In Remembrance of the 2013 Ducks and the Hope for 2014

Jonathan Ferrey

Never has there been such a successful season in Oregon football history that was met with such polarizing opinions. Whatever positives and negatives one can make of the season there appeared to be one constant. The team didn't appear to know who they were.

The 2013 college football season has come to a close.  It has been a week since Florida State was crowned as the National Champions.  It has been a week since the last BCS Championship Game and we are a week in to the first off-season leading us in to a college football playoff.  The idea of a four-team playoff is still comical and is merely a stepping-stone to an eight-team and possibly even a sixteen-team playoff.  But hey, it is progress.

I've spent a lot of time over the last couple weeks on this past season of Oregon football.  Some people make look at the calendar and on December 31st measure what happened in the past year.  The only calendar I care about is the college football calendar.  I often associate events not by the year they occurred but by which team won the national title that year or which bowl game Oregon went to.  This is because college football, and to a greater extent Oregon football, are very important to me.

I'm not sure exactly how I feel about this past season.  On one hand, I feel a little ridiculous having any beef with a 10-win season that featured Oregon playing only above average but dominating Texas in a bowl game.  On the other hand, rarely do things stay the same, and if you're not getting better it is probably because you're getting worse.  In a way, I really fear the unknown when it comes to Oregon.  It may be irrational to care so much about something that I have no control over.  I can't even see practices, I have no input to coaching or play calling, the only thing I can really do is cheer as loud as I can on third down at home games.  One could take this world college football of college football and simplify it to "Reality TV" for guys and "cheering for laundry," but it is real to me, dammit.

The unknown I'm referring to is the turnover and possible identity crisis.  The football program was modeled after Chip Kelly's ideals.  Helfrich came in and stated that he wouldn't want to change much, but there seems to be a clear lack of identity for this last team.

Under Chip Kelly the offense went as fast as it could.  For better and worse the offense said, "We are going to run the ball 40 times a game, all four quarters, and we dare you to stop us." While it could be argued that at times the offense was predictable and too stubborn, there was really something to latch on to and believe in as a fan.  Even in a loss, Oregon wouldn't have compromised what it does on offense and defense.

Tempo seemed to be non-existent this past year.  There didn't appear to be a frantic pace in-between snaps.  Oregon did go fast, but only 70% of what it did, and there were no changes in pace from milking the clock as much as possible to getting the ball snapped as soon as it was set.

In terms of running versus passing and keeping balance the Ducks seemed too reactive.  We heard all year that they would attack weaknesses and take what the defense gives them.  In a way that sounds super sexy in the sense that, "You can do whatever you want, but we'll just respond and hit your opening.  You want to take away our plan A?  We'll just score with our plan E."  That's not what championship teams and elite offenses that don't falter do.  Alabama lines up and says, "Fuck your plan.  We're running TJ Yeldon right at you and then we'll pass downfield when we damn well feel like it.  ROLL TIDE YA'LL." /chugs moonshine

As fans we know that coaches change regularly and the players starting change every year.  If there is one constant more than anything else it is a mindset; a philosophical set of principles to take forth.  People talk about "Men of Oregon" and that idea of the "Men of Oregon" should be the guiding compass throughout the changes.

What seemed to be the common thread throughout all the complaints about the season was that Oregon was having an identity crisis in a way.  Through coaches allegedly not motivating properly, to players quotes being taken out of contest that shirk conference title possibilities, to seeming unprepared for the Arizona game, the one thing that stuck out was that this was a team that didn't necessarily know what it was.  Was it a team that was going to sling the rock everywhere, try to lean on Mariota like Florida leaned on Tebow, shut down the opposing run game at all costs?  We never knew.

I don't look at 2013 as a lost season.  I view it as a success.  If you can get ten wins when not necessarily having an idea of what you are as a team that is pretty impressive.  I chalk 2013 up to learning experiences for those in the program.  Helfrich and Frost were going to have growing pains and this upcoming year there will be some growing pains for Don Pellum.  The best that we can hope for is that the players who were on this past team who are returning learned what worked well and what could be improved upon for the next season.

The bottom line is that when Oregon runs out in 2014 to open the season I would like to see a team that has a better idea of what it wants to be. For example, it is much easier for a person who has great self-knowledge to decide what career to pursue, who to marry, where to live, and make certain choices that are a reflection and indicative of what type of person they are.  This self-awareness does not come easily and at times it is very much a struggle, especially when an entire group is involved, like a team.  If you don't know what you want though, you end up with a lot of things you don't need.  Success for the 2014 season, however the players and coaches define success, is very much a choice.  That choice is made early in the off-season of how they decide their skill set fits in to their pursuit of perfection.

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