SEC defense.
He'll be expected to eclipse that Saturday against a secondary that lost a couple of seniors and is relying on fresh faces. And the Nevada pass rush is without another two seniors from last year, which means Herbert may have additional time to pick apart the Wolf Pack.
Last week, it was junior Johnny Johnson III, with seven catches for 98 yards, and junior Jaylon Redd (9 rec., 64 yds.) as Herbert's primary targets. Not to be outdone, sophomore running back CJ Verdell had 14 carries for 76 yards and a TD.
Yes, it was an emotional loss for Oregon in Texas, especially considering the Ducks blew chances to put the game away. But the revved-up fans at Autzen should help the Quack Attack put it behind them quickly.
Besides, if Justin Herbert has any designs on being the top pick in NFL and to put himself back in Heisman contention, the talented QB needs to come out and dominate. And he can certainly do that against a Mountain West team with plenty of questions on defense.