Ohio State's September Trip to Oregon Will Present a Challenge Unlike Any Other Dating Back to 2016

By Andrew Ellis on January 25, 2020 at 10:30 am
Ryan Day and Mario Cristobal will meet in Eugene this fall.
Jennifer Buchanan – USA TODAY Sports

Autzen Stadium will present a different kind of challenge this fall.

The Buckeyes will head to State College in October and have the annual matchup with the Wolverines on Nov. 28. But for the first time since 2016, a non-conference road game might be the season's real headliner. 

On Sept. 12, the Buckeyes head to Eugene to do battle with the Ducks. We all know that Happy Valley at night and virtually any game at Camp Randall can present a challenge, but Autzen Stadium will be an entirely new experience for Ryan Day and Co. 

In his first season at the helm, Day led the Buckeyes to five road wins, including a trip to Ann Arbor and what many had viewed as a sneaky tough matchup in Lincoln. However, the team wasn't faced with a noteworthy non-conference road game.

Prior to that, the Urban Meyer Era saw Ohio State play home-and-home series with Virginia Tech in 2014 and 2015 and Oklahoma in 2016 and 2017. The Buckeyes went 2-2 in those games with both wins coming on the road. 

Ohio State finished the 2019 season with a 13-1 record that was good enough for No. 3 in the country. Mario Cristobal's Oregon team went 12-2 and finished No. 5 after narrowly missing the College Football Playoff. The Ducks capped things off with a momentum builder for 2020 when they topped the Badgers by a score of 28-27 in Pasadena.

The upcoming matchup between the Buckeyes and Ducks is already being circled as one of the season's biggest games, and there's plenty of reason for the excitement. 

Oregon is losing quarterback Justin Herbert, and that – along with the arrival of new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead – is clearly the biggest offseason storyline in Eugene. While there's expected to be a quarterback battle, redshirt sophomore Tyler Shough is the favorite to land the starting gig. A native of Arizona, Shough nearly ended up a Wolverine before siding with the Ducks. He threw just 15 passes as a redshirt freshman in 2019. 

The other key players to watch on offense will be tailback C.J. Verdell and offensive tackle Penei Sewell. Verdell has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons and scored 20 touchdowns thus far in his career. Cristobal is known as an offensive line guru, but he's in a tough spot having to replace four starters. The good news is that Sewell is the best lineman in America and the Outland Trophy winner has been a starter ever since his arrival in 2018.

Justin Fields and the Ohio State offense will undoubtedly cause some problems for Oregon, but the Ducks are returning eight starters on defense and bringing in a trio of five-star 2020 signees. Sophomore defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux is already being touted as perhaps the nation's best young defender, and the explosive edge rusher will be a tall task for Thayer Munford and what should be a very strong Buckeye offensive line.

The Fields/Thibodeaux storyline is going to get all kinds of hype as we get closer to the fall. The Buckeyes allowed 35 sacks in 2019, and that ranked No. 108 in the country. Some of those certainly could be attributed to the play in the trenches, but Fields also had a tendency to hold the ball too long at times, which isn't uncommon for a first-year starter. 

Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux will present a challenge off the edge.
Oregon phenom Kayvon Thibodeaux is already one of the nation's top pass-rushers. Via Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Studrawa has to find new starters to replace Jonah Jackson and Branden Bowen, but the general consensus seems to be that the Buckeye offensive line should be even stronger in 2020. Harry Miller may be the favorite for the left guard spot while Nicholas Petit-Frere may finally make his presence felt at right tackle. 

Oregon has had its share of meetings with the Big Ten of late. The Ducks fell to the Huskers back in 2016 but returned the favor with a win in Eugene in 2017. Justin Herbert then delivered bowl wins over Michigan State and Wisconsin in 2018 and 2019. Looking back a bit further, Oregon topped Michigan in 2003 and 2007. The latter of which saw things get ugly for Lloyd Carr in his final season with a 39-7 defeat in Ann Arbor. 

The Ducks' history against the Buckeyes hasn't been as strong. In fact, it's completely lopsided as Ohio State is 9-0 against Oregon. The most recent contest came with the culmination of the 2014 season and gave Urban Meyer a national championship win in Arlington. 

We're still about nine months away from this year's version, but Ryan Day will look to keep that trend going when the Buckeyes head to Autzen Stadium in September.

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