In the movie Apollo 13, about a fictional country named the United States of America that actually cares about its space program, a mid-flight explosion changes the course of the mission. No longer about landing on the moon, the prime directive becomes simply to get these three men home alive. Flight director Gene Kranz, amid the chaos and panic just after the accident, asks, “what have we got on the spacecraft that’s good?” Because despite an utter calamity, he knew that there was still a job to finish. Today, we figure out what exactly on this Oregon football spacecraft is good, and worth saving for next year and beyond.
Tony Brooks-James is good. Oregon football fans have a ton of worries surrounding their team. The future at running back is not among them, because Tony Brooks-James is a bonafide feature back right now. TBJ notched the third 100 yard performance of his career last week against Cal, and has established himself as the best of the three main backs behind Royce Freeman, who has struggled with injuries all season and was largely ineffective against the Golden Bears. Brooks-James’ combination of shiftiness inside the tackles, and finishing speed outside, makes him a natural fit for the mold first cast by LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. Royce Freeman has too much of a future ahead of him to trot out there at less than 100%; let’s see what TBJ can do.
Tight ends are good. Oregon’s tight ends combined last week: 9 catches, 93 yards, 3 touchdowns. Evan Baylis, Pharaoh Brown, and Johnny Mundt have all had moments to shine in their Oregon careers, and having all three healthy and playing well is a huge asset at a school that has had
very few standout tight ends in their history EVERY GREAT TIGHT END THAT HAS EVER PLAYED THE GAME OF FOOTBALL. Whereas Vernon Adams’ game lent itself well to chucking it deep to the likes of Darren Carrington and Charles Nelson, Justin Herbert isn’t that kind of quarterback. As Herbert develops this year, having a wealth of reliable targets down the middle and underneath is crucial. Speaking of...
Justin Herbert is good. I think we can point to that scramble in the third quarter against Cal as the moment when Justin Herbert became a college football quarterback. Herbert drops back, feels pressure, scrambles left, rips an elite-level pump fake in Royce Freeman’s direction to get a defender out of his way, and rumbles for 26 yards. There were two touchdown drives in the first half, but Herbert looked like a freshman leading those drives - his biggest contribution on the second drive was helping draw a pass interference flag by underthrowing a ball. After that scramble, he was a different quarterback.
- Herbert pre-scramble: 7-14, 90 yards, 1 TD (68 yards and the TD came on 1 drive)
- Herbert post-scramble: 15-26, 168 yards, 5 TDs 1 INT
When we talk about starting the young quarterback to “gain experience”, this is the experience we’re talking about; if we’re still starting Dakota Prukop, then Justin Herbert is still a true freshman who has no idea what college football is really about. Now he knows, and he’s a better QB for it.
Last week’s uniforms were good. If we were to just take that template and wear it in a bunch of colors, I’d be fine with it. The collar and shoulder thingies aren’t my favorite, but it’s a heck of a lot better than anything else we’ve worn this season.
Scoring lots of points is good. I know, giving up lots of points is bad. But scoring points is good if you’re a bad team. The alternative is Stanford, who is a bad team that can’t score points. Last week, Stanford scored 5 points, and only because Colorado gave them 2 points on purpose. And as Flight of the Conchords once said, “Two minutes in heaven is better than one minute in heaven.”
Much of the remaining schedule is good. Yes, a road game at Utah is still on the schedule. And USC is riding a three-game win streak after their rough start. But the rest of the schedule? Potentially gettable. First, Arizona State, who is very injured and losers of three of their last four. Later, the aforementioned Stanford. Personally, I can not wait until their offense plays our defense, because one of those units will STILL look bad and it’ll be extra embarrassing. Finally, a Civil War that will return the rivalry to the glory days of two sub-.500 teams slap-fighting each other for a few hours. My revised season goal of “finish at least 4-8 and don’t embarrass yourselves.” is still in play here. 5-7, giving us a 3-2 finish, would leave a pretty decent taste in the mouths of Ducks fans heading into 2017.
This is your weekly reminder that Oregon has lost three games by a combined 9 points. About a half-dozen things go differently, and Oregon is the worst 5-2 team in the country.
Oregon football, as a concept, is still good. Autzen Stadium is still good. The Duck is still good. The fast is still good. The brand is still good, and still something recruits are interested in. In short, Oregon football is still good. No, this season is not. But that happens. Winning 10 games a year in perpetuity is something no football program can do: Notre Dame is just as 2-5 as we are right now, and they’re a college football institution. Michigan State is 2-5, and they were in the playoff last year. The goal for all top-level programs is not to win every game every year (excepting Alabama, though they aren’t far removed from awful seasons of their own), but to remain among the nationally relevant programs in the country. You wanna know why Oregon’s been getting the most press of any bad team in the country, like Mark Helfrich’s College Gameday interview during Oregon bye week? Because Oregon is the most interesting bad team in the country. That’s kind of an okay thing. About 50 college football teams are bad, and no one cares. People still care about Oregon football, even in this disaster of a season.
Let’s think about good things this week, my friends. What about Oregon football is good? Lemme know in the comments.