Thirteen months ago Oregon Football named Georgia Defensive Coordinator Dan Lanning as its new Head Coach. Lanning was in the process of leading the Bulldogs defense to a National Championship, which Georgia will seek to defend without Lanning next Monday. Lanning would be Oregon’s 4th Head Coach in just six years.
After the decades-long stability of the Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti tenures, some Duck fans were beginning to wonder if Oregon’s investments in football success had made it a way-station; a place where a Coach would come to build a hot national reputation before moving on to his “dream job.” The hiring of Lanning certainly didn’t refute that opinion. Lanning was young, enthusiastic and ambitious but he was also inexperienced, having never been a Head Coach at any level and only been in coaching at all for about a decade. Lanning had plenty of personal ties to other parts of the country – but none to Oregon - or to other Universities that might draw him off if he could win in Eugene.
Early on, Lanning seemed almost nervous and perhaps even overmatched by the assignment. He inappropriately referenced the non-existent “Duck Nation” in a public setting but then seemed to become more comfortable with what can be the overwhelming depth and breadth of his job at a major football university. Lanning quickly assembled a Coaching staff, most of whom had reputations as good recruiters which helped the program adjust to the chaos left by the unexpected departure of Mario Cristobal. With new “ease of transfer” (Portal) rules in place and a departing Coaching staff, Lanning could expect significant roster changes, and anticipate losing players recruited by the previous staff. Lanning’s focus on Assistant Coaches with recruiting skills seemed prescient as the Ducks managed to bring in a high-quality 2021 class which initially included 19 four-star signees. With the addition of three-year Auburn starting quarterback Bo Nix as a transfer, the Ducks roster seemed to have weathered the storm.
It’s hard to tell much about a team from the Spring Game or even Fall practices. By and large, players and Coaches were “on message” saying something but not giving anything away. There was a lot of chatter about the quality of the secondary and of course the offensive line was expected to be very good given the experience there. The “free” Covid season left the Ducks with a bunch of 6th and even a few 7th-year players on the two-deep. The reality, of course, is that while you can prepare to win in practice, if what you’ve learned, what you’ve become better at doing, doesn’t translate onto the field during games you’re going to get slapped in the face.
#11 Oregon @ #3 Georgia – When Coach Lanning was hired, this game immediately took on a different character. Scheduled long before, it now became the first game in which Lanning would serve as Head Coach. Needless to say, it’s a game Coach Lanning would probably rather forget and Oregon fans would like to pretend never happened. A 49 – 3 beatdown at the hands of the defending National Champions left almost nothing but unanswered questions and nervous fans.
Oregon vs Eastern Washington – There’s probably no better way to scrub the memory of a bad loss than having a lower division opponent next on your schedule. The Ducks came blazing out of the gate, taking a 42 – 7 halftime lead and getting everyone into the game. Nix threw for 5 touchdowns as Oregon won 70 – 14. Bucky Irving ran for 75 yards and a touchdown. Troy Franklin caught 10 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown.
#25 Oregon vs #12 BYU – Seen as a challenging early-season contest, Oregon gave a hint of its quality by rolling over the Cougars. The Ducks led 38 – 7 by the end of the third quarter and again emptied the bench late giving up a couple of garbage time touchdowns to make it look close. Nix was 13- 18 and threw for 2 touchdowns and ran for 3 more to account for all Oregon’s touchdowns in the 41 – 20 victory. Irving rushed for 107 yards and Franklin gained 84 yards on just 3 catches.
#15 Oregon @ Washington State – Two weeks, two Cougar pelts, but things looked pretty bleak early for Oregon as the offense, particularly in the Red Zone, sputtered. Oregon’s poor play execution – including a Nix interception deep in Cougar territory - and some typically bizarre Pac-12 officiating, put Oregon behind 34 – 22 when the Cougars scored with just 6:42 remaining. In one of the most inspiring, crazy finishes in recent years, Oregon scored 21 straight points – including a Mase Funa pick-6 – and made Washington State’s touchdown at the final gun meaningless in a 44 – 41 victory. Nix again threw for 3 scores and 428 yards. Irving again led Oregon with 81 net yards on 11 carries and Franklin caught 5 balls for 137 yards and a touchdown.
#13 Oregon vs Stanford – Back home against traditional pain-in-the-neck Stanford, the Ducks had a strong first half, leading 31 – 3. The Ducks took their foot off the gas after halftime, however, after going up 38 – 10 on an 80-yard touchdown run from Nix. The game was never in doubt, but the Cardinal made it look close, scoring late to make the final 45 – 27. Nix threw for 2 scores and ran just 6 times but gained 142 yards and scored two more touchdowns. Sean Dollars and James Jordan added rushing scores while Irving had 97 net yards. Chase Cota gained 56 yards with a touchdown and Franklin 52 yards and a score.
#12 Oregon @ Arizona – Oregon was smoking hot in the desert, scoring 49 points in the first three quarters while holding the Wildcats to just 16. Arizona would score again but Oregon had a solid 27 point victory. Nix was 20 – 25 for 265 yards and again ran for 3 touchdowns, although he didn’t throw for any, as all Oregon’s points came on the ground. Total rushing yardage topped 300 in the 49 – 22 win. Noah Whittington led Oregon with 92 net yards on the ground and a touchdown while Nix gained 70. Kris Hutson caught 2 balls and Cota 3 while each had 60 yards.
#10 Oregon vs #9 UCLA – Both the Ducks and the Bruins had a bye week prior to this matchup and there were plenty of storylines, enough that College Game Day was back in Eugene for the tilt. Chip Kelly’s Bruins seemed to be finally hitting their stride in his 5th season and came into Eugene at 6 – 1. Neither team could get much going early, but Oregon got untracked and pulled away from a 3 – 3 first quarter tie with 28 second quarter points to lead at the half 31 – 13. UCLA could only trade scores and Oregon went on to the 45 – 30 victory. Nix was 22 – 28 and threw for 5 touchdowns and Bucky Irving ran for 108 yards. Franklin had 8 catches for 132 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Irving was a dual threat, catching 3 passes for 57 yards and another score.
#8 Oregon @ Cal – The Ducks were off to Berkeley and for the second straight game took a while to get rolling. Down 3 – 0, Oregon scored 21 points in the second quarter to forge a 21 – 10 halftime lead. The Ducks would put up another 3 scores in the second half while holding the Golden Bears to just 14 points including a late touchdown. Nix threw for 412 yards and 3 touchdowns, but also ran for 3 touchdowns and threw 2 interceptions. Oregon took what Cal gave, rushing for only 174 net yards, 66 of which were by Nix in the 42 – 24 win. Whittington gained 66 yards on the ground as well as catching 5 passes out of the backfield for 67 yards. Hutson also gained 67 yards on 4 catches.
#8 Oregon @ Colorado – As close to another Bye week as the Ducks could ask for, the Buffaloes put up little resistance. Oregon marched down the field again and again, racking up 49 points and using a variety of “trick” plays, especially to score. Nix picked apart the Buffaloes, going 20 – 24 for 274 yards and 2 touchdowns while also rushing for 2 touchdowns. Bucky Irving had another fine game, rushing for 120 yards on just 11 carries. Oregon linebacker Noah Sewell scored while playing running back, and Nix also had a receiving touchdown on a pass from Irving. Offensive lineman Josh Conerly, Jr. also caught a touchdown pass in the 49 – 10 win.
#6 Oregon vs #25 Washington – The first really tough opponent since Georgia came to Autzen Stadium in the form of the Ducks chief rival, the Washington Huskies. Oregon was surging in the rankings and was beginning to get some talk as a possible National Playoff contender given the quality of their upcoming opponents. Similar to the early part of the Washington State game, Oregon again struggled in the Red Zone and had trouble getting out of their own way. Nevertheless, the Ducks had built a 31 – 27 lead and appeared to be driving for what would have been a clinching touchdown when the drive stalled at the UW 8 yard line and Oregon settled for a field goal. On the 3rd and 10 play at the UW 10, Nix rushed for 2 yards and took a hard tackle. He appeared to sustain either a knee or ankle injury on the play. After a Washington touchdown to tie the game, Oregon went for it on 4th and 1 on its own 33 and lost a yard, giving Washington a chip-shot field goal with 51 seconds remaining to take the lead. Oregon drove as far as the Washington 38 on their final possession but could not score. Nix passed for 279 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran for another. Irving had 149 yards and Troy Franklin caught 5 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown in the 37 – 34 loss.
#12 Oregon vs #10 Utah – After being run off the field twice in the 2021 season by the Utes, this game had been underlined by fans for almost a year. Coming off the incredible disappointment of the previous week, Oregon was not in a mood to get beat by the Huskies twice. In another close contest, Oregon broke a 17 – 17 tie on a 41-yard Camden Lewis field goal early in the 4th quarter and closed out the Utes 20 – 17, keeping alive the chance for a Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl appearance. Despite his seeming injury from the previous game, Nix was a solid 25 – 37 for 287 yards. However, he had only one touchdown pass and also an interception. Utah’s defense was tough, holding Oregon to just 59 net rushing yards and one Bucky Irving touchdown. Dont’e Thornton led receivers with 4 catches for 151 yards.
#9 Oregon vs #21 Oregon State – The “Rivalry Game” or whatever we’re calling it these days arrived and it seemed like all of Oregon’s goals were still achievable. The Ducks could achieve 10 wins and a berth in the Pac-12 Championship game, likely a date with USC with a win in Corvallis. Oregon again methodically built a lead, going up 34 – 17 on a Lewis field goal as the 4th quarter began. But in a stunning, almost inexplicable collapse, Oregon gave the Beavers very short fields for 3 straight possessions and gave up 21 straight points to lose 38 – 34. Oregon fumbled at its 2-yard line on an ill-advised attempt to convert a 4th and 5 from its own 13-yard line, then again failed on a 4th and 1 at its 29 as Nix, clearly hobbled, was stopped. Needing a touchdown late in the game, Oregon drove the length of the field, but despite having a 1st and goal at the OSU 5-yard line could get no farther than the 2 before failing on yet another 4th down play. Nix was 27 – 41 for 327 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Ducks again had trouble moving the ball on the ground despite their superior offensive line, gaining only 143 yards. Chase Cota led Oregon with 9 receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown.
By losing two of its final 3 games, Oregon had now played itself right out of the Pac-12 Championship Game and had to watch a team it beat – Utah – win the crown.
#15 Oregon vs North Carolina - A Holiday Bowl appearance was likely not on anyone’s list of hoped-for season-ending destinations, but one can usually count on better winter weather in San Diego, so there’s that. After a month off, Oregon seemed a little rusty, but managed to take a 14 – 7 lead on a scintillating 66-yard touchdown run by Bucky Irving. After the Tar Heels scored, Oregon drove deep into North Carolina territory. But a crazy interception that was kicked by two Tar Heels and then returned to Oregon’s 49 set the Tar Heels up for a one-play passing touchdown that gave them a 21 – 14 lead at the half. Oregon responded however, and while the defense held North Carolina to only 2 field goals in the second half, the Ducks scored 14 fourth quarter points to steal a 28 – 27 victory and the Holiday Bowl Championship. A clearly still less-than-100-percent Nix was 23 – 30 for 205 yards and 2 touchdowns and the bizarre interception. He ran only 5 times for a net 6 yards. Irving had a monster game, rushing 13 times for 151 yards and 2 touchdowns. Tight End Terrance Ferguson caught 5 balls for 84 yards.
Oregon finished the season at 10 – 3 overall and 7 – 2 in the Pac-12. When Dan Lanning arrived in Eugene, most fans would probably have been happy with that outcome, but the two Pac-12 losses were the worst two possible and those games and Nix’s injury put a damper on what otherwise had been a pretty exciting season. Oregon fans are still hoping for the kind of defense Lanning developed at Georgia to show up in Eugene. The program had an outstanding recruiting year again and hopefully more of “Dan’s Guys” will be around on the defensive side of the ball in 2023. Nix’s recent announcement that he would return to play his final college season at Oregon was a huge positive.
For the season, Nix completed 294 passes on 409 attempts – almost a 72 percent completion rate. He had 29 touchdowns against 7 interceptions. Prior to his injury, Nix was also having a great year running the ball. Ultimately, he gained 510 net yards and scored 14 touchdowns. Irving had an outstanding season, solidifying his spot as Oregon’s #1 back. He rushed for 1058 net yards on 156 carries but scored only 5 touchdowns. Nix benefited from having some really talented receivers as well. Troy Franklin led receivers with 61 catches for 891 yards and 9 touchdowns, but Oregon spread the wealth around as 12 different Ducks caught touchdown passes. Kris Hutson and Chase Cota each gained almost 500 yards and Ferguson gained 391 yards and each player scored 5 touchdowns apiece.
Dan Lanning Year Two has begun. It’s a great time to be a Duck!
What were your takeaways from the 2022 Oregon Football season? Leave your thoughts in the comments.