Oregon finishes a great accomplishment; now faces a month of unfinished business

In  the last two weeks, Oregon has beaten bad teams with sloppy performances, 49-21 over Oregon State, 49-31 over UCLA. Neither win was artistic. The Ducks displayed enough athleticism and verve to put an outmanned opponent away, but each time they sputtered awhile on offense, allowing scores at the end of halves that made the wins seem less dominating and complete than they were. If Oregon were still in the national championship race, where style points matter, they’d have been awarded no points over these last three weeks of the season, a loss to USC and two inartistic wins.

The Ducks played  their most focused, complete game of the season back on November 12th, beating Stanford 53-30 on the road.

It’s important because the Ducks have unfinished business, and a huge question to answer.

How good are they, really?

It’s a wonderful accomplishment to win a third straight conference championship, to win 10 or more games four seasons in a row, to finish the season ranked 8th, 11th, and 3rd in the country in the previous three years.

But the Ducks have a clear challenge ahead of them in Pasadena: win a big game against an elite program with the nation watching, and dispel the notion that they are just the nice little team with the fancy offense, not quite ready for the SEC.

Few fans in Oregon feel that way about them; we love our Ducks, love the way they run and hit and compete, and thrill watching LaMichael James and Michael Clay and company fly with and to the football. Oregon football is entertaining. Chip Kelly has assembled  a group of  likeable, hardworking young men, and they’ve become the dominant team in West Coast football, going 33-6 over three years, the only team in the country to make the last three straight BCS bowls, the seventh ever to do so, while locking down the conference title three years running, the only team to do that besides USC.

That’s a lot to be proud of, and there were hundreds of great plays and exciting moments that happened along the way. We bask in them. It’s a glorious time to be a Duck. When you think about the great career LaMichael James has had, with over 4900 yards rushing and 57 career touchdowns, or the great career De’Anthony Thomas has just begun, with over 1900 all-purpose yards and 16 scores as a freshman, many of them dazzling, breathtaking dashes of 60 yards or more, it’s mind-boggling. You ponder the fierce determination of John Boyett, the smart, tough playmaking of Clay, or the relentless hustle of Taylor Hart, and a Duck fan can’t help but beam with pride at what this 11-2 team has put together, overcoming youth and a disappointing beginning, overcoming the implosion of one of its projected stars. They’ve accepted every challenge. They had two stumbles, to two very good teams on nights a lot went wrong. It’s a lot to look back on and enjoy.

Nationally, however, the perception of Oregon won’t change until they get over the hump with a big win in Pasadena. They have to meet and beat a top-ranked team in the Rose Bowl, winning their first Granddaddy since 1917. It would help if it were Wisconsin, known for it’s smashmouth power, skill position talent, big offensive line, and bulldozing defense. Beating Montee Ball, Russell Wilson, and Lee Toon for the Roses, that would shut up the ESPN talking heads and quiet the dismissals.  With a win on January 2nd, Oregon would immediately enter the conversation for the national title in 2012 with a great nucleus returning, and they’d prove that their few losses in the last three years do not limit or define them.

Can Oregon beat an elite school in a big game, a team with extra time to prepare and physical offensive and defensive lines? Of course they can. But until they do, the question will come up every time.


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  • quack33

    Very relevant post Dale and I share your sentiments.   I am suspicious that opponents have the tendency to fatigue themselves while preparing for the ducks during the season but the bowl schedule affords them time to ‘train’ and recover;  same rational for first game of the year…i.e. Boise State/LSU.   But fear not, our best days are still ahead of us as we continue to attract more high caliber recruits each year.  Regardless, i’m savoring every moment of this duck trail.

    • Dale Newton

      Thanks q33, I appreciate it, and the extra time to prepare has been an issue with four of Oregon’s six losses under Chip Kelly falling under that category, five if you consider Stanford had a bye the previous week in ’09.

      Because the Ducks don’t have the conditioning advantage when an opponent has a month, and they face great teams with more players and bigger fronts, they have to compensate in other areas. More consistency in the passing game can make the difference. Darron Thomas has to get the ball downfield effectively to Josh Huff, De’Anthony Thomas, and his two talented tight ends. That’s the X factor for Oregon, the way they get over the hump in a big game.

      DT has been a courageous quarterback and a good leader. For Oregon to win a marquee game on a national stage, he has to take the next step as a passer, and play his best most consistent game in the Rose Bowl, with a focused start. He told Fox last night it’s his team. It is. It’s time to prove it.


  • Anonymous

    Agree on the gist of your post, 33 – with one proviso – 

    “. . . as we continue to attract more high caliber recruits each year.”

    I am not alone when I say I am “miffed,” if you will, at the lack of a “stud” at the DT position – apologies to Ricky. We seem to attract “serviceable” dudes, but “game changers,” not so much.

    • Dale Newton

      CD, fancy meeting you here:). Stud DTs are rare and as valuable as a good-tempered girlfriend. The Ducks are still in the running for a couple nationally, and Central Catholic’s Alex Balducci, a verbal commit in this class, has tremendous potential. He needs to grow some, which he will, and he’s strong and agile with a great motor. Great defensive ends like Jeremy Castro, and a blitzing linebacker like Bryce Cottrell will also upgrade the Oregon defensive line of the future.