Senior suffers fractured leg again but could return for bowl game
There was more bad news from Mario Cristobal on the injury front this week.
Oregon starting linebacker Kaulana Apelu will miss the rest of the regular season with a lower-leg fracture.
Apelu missed the final seven games of the 2017 season and the Las Vegas Bowl with a broken leg, but Cristobal said this fracture is less severe and the senior from Aiea, Hawaii, could possibly play in the Ducks’ bowl game this year.
“He will be right there with me at practice coaching,” Cristobal said during his Monday news conference at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. “He’s the heart and soul, one of the many guys that are together the heart and soul of the football team. His presence is necessary.”
Apelu’s backup, redshirt sophomore Isaac Slade-Matautia, is also sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Sophomores Sampson Niu and Keith Simms will fill the void when the Ducks play Utah on Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium (2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
“They’ve worked at it and now they’ve been tapped on the shoulder and it’s here and it’s time to go perform,” Cristobal said. “We’re going to have those guys ready. The most important thing is to make sure they can be aggressive and play fast, not let them think too much, let them react.”
After making his first career start at Arizona, Niu finished with a career-high five tackles in relief of Apelu during last week’s 42-21 win over UCLA. Simms has 24 tackles in 17 career games.
“There’s a reason they’re inside linebackers, they’re instinctive,” Cristobal said. “We’ve got to make sure there’s complete clarity for them in the game plan and understanding what the opponent is doing so they can play fast.”
The good news is Troy Dye, Oregon’s star inside linebacker, is one of the most productive players in school history. The junior is on his way to leading the Ducks in tackles for the third consecutive year with 80 this season.
Apelu is second on the team with 58 tackles.
Dye has racked up 10 or more tackles in five consecutive games, the first Oregon player with a five-game streak of double-digit tackles since Mark Kearns in 1987.
Hanson targeting call
The Ducks will be without Jake Hanson for the first half of Saturday’s game at Utah. The starting center was assessed a 15-yard penalty and ejected for targeting during a blindside block, which erased Jaylon Redd’s 31-yard touchdown run on a reverse in the third quarter against UCLA.
Cristobal, who still helps coach the offensive line, said Hanson did his best to execute a textbook block on the play.
“That’s a tough one to swallow,” Cristobal said. “You don’t see him leading with the crown of the helmet, you don’t see him trying to launch. He’s really trying to do it the right way. It just so happens the speed of the game, sometimes it happens. …
“Minus the fact that it ends up being a targeting penalty, it was a great block on a really good design and an execution by the offense. But unfortunately it resulted in an ejection.”
Cristobal was pleased with the way the offensive line adapted to Hanson’s ejection with Calvin Throckmorton taking over at center and true freshman Steve Jones coming in at left tackle.
Dallas Warmack and Jacob Capra rotated at right guard, and Brady Aiello made his third consecutive start at right tackle, a position that opened up when Throckmorton slid over to left tackle to replace the injured Penei Sewell.
“It was good to see them respond the way we did and just keep going forward,” Cristobal said. “You know what, (Sunday) in practice we mixed them around even more. They expect it now. It’s a little bit like musical chairs for them at practice.”
Ugochukwu Amadi, who set the tone for the Ducks’ win over Chip Kelly’s Bruins by returning a punt for a 56-yard touchdown in the first quarter, was named the Pac-12 special teams player of the week on Monday.
The senior cornerback earned the conference’s defensive player of the week nod after his two-interception performance at California.
Amadi is the only player in the FBS to return both an interception and punt for touchdowns this season.
“It’s changed us,” Cristobal said of Amadi’s versatility. “It really has.”
Amadi, who is the first Oregon player to return a punt for a touchdown since Bralon Addison in 2015 at Michigan State, brought up the idea of returning punts to the coaching staff during fall camp.
“I’ll try to talk him into kickoff returns this week, see if he’s willing to do some of that as well. He wasn’t messing around,” Cristobal said. “He said, ‘Coach you got to look at my high school tape.’ How important is it to listen to the players? It’s very important.”
Mitchell getting noticed
Dillon Mitchell was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list Monday after producing his fourth consecutive 100-yard receiving game and catching two touchdowns against UCLA.
Mitchell, who went through concussion protocol last week after absorbing a vicious hit during the loss at Arizona, is the first Oregon player to have at least six receptions in six consecutive games. The junior leads the Pac-12 with 833 receiving yards.
The Biletnikoff Award is given to the most outstanding receiver in college football, regardless of position.
The Ducks will be looking for their third consecutive win in Salt Lake City, where they are 9-5 all-time. Oregon leads the overall series with Utah 22-9 after winning eight of the past 10 meetings. …
Despite losing 38-20 at Arizona State last Saturday, the Utes rank second in the Pac-12 and second nationally in points allowed (19.1 per game) and yards allowed (314.7 per game). …
Oregon is second in the Pac-12 in points scored (37.2 per game) and third in yards (443.0 per game).
“And God help you if you walk into an arena on game day not at your best,” Cristobal said of the parity in the Pac-12 this season. “Because it’s not going to be good enough, and it doesn’t matter who you are or who you think you are. That is a step that our program must take, that we must emphasize and get results from for us to be the team we want to be.”