Oregon kicked off its first season under head coach Willie Taggart with a dominant blowout of FCS member Southern Utah, and then came out scorching hot against Nebraska before holding off a second-half rally to pull to 2-0. The Ducks can head into Pac-12 Conference play halfway back to bowl eligibility, but they have to ascend 7,215 feet to reach 3-0.
Up next for Oregon is its first road contest of the season, a trek to the University of Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium — the highest stadium in college football.
Wyoming welcomes Oregon to Laramie, hoping the combination of defensive tenacity and thin air slows down the hurry-up Oregon attack. Cowboys head coach Craig Bohl was a master of Power 5 upsets in his time at FCS member North Dakota State, but a signature win over a Power 5 opponent has eluded Wyoming in his tenure.
Oregon at Wyoming
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Line: Oregon -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback duel
Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen entered 2017 with plenty of hype, touted as a potential No. 1 overall selection in next spring's NFL draft. He struggled mightily against a stout Iowa defense in Week 1, playing without standout running back Brian Hill for the first time. Hill made Wyoming multidimensional in a manner that's difficult to replicate.
Allen improved in Week 2, and he has the tools to vex an Oregon defense that's still a work in progress. Taggart praised Allen for his arm strength and ball placement, calling him "an NFL quarterback." The Ducks' best hope may be forcing turnovers, which they did well in Week 2 against Nebraska — and which Allen struggled with at times against Iowa.
For Oregon, quarterback Justin Herbert came out for the first six quarters of the season absolutely dealing. He was a bright spot in a dismal 2016 season, but even the solid showing he had as a freshman paled in comparison to the first game-and-a-half of his sophomore season. His four touchdown passes supplemented a multidimensional rushing attack nicely. But in the second half against Nebraska, he sputtered.
The team that wins the quarterback duel in Laramie likely wins the contest.
2. Pace of play
Bohl's teams have long relied on a physical style, grinding opponents down over the course of a game on both sides of the ball. Last season, the Cowboys owned an average 31:34-to-28:26 advantage in time of possession.
The manner in which Wyoming wants to play is in stark contrast to the Oregon way. Though Taggart's arrival marked the beginning of a new era, the Ducks continue to emphasize speed and explosive offense. Establishing a quick tempo immediately is key for Oregon. That's clear on offense: Big plays produce big points, and Royce Freeman has returned to his explosive ways.
But on defense, limiting the length of Wyoming drives is equally important. Getting the defense off the field in that high altitude is a must.
3. Turnover battle
Because Oregon isn't yet built to physically dominate opponents on the defensive end yet, the most effective weapon in the Ducks' defensive arsenal is the turnover. That was certainly true against Nebraska: Four takeaways made the difference in a seven-point game.
Wyoming actually won the turnover battle in its Week 1 game against Iowa, 4-2, but the failure to capitalize on takeaways thwarted the Cowboys' upset bid.
Herbert has been accurate thus far on the season, but Wyoming needs to recapture the interception-garnering proficiency that helped it to the Mountain West Championship Game a season ago. The Cowboys had 15 picks, three returned for touchdowns, in the 2016 campaign.
As Oregon built a four-touchdown lead over Nebraska in Week 2, social media got a little hasty in its declaration of the Ducks being "back" to national championship-contending levels. There are certainly elements evident in this Oregon team reminiscent of recent Pac-12 title winners and national title contenders: Royce Freeman's running like a Heisman candidate again, the defense is creating turnovers and Justin Herbert has added a dangerous passing element to the offense.
But the Ducks still have work to do. Wyoming presents an interesting challenge, particularly on the road. Josh Allen will test the Oregon secondary, which is talented but young in spots. The Cowboys can hang around, but the Ducks should ultimately pull away.