A win in Corvallis guarantees Oregon a better record than last year
More than just bragging rights will be up for grabs when Oregon (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) heads north to face in-state rival Oregon State (2-9, 1-7 Pac-12), on Friday.
For the Ducks, a win guarantees a better record than last year's debacle proof that the program under head coach Mario Cristobal is moving in the right direction.
"We're rebuilding a program too ... to me that's the biggest focus," Cristobal said. "We got to understand where we are, where we're going and the progress that we've made ... we want to continue it, so I'd say the bulk of the focus is on that."
Oregon is coming off a 31-29 victory over Arizona State last week, a game in which the Ducks turned the ball over four times but held on in the end.
"I think we're educated to the point where we understand it, how difficult that is to overcome," Cristobal said. "I don't know if many people really truly understand how hard that is, to have four turnovers in a game and still find a way to win."
For the Ducks, the trip to Corvallis will provide plenty of motivation considering what unfolded two years ago. Under former head coach Mark Helfrich, the Ducks went into Reser stadium and were promptly ran over by Ryan Nall and Oregon State. Nall ran for 155 yards in four scores as the Beavers ended their eight-game losing streak in the series.
"We didn't do too well the last time we were over there," Cristobal said. "So, we talk about a lot of things that are motivating factors, but our team is motivated."
That loss prompted Oregon brass to move on from Helfrich and the coaching carousel surrounding the Ducks has been spinning ever since. Cristobal is the Ducks' third coach in three years, with each previous coach moving on following the Civil War game.
Quarterback Justin Herbert suffered his first loss in the rivalry in that game but rebounded with a performance for the ages in last season's 69-10 victory.
Herbert accounted for four total touchdowns while the Ducks racked up 311 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Wide receiver Dillon Mitchell had his breakout game with six catches for 119 yards and two scores.
Instead of their typical stout running game to lean on, Oregon has relied on the production of Herbert and Mitchell, two of the better offensive players in the conference.
Herbert has completed 212 of 359 passes for 2,883 yards and 27 touchdowns with eight interceptions. Mitchell has been his favorite target, accounting for well over one-third of the passing offense 68 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine scores.
Much like Oregon, the Beavers find themselves in a similar situation under first-year head coach Jonathon Smith. After nearly a decade of despair, Oregon State hopes that Smith is the right man to lead the Beavers out of it and a win over the Ducks is exactly what's needed to provide hope.
"I want our approach to be like another opportunity if you're going to play your best, you want the approach to be consistent," said Smith, a former Oregon State quarterback, said. "Emotions do run high in rivalry games, but once you get into the game it comes down to execution."
The Beavers will try to re-enact the successful plan from two years ago by pounding the ball inside and keeping Oregon' offense off the field.
Jemar Jefferson is one of the best freshmen running backs in the country. He has rushed for 1,316 yards on 218 carries (6.0 yards per carry) and 12 touchdowns.
The winner of the 122nd Civil War will have its program heading in the right direction, while the loser must suffer through another offseason full of questions and speculation.