FLYOVER COUNTRY: So You Want To See A Gimmick…?
There have been many occasions where the national punditry, and even opposing fans say the Ducks run a “gimmick” offense. The notion is that the Ducks can only beat those hapless programs beneath them through finesse tactics, that they don’t play “real football,” but when they run into teams with time to prepare, or superior athleticism, then Oregon can’t win.
Of course, to hold this train of thought, one has to heavily discount Wisconsin’s defensive statistics last year, and also has to deeply massage the fact that the Ducks were completely competitive with Auburn in the national championship game, and with LSU in 2011 before DAT’s freshmen mistakes doomed the effort.
No, to see a true gimmick, you first have to define a gimmick. The word itself dates only back to the 1920s, and was coined here in the States. It is thought to be a word which started in slang and was used to describe the part of a magician’s act that supposedly separated him from his peers. In that sense, the word gimmick is akin to “shtick,” Yiddish for a theatrical routine.
The Ducks are, in that sense, a gimmick. We have a shtick. I’d say it’s the no-huddle spread based offense that is the calling card, the attention getter, our signature trick! Some may be either attracted or repelled by the uniforms, but even the jaded haters will pause to watch Oregon play.
When the Ducks’ spring game and early season cupcake-eating contests are on ESPN nationally, and even at times simulcast on ESPN Deportes in Spanish, it’s not happenstance. The Ducks are on because even soccer fans will watch them play fast-forward football.
However, in having a shtick the Ducks are far from alone, even within our own division. Foes all have their gimmicks too. As they are not as well known, toiling in relative obscurity as they are, let’s take a moment and examine their acts more closely:
In Berkeley the shtick is that there is a quarterbacking guru at work and a pipeline to the NFL. If you stick with a facile analysis, these things ring true. Aaron Rodgers is an excellent QB who played for Coach Tedford. It’s also fairly undeniable that the man assisted Akili Smith, A.J. Feeley, and Joey Harrington in earning decent NFL paydays when he worked in Eugene. It is also true that many Cal players also go on to play pro ball.
That said, what good is a gimmick if the “trick” is not replicable? It’s been seven or eight years, and many, many, quarterbacks thrown under the bus, since Aaron Rodgers. There has also been a lot of talent rolling through to the pros who haven’t won squat in college. Might the real tale of the Cal shtick be that the program only looks good when Tedford finds, rather than molds, a NFL caliber QB?
Over in Mayberry, the shtick is as easy to spot as it is to wince when you hear someone yelling “Hip, hip hooray!” in earnest. The Beavises sell what they call their brand of Paleolithic football via its “family atmosphere.”
In light of the realities of Beavis football, this “family atmosphere” rings false. True families don’t clumsily run off their members to San Diego State. True families with their backs to the wall don’t get manhandled by miniature Hornets. True families punish their wayward sons immediately, not when there is a convenient preordained loss on the schedule a week later. Of course, true families never see a member accusing the patriarchy of slave-holding either.
Let’s be brief, because there’s no sugar coating it - WSU’s gimmick is the persona of its new head coach. His entire act is a jumbled mixed metaphor of Air Raiding piracy. So far the ship has been taking on water more than it has actually been cruising.
And then of course there is the very term that entered the common lexicon long ago, known simply as “Cougin’ It,” defined by Webster’s Dictionary as finding unprecedented new ways to fail upon the cusp of finally making it over the proverbial hump. We’ll check back later.
They are here because I had to save the worst for last, but the Stanford Indians-turned-politically-correct-generic-color-name would receive dishonorable mention for their shtick anyways. Their gimmick was actually installed by Jim Harbaugh and it’s quite the oxymoron. “Character and cruelty.”
This snippet of a speech by Harbaugh is supposedly one of the defining moments of his era. It seems that the caretaker, Coach Shaw, has taken pains to follow this same nonsensical motto.
You simply can’t be cruel AND have character; the two are mutually exclusive. Maybe this ultimate lack of character is how the Ducks force Stanford to quit in most of their contests together. When the bully can’t land serious hits fast enough, is he really still the bully?
Since his hire in the 2008 off-season, the entire gimmick in Montlake has been the myth of Pete Carroll’s coaching tree. Both FBS programs in the state of Washington have gimmick head coaches now. The problem for The Doogs is that they by far got the worst one.
Steve Sarkisian’s entire coaching career has been some sort of put on; it has to be, from El Camino Community College to moderately successful QB under Norm Chow’s tutelage at BYU. From there we have a dismal three-year stint in the CFL. Next he was seen as a used computer parts salesman and part time coach at El Camino.
In 2001, he became a Norm Chow pity hire as QB coach for USC. As soon as he could manage, he coached in the NFL (for a year), but returned to USC in 2005 in time for a bloodless coup that ended Norm Chow’s stint at USC. Eventually named USC’s OC, he cashed in when UW overpaid him an initial $1.75 million per year to learn head coaching while on the job.
He has richly rewarded the pick, too. He has the Doogs first shutout home loss since the 1970s. His teams have been repeatedly blown out by all but five of 24 ranked opponents. His team allowed the most yards, (777), EVER given up in any bowl game EVER played in the history of college football. His overall record hovers at .500.
But it’s not to say that all Sarkisian has done is completely incompetent. He has become without question the best coach in the entire country in using twitter to speak with animals, a sort of social media Dr. Doolittle. His repeated “woof woof” tweets, often ridiculed, are at least appreciated by pets savvy enough to open their own twitter accounts, albeit a fan base unlikely to provide much in revenue–unless what is often left behind on the lawn qualifies as currency.
In addition, he did have the foresight to hire two Oregon Ducks as defensive coaches to patch the ole’ defensive scheme previously implemented. Yet as godlike as Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon may be, they still cannot do much when tasked with an unenviable mission, on par to placing band-aids on gunshot wounds.
Now 2012 has seen a doubling down on this comedy shtick. To prepare to get beat 41-3 by LSU, Sarkisian brought in a caged Tiger to practice.
Just last week, the news broke that in order to put up their awe inspiring offensive performances against FBS opposition, the Doog offensive linemen have been taking instruction in mixed martial arts. Yet these newly combative offensive linemen don’t show much fight and have still dropped like flies.
Yes, if you have ever wanted to see actual gimmickry in the Pac-12 North, you need do nothing more than look with clear eyes at the Ducks’ comical division foes.