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Ducks find their rhythm after stumble

No. 6 Oregon has reeled off 8 wins in a row with rival Huskies on the horizon

By PAT GRAHAM, Associated Press
Published: November 9, 2022, 6:01am

Dan Fouts is a big fan of Oregon quarterback Bo Nix. Big fan of new coach Dan Lanning, too.

Big fan, in general, of this version of the sixth-ranked Ducks, especially the way they rebounded from a disastrous start.

Put the former standout Oregon quarterback and Pro Football Hall of Famer on the spot, though — expect this team to be in the College Football Playoff? — and he nimbly scrambles away from the pressure.

“I don’t expect anything other than they’ll kick it off against Washington,” cracked Fouts, who plans to be front and center this weekend at Autzen Stadium when Oregon (8-0, 6-1 Pac-12, No. 6 CFP) faces the 24th-ranked Huskies (7-2, 4-2, No. 25 CFP). “I’m not into prognostication. I’m hoping, obviously, but there’s a lot of football to be played.”

Just to work their way back into the national conversation has been impressive. Behind Nix, the Ducks have reeled off eight straight wins, averaging more than 40 points in the process, after opening with a 49-3 loss in September to now No. 1 Georgia. That lopsided loss — new coach, new QB, in Georgia’s backyard — feels so long ago. But it still seems to linger with some viewers.

There’s still ample time and opportunity to distance themselves even more from that performance, beginning this weekend against Michael Penix Jr. and the high-powered Huskies offense. It’s the start of a difficult stretch that sees Oregon host No. 13 Utah (Nov. 19) along with traveling up the road to rival Oregon State (Nov. 26). Take care of business, and a fourth straight Pac-12 championship appearance awaits, possibly against No. 8 USC.

“We’ve been doing something right for the last eight weeks, so we don’t want to change,” Nix said. “Continue to do what we do.”

Given how it’s going, that’s a sensible enough plan.

This team was listed at +12000 to win a national title at the start of the season, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Then, after that loss to Georgia, the Ducks dipped to +30000. Now, they’re at +2500, behind only Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan and Tennessee.

“They just kept working and they got it figured out,” said Fouts, an All-Pac-8 QB at Oregon before being drafted by the Chargers and later going into the broadcast booth. “They’ve got some momentum now.”

Lanning is in his first year on the Oregon sideline and already has seen his name mentioned at other places. On Monday, he was asked about reports of being linked to Auburn’s opening.

“I think there’s a little bit of a problem in society today with people looking for what’s next,” Lanning said. “The reality is, the grass is not always greener. In fact, the grass is damn green in Eugene.

“This place has everything I could possibly ever want, my family could ever want. I’ve got an 11-year-old that’s lived in eight states. The last thing I ever want to do is leave. I want to enjoy this opportunity here.”

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Lanning has this team humming along, including wins over a then-ranked BYU squad and another over No. 9 UCLA.

Nix, the transfer from Auburn, keeps setting the bar higher and higher, too, as he keeps claiming the Pac-12 offensive player of the week honor time after time. This week, he became the third player in conference history to earn the offensive award three straight weeks, joining USC quarterback Rodney Peete in 1988 and Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate in 2017 (Tate won it four straight weeks).

It’s hard not to give it to him. In a 49-10 win at Colorado last Saturday, Nix finished with two passing touchdowns, two rushing scores and also caught his first career receiving TD on a halfback pass from Bucky Irving.

Nix has accounted for at least five scores in each of his last three games.

“He continues to do what we expect,” Lanning said. “Big fan of our quarterback.”

Same with Fouts.

“Bo Nix should get some serious consideration for the Heisman Trophy if he continues to play the way he’s playing,” Fouts said. ”He’s got a real good grasp of what is asked of him.”

The game against Washington will be quite the showdown. Behind Penix, their transfer QB, the Huskies boast the top passing offense in the nation (370.2). They’re averaging 38.6 points a game.

“Just to give you an idea, the only time Duck fans root for the Beavers is when the Beavers play the Huskies. And the opposite is true,” Fouts explained. “It’s more than just a school thing. It’s a state thing. It’s been that way forever.”

Lanning is getting up to speed on the intensity of the rivalry. The alumni tell him. He’s heard it in conversations with former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti.

“There’s no love lost in this game,” Lanning said. “It makes games like this fun.”