You've no doubt heard that the worst has been confirmed, and Nate Costa's latest knee injury is a career-ender. We've discussed how horrible we feel for Nate, but sufficient time has passed to pose the question: what does the loss of Nate Costa mean for the Oregon football team?
I was talking with a friend yesterday, who said something to the effect of "I don't understand what everyone is so broken up about, this is the BACKUP quarterback, its not a devastating injury for the team." I think we all feel terrible for Nate, especially given his history of major knee injuries, but my friend is basically right. The loss of Nate shouldn't have much of an effect on this team. Other than extra points and field goals, Nate doesn't actually play in any meaningful situations. This team should keep on rolling right through the rest of the schedule and into Glendale. That said, there are two consequences of losing Nate that are worth noting:
The first is simply depth. We all remember 2007, when we were ACL'd out of a shot at a national title. Nate Costa was our insurance policy, and we had the comfort of knowing that should something happen to Darron Thomas, Nate would be able to come in and still play at a high level. Now, we have Bryan Bennett backing up DT. And while Bennett has by all accounts been impressive in practice this season, he's a true freshman that hasn't taken a snap in a game all season. You don't really want to have to throw him in a game in the middle of a national title chase.
That said, there are a lot of reasons why this roster is different than 2007 as well. If you remember in 2007, many offensive starters had suffered season ending injuries before Dennis Dixon (Jeremiah Johnson, Brian Paysinger, Cameron Colvin), and backup QB Brady Leaf would soon join them. Jonathan Stewart was severely hobbled by turf toe, and the array of backup QBs tried at the end of that season (Leaf, Justin Roper, Cody Kempt) were like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, they weren't suitable for Chip Kelly's system. Should an injury to DT occur this season, we still have enough weapons that we should still have a good shot at getting past the remaining teams on our schedule, none of whom are world beaters. That would give us a month to prepare Bennett for the bowl game.
The second effect has to do with two point conversions on our extra point opportunities. We seem to do this about once a game, and Nate knows this system inside and out. He's the one calling the audible at the line. We've seen the swinging gate, a direct snap to the sideline, a throw to Bair, and the "pooper" play where Beard takes it up the gut. We've also in the past seen fake field goals. By all accounts, Jackson Rice will be our holder. Will Chip feel comfortable leaving these calls up to him? And he certainly takes all element of a passing surprise off the table. Its not so much that we need the points that we get off of these plays, its that they give the other team another thing to think about, another thing to prepare for. It sends the message that we will not let them take a play off. Are we as comfortable doing this with Jackson Rice as we were with Nate Costa?
Nate Costa's injury should not affect the trajectory of this season. But these two things are worth keeping an eye on.