Verone McKinley III, Oregon's general, is keeping the Ducks in the Playoff hunt
Oregon has an inconsistent offense and its defense gives up major yards. So how are the Ducks 4-1? It starts with a third-year starting safety who knows what's coming.
(Eric Evans photo/GoDucks.com)
EUGENE — Verone McKinley III goes by “The General” now.
He’s not exactly sure who said it first. Might have started with the coaching staff. Could have been his teammates. “I think he kind of brought the name upon himself,” said roommate Steve Stephens IV.
Regardless, McKinley digs it. Generals lead. Generals anticipate. Good generals win. And if it wasn’t for Oregon’s third-year starting free safety, the Ducks likely wouldn’t be 4-1 heading into this weekend’s matchup against Cal.
See, for much of the season chaos has engulfed a talented Oregon defense. Kayvon Thibodeaux, one of the best players in America, has missed multiple games to injury and will sit out the first half Friday with a targeting suspension. Five-star linebacker Justin Flowe was lost for the season after the first game. Nickelback Bennett Williams’ breakout year ended two weeks ago with a freak injury at practice. And before the season even began, Oregon’s secondary had to adjust on the fly in camp when projected starters Jamal Hill and DJ James were arrested and consequently suspended.
With an offense that’s had its own issues through the season’s first five weeks, the challenges Oregon’s defense has faced would cripple some teams. Yet here the Ducks are, the No. 9 team in the country with a win over No. 6 Ohio State in tow and still right in the College Football Playoff conversation.
The Playoff is reserved for elite teams. Elite teams need to be elite in at least something. For the Ducks, that’s been disruption. And no player is better prepared for that than Oregon’s general, a player whose preparation has him seeing the field from an entirely different perspective.
“Things are happening in slow motion,” said McKinely, whose four interceptions lead the nation. “Over time I’m just seeing it, and it’s like (snaps fingers) there it is, and I’m able to go. That’s why I play so fast, because I know what’s coming and once I see it there’s no hesitation.”