EUGENE, Ore. — Oregon is approaching the Pac-12 Championship Game against Washington tonight with a lot at stake for the program.
All eyes will be on Allegiant Stadium as two top-five teams clash for the conference crown, and the winner of the rematch will clinch a berth in the College Football Playoffs. Coach Dan Lanning has his Ducks playing like the hottest team in the country. Since losing to Washington two months ago, Oregon has won six-straight games, and each contest by double-digits.
There’s no denying the Ducks have a lot of momentum heading into Las Vegas, and Lanning is ready to take advantage of the spotlight.
“We’ve got great energy, and I don’t think it’s really my job to necessarily temper the energy, but more so, make sure that we maintain the focus somewhere it needs to be,” Lanning said. “Our guys have done a great job of that, they realize that energy doesn’t win games, execution does.”
The Ducks been executing at a high level too. Oregon is No. 2 nationally in scoring and total offense, and that’s because of their Heisman contender at quarterback. Bo Nix continues to play out of his mind, in his pursuit of winning a conference title. The gunslinger leads the entire FBS in completion percentage, and is second in passing efficiency. None of Nix’s jaw-dropping stats come as a surprise to Lanning though. In his eyes Nix is just cracking the surface on his potential.
“I think Bo’s always had that ability, he’s playing at an extremely high level, and everybody’s seen it right now,” he said. “You talk about the caliber player he is, he’s gotten better and better every single week of the season. ”
Everyone is expecting Nix to slug it out with Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. On top of that, the winner of Friday night’s matchup will likely be the Heisman front-runner. Lanning knows Penix is one of the best signal-callers in the country. The Husky gunslinger threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns in the win over the Ducks in October.
The naysayers are criticizing Penix because of his recent struggles, but he has Lanning’s full attention.
“I think he’s still won every single game, and maybe he hasn’t had some of the stats that he’s had earlier in the season, but he’s obviously a really talented quarterback, a really good quarterback,” the 37-year old said. “So it’s late in the season, everybody gets a little bit banged up, but to me, he’s still playing really elite football.”
Once the smoke clears, the Pac-12 will finally have a team in the Playoffs. No Pac-12 team has reached the Playoffs since Washington accomplished that feat in 2016. This is the biggest game of Lanning’s career, and he’s only in his second year of leading the program. It’s no mystery he’s one of the most successful head coaches under the age of 40. He’s 21-4 with the Ducks, including a 17-3 mark in Pac-12 play.
Now his team can potentially kill three birds with one stone by avenging their only loss of the season, winning the Pac-12 hardware, and punching their ticket to postseason glory. The anticipation is through the roof, Lanning understands that a win will go a long way towards the program transitioning to the Big Ten next season. Everyone is dialed in and ready to go, and that’s how Lanning likes it.
“We always have a plan for ways that we’re going to motivate our players, but I’ll say this one doesn’t require a lot of extra motivation.”