Andy Avalos will face Nevada for the third year in a row.
Oregon’s first-year defensive coordinator helped Boise State defeat the Wolf Pack during each of the past two seasons by guiding a defense that allowed an average of 20.5 points in those games.
“Every year is new, but familiarity with their offense and personnel, things like that, it helps to have a basis on that offense,” Avalos said following practice Wednesday as the 16th-ranked Ducks (0-1) prepare to host Nevada (1-0) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. “That program keeps getting better and better, what they are doing there keeps growing. Obviously, they have had success regardless of who they play and they come ready each week. The mentality of that program, it's a physical blue-collar operation, so there is no question they will be ready to play a physical game.”
Jay Norvell is in his third season as coach of the Wolf Pack after serving as wide receivers coach at Arizona State in 2016. The Wolf Pack went from 3-9 in his first season to 8-5 last year.
Boise State beat Nevada 41-14 in 2017 followed by a 31-27 win last year. Nevada’s top three running backs — Toa Taua, Jaxson Kincaide and Kelton Moore — return after combining for 71 yards on 19 carries against BSU last season.
“Those running backs are very, very physical,” said Avalos, who served as defensive coordinator the past three seasons for the Broncos. “They are one-cut, downhill, run behind their pads and fall forward. They do an excellent job coaching running backs there.”
Carson Strong, a redshirt freshman, was 30-for-51 for 295 yards and three touchdowns as Nevada rallied from a 17-point deficit in the second half during a season-opening 34-31 win over Purdue on Friday. Taua led the Wolf Pack with eight catches for 64 yards and Elijah Cooks had two touchdown receptions.
“That wide receiver group has been real good for a few years now,” Avalos said. “They have length on the outside, speed inside. Guys that can run and wide receivers that complement each other. Their quarterback did a nice job leading them back. He made some remarkable plays. He’s capable of extending plays with his feet. From watching that game, you’ve got to say that he’s a gamer, he made some unbelievable plays.”
Nevada won the game on a 56-yard field goal by freshman Brandon Talton as time expired.
“You used to think if you could hold a team outside the 35, it is hard to make a 50-plus field goal,” UO coach Mario Cristobal said. “Nowadays, you have to change that dynamic and sometimes hold guys outside the 43- or 45-yard line.”
Cristobal is hopeful that wide receiver Juwan Johnson and tight end Cam McCormick, who both missed Oregon’s opening 27-21 loss against Auburn, will return to face Nevada.
McCormick was limited all of fall camp with an ankle injury while Johnson “tweaked a muscle” in his leg late last week.
“They are getting closer, but am I ready to say they will be available this weekend? I can’t say that,” Cristobal said in his final media interview before the game.
Oregon is also without wide receivers Brenden Schooler and Mycah Pittman, who are both likely to miss a few more games. Freshman Lance Wilhoite is also out with an injury to a “soft tissue area just outside the knee,” Cristobal said.
“We have accelerated his rehab and recovery process,” the coach added. “I think in three weeks he will be available, but he has a lot of catching up to do because he was hurt early in camp. He didn’t have a chance to show off all he can do, but when healthy, he showed that he’s one heck of a football player.”
Familiar face returns
John Neal, who coached Oregon’s defensive backs for 14 years, has returned to the program as an analyst.
“There is scouting involved and a couple other details,” Cristobal said.
Neal coached at Oregon from 2003-16 before he was fired along with the rest of Mark Helfrich’s staff. He spent the past two seasons as an analyst at UAB where he served as an assistant for eight seasons before joining the Ducks.
Neal never sold his home in Eugene and returned to town before rejoining the Ducks.
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