Nicholls is a good first-game matchup for Oregon in one respect: they are a multiple-look, multiple formation team on both offense and defense, so they will present the Ducks with problems to solve at the line of scrimmage.
It will be a great test of what younger players and players in increased roles have learned in fall camp. Learning to react under game conditions, to recognize the formation and execute the assignments, is a great teaching laboratory for the coaches. Since the game isn't likely to be close, the staff will have a lot of film to go over with the offensive linemen and linebackers, breaking down how they reacted and how well they communicated on the field.
Down in front: the crowd will thin in the second half against Nicholls, but fans who stay may learn a lot about the future of the Ducks (Steve Dykes, Getty Images photo).
For the linebackers in particular, this live, game-speed drilling is invaluable. When Nicholls comes to the line in a set they haven't seen and shifts into another one, they'll start to feel what it's like to be in charge and command a defense. Once the ball is snapped they'll have a physical advantage in talent, size and speed, but the mechanics of lining up and making decisions under pressure is something that's hard to test in practice. There will be a lot of teachable moments.
For fans, it's a tremendous opportunity to study young players that so far have been just blurbs in the practice report and grainy high school highlight videos. How good are Johnny Mundt, Joe Walker, and Torrodney Prevot? How well is Oshay Dunmore making the adjustment to linebacker?
By the end of the game we'll absolutely know who's likely to redshirt this year, because every healthy player should get live snaps in this game.
For the Colonels, their offense will be led by 6-4, 215-lb. quarterback Beaux Hebert, who's appeared in 10 games over two years, with 569 passing yards, two tds, 4 interceptions. He has a famous father, Bobby Hebert, who played seven seasons in the NFL and threw for over 21,000 yards with the Saints and Falcons.
Nicholls' leading rusher is Marcus Washington, 5-11, 215. He's a capable back who gained 598 yards last season, 5.2 yards a carry. Tight end Nick Scelfo, 6-4, 235, is a two-time second team All-Southland selection, grabbing 22 passes last season for 300 yards.
Their coach Charlie Stubbs is a former offensive coordinator at Alabama, Tulsa, Louisville and Oregon State. In 2000 he was SEC Offensive Coordinator of the Year directing a Crimson Tide squad that went to the Orange Bowl. A veteran hand with 33 years in the business, he knows what he faces flying his squad across the country for a paycheck game.
This is no Appalachian State story. Nicholls is a bottom feeder from an FCS conference, 2-20 in their last two seasons. They'll probably be routed by Bryan Bennett and Southeastern Louisiana State in November. It's one of the financial and competitive realities of college football that successful programs schedule creampuff games with undermanned, under-financed schools that need the money. Oregon needs seven home games to balance the athletic budget, and Kansas State and Georgia have backed out of home-and-homes in the last two years. Scheduling remains a challenge, and the BCS rewards cowardice and risk-aversion.
What fans should ignore tomorrow is the score. Whether 55-0, 99-0 or 43-7, the number will be a product of how liberally and how soon Mark Helfrich substitutes and how quickly the Ducks dial down the tempo. Expect a steady diet of of red-light, look-to-the-sideline offense as the game progresses, with a lot of Inside Zone-Read left and Outside Zone-Read right. Quarterbacks and tailbacks should get a lot of work on the mesh, reserve linemen on their slide-step.
Don't leave early, and don't miss the third quarter schmoozing at the tailgate. The future is being written in those second half reps, and that's when we'll find out what the Ducks really have, because football is a game of numbers. Many of the young players and second and third teamers who take over after Marcus Mariota takes off his helmet will be playing meaningful roles later in the year.
Matt Takimoto of Addicted to Quack discusses the keys to the game: