When Oregon parted the Red Sea on the final play of overtime against Washington, the Ducks did so with two of their top offensive linemen on the sideline.
The No. 12 Ducks will have another sea of red waiting for them Saturday in Pullman, Wash., where 25th-ranked Washington State will be hosting ESPN’s “College GameDay” for the first time in school history. Coach Mario Cristobal is hoping his two injured linemen, left tackle Penei Sewell and right guard Dallas Warmack, will be available to help clear the way.
“Dallas I believe is full go,” Cristobal said Monday at his weekly news conference. “Penei, we’re going to wait and see how he is.”
Warmack went to the locker room with a stinger during Saturday’s game and returned to the sideline in street clothes. Sewell suffered an ankle injury after being bent backward in a pile-up. He returned to the game but exited again after a CJ Verdell touchdown run in the third quarter.
Junior Brady Aiello and sophomore Jacob Capra played in place of the injured starters and opened the hole for Verdell’s game-winning run in overtime. When Cristobal reviewed the Washington game, he saw confirmation of Oregon’s improved depth and tenacity at the line of scrimmage.
“The physicality of the front lines continues to improve and progress,” Cristobal said. “The investment is paying off. That being said, we’re not where we need to be yet, but we’re making a lot of progress in that department.”
In addition to the game-winning touchdown, Oregon’s offensive line paved the way for Verdell to become the Pac-12’s offensive player of the week after his two-touchdown, 111-yard performance against Washington. Verdell is the first Duck to open Pac-12 play with three straight 100-yard rushing games since Byron Marshall in 2013, and he’s the first freshman to do so in school history.
Against Washington, the Ducks ran the ball on 49 of their 81 plays (60.5 percent) and 75 percent of their first-down plays without having a running back tackled for negative yardage.
“It’s the direction we’ve been really aiming for and working toward since January, being able to control the line of scrimmage,” Cristobal said. “They’re an excellent front and an excellent defense — a lot of talent, a lot of big-stop guys. After a game like that, your body feels it. You can tell.”
Targeting under review
Targeting penalties have been a controversial subject in the Pac-12 since it was revealed that the conference office influenced replay decisions during a game between USC and Washington State earlier this season.
Oregon and Washington both had players ejected from Saturday’s game for targeting. The Ducks’ Drayton Carlberg was flagged for a hit under the chin of Washington’s Jake Browning, and Washington’s Jaylen Johnson was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit against Justin Herbert. Because his penalty occurred in the first half, Carlberg won’t have to miss the first half against Washington State.
“The rule is what it is,” Cristobal said. “I’m certainly not going to contest it or complain about it, but it’s difficult. It’s tough when a player is trying to do the right things and he ends up being ejected in a critical game at a position where the depth is an issue.”
Asked about the controversy surrounding the Pac-12’s replay procedures, Cristobal declined to wade into the fray.
“In terms of the officiating stuff, I don’t have a comment,” he said. “I know there’s some challenges that come with it. Controversy is always going to follow it in one way, shape or form or another, but we trust the conference is working hard to get everything right.”
Stars in the house
Oregon picked Saturday’s game to schedule one of its biggest recruiting weekends of the year, a risky move given the Ducks’ recent results against the Huskies.
The gamble paid off as the recruits in attendance — including the No. 1 player in the 2019 class, five-star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux of Thousand Oaks, Calif. — got to experience a dramatic victory and a euphoric celebration on the Autzen Stadium turf.
“A moment like that, it’s hard to duplicate, now,” Cristobal said. “Those things are impactful. Does it make it the tipping point for a decision? I don’t know.
“A lot of times prospects have their decisions made before they announce them. But certainly things like that, they don’t hurt it.”
Oregon is one of the schools in Thibodeaux’s top five, along with Florida, Florida State, Alabama and USC.
“This duck family is something else,” Thibodeaux tweeted during his visit.
One visitor who did pull the trigger on a decision was Seth Figgins, a three-star tight end from Westlake Village, Calif. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound recruit for 2020 also has offers from Arizona State, Texas, USC and Utah, according to 247Sports.
Figgins is Oregon's only known commitment for 2020. The Ducks have 22 players committed for their 2019 class.
Pac-12 after dark in Tucson
Oregon’s Oct. 27 game at Arizona will be another late one.
The Pac-12 announced Monday the game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN. Other Pac-12 games that day are Oregon State at Colorado (noon, Pac-12 Network), Arizona State at USC (12:30 p.m., ABC or ESPN/ESPN2), Washington at California (3:30 p.m., FS1), and Washington State at Stanford (4 p.m., Pac-12).