Like their coach, Duck fans have become perfectionists. Chip Kelly, asked on Sunday about the Oregon running game, which rolled up 415 yards on Arizona after 416 yards on Missouri, and Kelly responded in his clipped New England interview voice that it could be better.
The Ducks won by 25 on the road in the conference opener, and most Duck fans, talking to their Duck buddies on Sunday and Monday, came to the same conclusion. It could be better. Darron Thomas, sharp and consistent in the passing game in two home wins, misfired downfield with receivers open. And the defense gave up almost 400 yards passing and 31 points.
Winning by 25 on the road in the conference opener wasn’t enough. GD58, one of the commenters at The Duck Stops Here, wrote, “I’d just love it if we had the kind of fast, smart and hard hitting defense that evokes the Gang Green of years not too long ago.”
Some of the message boards were not so kind. The murmurs and memes flew thick and fast, cries of “fire Allow-alotti” and “bend but don’t break” rose with familiar derision. Why can’t Oregon have an SEC defense? Why can’t Oregon have a defense to match the precision and productivity of its offense? Fans wouldn’t have been satisfied unless the Ducks won in Tucson by 70-6. They pointed to the drops by Arizona receivers, and suggested the Duck defense was lucky rather than good.
Fans have short memories. The Gang Green defense was a thing of beauty, fast, smart and hard-hitting, but it too was a work in progress. In game two they were blown out 36-16 in Hawaii, and game three they lost 34-16 in Autzen to Utah. They started to rise up with a 40-18 victory over Iowa to even their record at 2-2.
Gang Green was truly born in game 5, when Oregon, playing without starting quarterback Danny O’Neil, went to the Coliseum behind reserve quarterback Tony Graziani and beat the Trojans 22-7. The defense, led by hustling, hard-hitting two and three stars, several of them from the state of Oregon, was stifling.
But after a 21-7 loss to Washington State they were 1-1 in conference play and 2-3 overall. No one was comparing them to the SEC then. It wasn’t until they reeled off six straight victories, including defensive gems in the cold of November, 10-9 over Arizona, 17-13 in the Civil War, that people truly believed in the Oregon defense.
And every defense since has been compared to that one.
This year’s Ducks get Michael Clay back, and the defensive line starts to believe in itself and get more of a push, and the young secondary develops a little more consistency, maybe they can earn a nickname of their own.