Thoughts from Oregon’s game against UCLA last Saturday:
Saturday’s Win Was Much Bigger than People Realize
The Ducks had 21 points going in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game. Since Oregon beat Cal 15-13 in 2010, the following have been the results of games when the Ducks had 21 points or fewer to start the fourth quarter:
L, 22-19 vs. Auburn, 1/10/11
L, 40-27 vs. LSU, 9/3/11
L, 38-35 vs. USC, 11/19/11
L, 17-14 vs. Stanford, 11/17/12
In case you are keeping track, not only is that four straight losses with 21 or fewer to start the fourth quarter, that is every loss for Oregon since the start of the 2010 season. In previous seasons, the greatest point of vulnerability for the Ducks was close, low-scoring games against ranked teams. In fact, prior to Saturday’s win, Oregon had not defeated a ranked opponent when scoring 21 points or fewer entering the fourth quarter, since a win over another LA school on the final Saturday of October six years ago, when the Ducks beat USC 24-17 in 2007.
The Defense is Good
I know, by now I’m the thousandth person to point this out, so I won’t spend too much time addressing such an obvious topic; the Ducks provided plenty of evidence, both statistically and visually, to make the point obvious enough for everyone to mention it.
There was the second half shutout by the defense, while holding the Bruins to 94 yards of total offense in the final thirty minutes. Brett Hundley was held to 64 yards passing in the game, while the sight of Hundley repeatedly forcing the ball to his backs in the read option, as if he were saying “no, you take it!,” indicated that Hundley was possibly hurt or, in more optimistic thinking, scared.
Yet the best evidence came in how UCLA didn’t score a point on any drive that didn’t begin in Oregon territory. Those drives started following a blocked punt and a fumble; a fumble which the officials, in a highly-suspect decision, chose not to review.
Speaking of highly suspect decisions, the fans at home didn’t see this play, because for some reason, ESPN decided it was essential for its viewers to see the entirety of Clemson-Maryland, a game long since decided with Clemson up by 20, instead of cutting to the start of Oregon-UCLA.
Don’t Worry About the BCS (Your Weekly Reminder It’s a Long Season)
Oregon moved to second in the BCS rankings this week, so theoretically all is right again. But the numbers are fluid from week-to-week, and after last week many Ducks fans were concerned about the team’s debut ranking at #3 behind Alabama and Florida State.
No need to fret, because at this time last year, Oregon was actually ranked fourth, which no one remembers, because it is important to remember that no one cares about any BCS rankings besides the final one. Despite being fourth, Oregon, or any major conference school, could have gone to the national championship had it been eligible and undefeated, regardless of where it started.
While it is perfectly reasonable to be concerned about the possibility of a major conference team being left out if it finishes undefeated (it happened to Auburn in 2004), look at where we were last season compared to this season.
In both 2012 and 2013, there were five viable undefeated candidates for the national championship at this point in the season. Alabama clearly at the top (in terms of public perception), Oregon, a Big-12 team (substitute Baylor this year for the team whose season they ruined last year, Kansas State), an Ohio State team who went from ineligible last year to insignificant this year, and a team who would be more relevant publicly if this were 1993 instead of 2013 (Florida State this year, Notre Dame last.)
Yet we all remembered what happened by season’s end: Alabama, Kansas State, and Oregon – visibly the three best teams in college football – all lost; leaving Notre Dame the lone remaining eligible undefeated, to play in the national championship where it did not look like the team ranked No. 1 in the country by the BCS in final standings. This year Alabama, Oregon, and Florida State are clearly the three best teams again, but each still has a minimum of four games remaining in the regular season.
Oregon fans know there is a lot of football left, and some of its biggest tests are coming soon. Their Thursday night matchup on November 7th with Stanford will likely decide the winner of the Pac-12 North Division. The following week, the Ducks play Utah at home on the dreaded “Third Weekend in November” – on which the Ducks have won only two of those games in the past seven seasons.
While the goal is to temper expectations, there is still hope, in the form of this omen. The last time the Ducks ran an awesome fake punt using a linebacker, they went to the national championship. What happened Saturday?
What does it mean for this season? We’ll have a better idea in 11 days.