First off all, I want to commend LSU for playing a great game. Certainly everyone sporting green & yellow inside and out is disappointed in the outcome from Saturday night, but it is important and somewhat therapeutic to take a closer look at what happened and take away some positives from this weekend.
It was a starting point, definitely something to build upon. I really liked the way some of the freshman stepped up and played excellent in their first game experience. The heat looked to be Oregon’s biggest problem, well that and what I would call ‘first game jitters’. Oregon just looked like they were panicked, bouncing around bumping into stuff not settling into any consistent rhythm.
The amount of cramps suffered by both teams, particularly Oregon, was a little surprising, as last season Oregon rarely had this issue even when playing in hot conditions like ASU. However that ASU game came several games into the season, which perhaps showcases the difference between camp conditioning and mid-season form. If this game had been played several games into the season, would so many of Oregon’s players been stricken with leg cramps limiting their performance?
LSU’s gameplan seemed quite simple, just sit back and wait for Oregon to shoot itself in the webfoot. If LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner had not both been cramping up in the game, it is doubtful that DeAnthony Thomas would have had the ball loosely held in his hand on the field in the two key back-to-back Oregon possessions that resulted in fumbles in the 2nd half, which decidedly swung the game permanently in LSU’s favor. It’s hard to blame a true freshman who still has yet to attend a single class and showed a lot of promise in the game too (12 touches, 122 yards, 1 touchdown), but if there is one thing to immediately point at to find cause for the loss, it is the four turnovers.
LSU won by 13 points, and were given 20 points on fumbles within easy reach of the endzone. Despite the final outcome on the scoreboard, LSU actually did very little to win the game, except to say thank you very much for the gift fumbles close to the endzone and politely capitalize on these perfect opportunities.
The defense overall played very well, forced into difficult situations all game long not getting any favors from the Ducks offense or special teams. The defensive line held stout for most of the game against a bigger offensive line, tackled well, and the secondary play in particular by senior cornerback Anthony Gildon and safety John Boyett was nothing short of spectacular.
One of the big concerns in the game was the performance of first-time starting center redshirt freshman Hroniss Grasu. Could Grasu hold up against the powerful defensive line of LSU? Much of Oregon’s offensive line performed well, though the left side of the line collapsed numerous times, especially once Darrion Weems became hobbled. Surprisingly amidst impressive play from LSU’s defensive line Grasu held strong, only getting pushed backwards a couple times all game and rarely being off-target with the shotgun snap. In fact, Grasu was Oregon’s most consistent offensive linemen all game, a spot where many predicted LSU would have a decided advantage over the Ducks.
Oregon’s superstars Darron Thomas and LaMichael James both looked skittish in their play, unwilling to attack full bore, perhaps not mentally prepared with it being their first game back home in Texas playing in front of friends and family. Thomas appeared way too amped up, rocketing balls at receivers only a few yards away, and was wildly off-target on downfield throws. James meanwhile had a tendency to stutter-step behind the line rather than attack the hole.
The game was oddly reminiscent of both last season’s BCS national championship and the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl, where Oregon all but abandoned the run early on and turned pass-happy going completely against the grain of the bread and butter that got Oregon into its current stature. A team predicated on running a modified triple-option offense shouldn’t have quarterbacks throwing 40-50+ times a game, playing directly into LSU’s best strength, their secondary.
Had LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner not been cramping up perhaps Oregon would not have gone 100% pass in the 2nd half, but Les Miles and LSU fans had to be laughing watching Oregon take away their best weapons and attack with their weakest attribute going against LSU’s strongest point, the equivalent of showing up to a sword fight armed with a cardboard tube.
Now Oregon must regoup, feeling confident in their defensive play but needing to spend some quality time with the offense thinking about what is it that makes the Oregon Ducks the Oregon Ducks…get back to basics, don’t be cute or overly complex, don’t overthink things, and don’t make the repeated unnecessary mental errors showcased to the nation on Saturday. Oregon can beat nearly any team in the country, but the only thing they showed against LSU was how to beat themselves.
Nevada comes to town next Saturday, a team with many of its own questions. With a bye in week 1 the identity of this Wolfpack team is a bit of a mystery for Oregon, with no film footage to work from except last year’s team. This is good and bad for Oregon, as the Ducks don’t quite know what they are facing, but they have a game under their belt already to (hopefully) work out all the early kinks that inevitably befall every team early in the season while adjusting to game speed. This is why almost every contender chooses to play patsies in week 1 rather than a competitive foe, though how the SEC gets a pass for also scheduling joke games in mid-November is beyond me.
Nevada is missing their superstar quarterback, the face of the team that led them to a 13-1 season last year, the undisputed greatest player in Nevada history, Colin Kaepernick. It is reminiscent of Oregon in 2002, how large will the shadow of Kaepernick loom now that he is no longer there, just as Oregon struggled to find themselves as a post-Harrington team. But Nevada is not without weapons. In particular the team features a superstar wide receiver, one that was initially all set to be a Duck. Rishard Matthews signed a letter of intent to play at Oregon, a 2-star WR from Santa Ana, CA that was to be part of the 2007 Oregon Ducks recruiting class. Matthews failed to qualify academically though, and after some time at a junior college, Matthews went to Nevada where he almost single-handedly defeated Boise State last year and seems to be on a clear path to the NFL.
Oregon’s subpar wide receiver play in last Saturday’s game can be another instance of asking what-if, as no other position at Oregon has come close to the kind of attrition experienced at wide receiver in the past few seasons. While excitement remains high for the incoming group of freshman once they acclimate to the system and start playing, it does little to help the current squad of receivers. It doesn’t help that Keanon Lowe and Blake Cantu are both injured, which is why Dior Mathis has been practicing at wide receiver, and with Josh Huff playing through an undisclosed injury that prevented him from his usual kickoff return duties and the rest of the team suffering through a bad case of the drops, the what-ifs loom about Oregon’s receiving corps, including that of now Nevada superstar Rishard Matthews.
Diante Jackson, Tyrece Gaines, Rishard Matthews, Chris Harper, Braxton Lane, Ellis Krout, Garrett Embry, and Aaron Pflugrad all could have been out there lining up for Oregon out wide last Saturday, but none remain a part of the program. It was quite noticeable that on nearly every single play from scrimmage Oregon had a runningback lined up in the slot instead of a WR, usually Thomas or Barner, the only time Oregon didn’t do this was when both Barner and James were receiving treatment for cramps on the sidelines.
Even in all the aftermath of the loss I still think the guys played admirably. It wasn’t from lack of effort, more of a loss due to mental errors than any physical or talent inefficiencies. Aside from the obvious fumbles, DeAnthony Thomas was Oregon’s most potent weapon. If the kid can figure out how to secure the ball, he is going to be a great asset for the Ducks. Also LaMichael James broke the all-time career rushing record at the University of Oregon, surpassing Derek Loville, doing so with still one year of eligibility left if he chooses to stay at Oregon after this year. And I don’t have to tell you he is going to be chomping at the bit to get on the turf at Autzen for that home opener next week.
I know where I am gonna be when Oregon seeks redemption for their public humiliation last weekend, cheering loud and proud for our Ducks from the stands at Autzen. Time to learn from the game and move on, for opening day at Autzen approaches and there is nothing quite like it.
I hope to see you all there.