Oregon Ducks tune in before the cameras move back to them
The bye week coincided with one of the season's best weekends of College Football. So yes, players took advantage before stepping into the limelight of this week's top-10 matchup.
EUGENE — Oregon defensive tackle Casey Rodgers spent his off-day last Saturday doing something he did frequently during his years at Nebraska.
Rodgers attended a neighboring program’s game, making the trip up to Corvallis with his girlfriend and teammate Jackson Powers-Johnson for Oregon State’s matchup with Washington State.
He struggled not to put on his coaching hat.
“I think a football player’s natural thing is to start looking at things analytically,” he said. “And I mean, I had the perfect endzone view of basically what I'm gonna be watching when it comes to film.”
Coincidentally, they sat next to the parents of Cougars’ quarterback Cam Ward, whom he chatted with throughout the evening.
“It’s cool to do that on your bye week,” said Rodgers, who grew up attending Syracuse games. “When I was at Nebraska, I always went down to Kansas State and watched them. It's cool to see the atmosphere. It's cool because we'll actually be playing there. Kind of see the battlefield before the battle even takes place.”
That last part is key.
Make no mistake, Oregon’s top-10 matchup with UCLA this weekend is the biggest game the Ducks have hosted in nearly a decade. And while Autzen Stadium might not reach the Thunderdome levels that Neyland Stadium did during No. 6 Tennessee’s 52-49 upset over No. 3 Alabama on Saturday, players spent their off-day soaking up the best college football has to offer to prepare just in case.
Said defensive lineman Jordan Riley: “That’s like the epitome of college football. The crowd, the experience, the energy, that’s all you look for in college football.”
Added defensive back Bennett Williams: “We know it’s going to be electric here and that’s something we can count on to our advantage.”
Players like Riley and Rodgers and Williams no doubt appreciate watching, but they and their fellow teammates view games differently than the fans who will fill Autzen this Saturday do. As much as Williams would like to enjoy the games for what they are, and watch like a fan, he can’t help but analyze.
“Watching it from that point of view, it's fun, right?” he said. “You can break it down and see, ‘Oh, this motion okay, I know this play is coming,’ and now you can predict it. It feels kind of good. But at the same time, you want to just be invested in the game and soak it up like I'm just a dumb fan.”
The Oregon players who watched football on Saturday tuned in for most of, if not all of the Tennessee win. In the late window, Utah’s 43-42 victory over then-undefeated USC sparked plenty of interest, too. The Ducks are slated to host Utah on Nov. 19, and the hope is that with continued success, they can reach the Pac-12 Championship — a game in which they could likely face the USC Trojans.
Is it different watching teams you’ll see later in the season? You bet. Players’ viewing approaches however, vary.
Take Williams, for example. He notices tendencies, sure, but it’s not his main focus.
“The biggest thing for me is really not as much scheme, but how do these guys play?” he said. “Are they resilient? Is he a mostly emotional player? Can I do something extra to get in his head maybe? Just those little things.”
Ducks’ tight end Moliki Matavao on the other hand, is a scheme guy.
“I was just watching how Tennessee ran switch vert(icals) to (Jalin Hyatt) and he was just eating on the deep ball against Alabama,” he said.
In an attempt to add to his game, Matavao takes bits and pieces of most every game he watches. He zeroes in on teams who use their tight ends in a creative manner.
“Sometimes I see a clip and you can screen record it and I send it to my coach and I’m like, ‘Look at this. This is kind of cool.’”
It’s usually a “we’ll see” from the coaches. If it gets in there, it gets in there, they tell him.
Even defensive lineman DJ Johnson, who often watches Anime in his free time, devoted his Saturday to football. And his eyes, like those of center Alex Forsyth, stay fixed along the front seven.
“Usually, I can tell how the game will go by watching that,” Johnson said.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the cerebral nature of his position, Bo Nix — the quarterback who stands to gain footing as a fringe Heisman candidate should he deliver a win this weekend — watched just like the rest of us last weekend.
“I just watch where the ball goes,” he said. “(On) the TV, you don't really get to see all 22 players, so sometimes it's easier to see the play and then every once a while you get a good look at the top view and you'll see what the defense is doing, but at that point, I'm just a fan again and getting to watch it, enjoying the game.”
And really, no matter how they watch, it all comes back to that — enjoying the game.
Said Forsyth: “If I can't be playing football, I'd like to be watching it.”
Said Matavao: “It’s the game I love. It’s what I do. It’s my life.”
— Shane Hoffmann
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