Eugene- Hard to believe only two weeks ago Oregon football sat in a position to potentially run right to the conference championship game. After a thrilling win against Washington that almost seemed a couple years premature in the developmental process of this team the Ducks needed only a Stanford stumble along the way (one that actually just happened this weekend, in fact) and they’d be in the driver’s seat for the North title.
Now granted, this is still a team undergoing retooling with a new regime, so the slip-up that occurred the following week was not completely head-scratching. Washington State is a very good team, Martin Stadium was rocking after a visit from College Game Day, and the Cougars had an extra week of planning while Oregon was coming off an emotionally draining overtime thriller.
It was a prime “trap game”, and WSU exploited it. However, despite all that Oregon showed grit. They fought back, they made adjustments. What had been a 27-0 game was cut to 27-20 in the 4th quarter. After the Air Raid offense torched Jim Leavitt’s unit for 27 first half points, it managed only 7 in the second. Again, tough team, tough environment, great rally in the second half…I gave the Ducks a pass on that one (pardon the pun).
But what happened Saturday in Tucson was a different story. Arizona is not the team Washington State is, not even close. The Wildcats sat at 3-5; the stadium was about half-full. It was a 7:30pm Pacific Time kickoff that really kicked off closer to 7:45, the nation was not watching. Yet despite all that and the simple fact that Oregon is a much more talented team than Arizona, the Wildcats waxed Oregon like they were playing someone from the Big Sky. There was nothing that could be pinpointed, Arizona simply outplayed Oregon in every facet.
As I said before, the Ducks have a much more talented roster than Arizona, even Khalil Tate has been a shadow of the player who seemed to be running his way to Heisman consideration last season. The Wildcats pushed Oregon around, they gained the field position edge throughout, and they stuffed Oregon on defense. And when you look at that, and you look at 44-15, and you know this is the same team that pushed Stanford and Washington all over the field…I’m not buying it. Hats off to Arizona, but they didn’t win this game the way they did because they’re a better team, they won it because they wanted it more. It reminded me painfully of the Las Vegas Bowl last December. Same situation: Boise State did not have the talent Oregon had, but they had more heart, more drive, and they executed better. I’m not giving Oregon a “pass” for that.
Now, far from being in the driver’s seat, Oregon has a losing record in conference heading into November, and as we all know, November is crunch time in College Football. In 2006 and 2007 Oregon fell to pieces in November after looking dangerous beforehand. In 2008 and 2015 Oregon got hot in November after midseason woes, both times finishing on a tear and setting themselves up for big bowl games. What this Oregon team does is anyone’s guess, but I’ll tell you what, if they come out with that kind of drive and execution against UCLA this weekend and look like a deer in the headlights, whether they win or not they’ll leave almost no hope of rolling into Utah and pulling off a win against that team in that atmosphere.
Chip Kelly’s Bruins are struggling too. Oregon is again facing a team that in all fairness is not a very good one. It’ll be back at Autzen, and the weather will probably be cold and wet. It should be a nightmare for the sunshine-accustomed Bruins. Should be.
Oregon needs to make a statement in this game. Even if Justin Herbert and Dillon Mitchell aren’t cleared to go (both are currently under concussion protocol). Because it’s not just about passes and catches, Oregon needs to win in the trenches. They need to establish themselves as the tougher, grittier team and exude Mario Cristobal’s style like they did against Washington. The defense needs to be aggressive, they need to get mean. Now is not the time for nostalgia, Chip will throw every one of his tricks at them. Chip needs to be shown that won’t work.
Oregon had that kind of killer instinct against Washington, and the results on the field showed it. On Saturday, Oregon drove down to the 1 yard line in the final minute of the game. On 4th and 1, the same play on which they trucked the vaunted UW defensive line multiple times with great line pushes, they elected to have Herbert roll out and fire an errant pass into the end zone which was incomplete. What happened to establishing the line of scrimmage? Oregon ran over Washington on a 3rd and 6 “all or nothing” type play but couldn’t do the same to Arizona in an almost meaningless situation with the game well in hand? Again, not buying it.
After the Washington game offensive linemen Shane Lemieux claimed they were just tired of getting their butts kicked. Well, that’s two butt-kickings in a row now. Hopefully Oregon is as tired of it as they were then.