Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out: Chin Up, Campers!

Oregon vs Arizona

Besides being disappointing to those who came out on the short side of the upset stick, this weekend had to wreak havoc with the playoff selection committee members’ digestive systems. At this point in the season it is hard to imagine that four teams are going to distinguish themselves as being truly above the rest. Settling it on the field by splitting up the Big 12 and sending its members off to the other conferences would result in four conferences for one playoff spot each. This will only make more and more sense as the landscape of major college football becomes more and more competitive.

Oregon’s loss to Arizona Thursday night was disappointing, and disappointment is never fun. As they say, though, misery loves company – and by the end of the day Saturday Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas A & M and UCLA had joined the Ducks in the misery of defeat. Going into the season, all indications were that our Ducks would have one of the best offensive lines in the country. As we know, the injury bug has taken care of that notion, at least until a few people can get healthy.

Alabama and Oklahoma? They both made my list of three teams that I thought were overrated going into the year, largely because of huge questions at the critical quarterback position. Saturday Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight hit 14 of 35 passes for one touchdown and two interceptions. Alabama’s Blake Sims was better at 19 of 31, but he threw no touchdowns and had one interception. Texas A & M and UCLA? Go figure. It was a weekend for upsets, and dealing with the upset of upsets is the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out.

Mark Helfrich dropped just his third game in 18 starts as a head coach.

Craig Strobeck

Mark Helfrich dropped just his third game in 18 starts as a head coach.

1. Unfortunately, when expectations are not met, it is a strong element of human nature to look for someone to blame: business associates, spouses, parents, the dog — or in football: referees, coaches, players … whatever. The blame game ultimately leads to, “What could have happened, if only …” Well, one thing that could have happened did happen and blaming only makes things more negative. Many disgruntled Duck fans are quick to place the blame on coaching, but it just doesn’t work. If you’re going to blame coaching, then you have to start with the unit struggling the most, clearly the offensive line. But we all know the role injuries have played just as we know that Steve Greatwood didn’t suddenly lose his ability to coach.

We can blame the offensive play calling, but that doesn’t work either. The biggest complaint of the disgruntled seems to be all the runs up the middle, but here’s the problem. Nobody called “plays up the middle.” The plays called were options, and with the injury-plagued offensive line and Marcus Mariota a little gimped up, what the defense left open was the option to try the middle. Mariota made the correct reads, and under the circumstances “up the middle” just didn’t work so well.

Less success on offense puts more pressure on defense. Criticize the defensive performances all you will, but the fact is that there are a lot of good offenses out there. WSU’s Connor Halliday, who caused many Duck fans to declare that the sky was falling by throwing for over 400 yards on the Ducks, on Saturday threw for 734 yards, an NCAA single game record. Nobody has hung more than 31 points on the Ducks so far this year, and with the pace of play in the Pac-12 you probably can’t hope for a whole lot better without playing a slow offensive game yourself, and the Ducks aren’t about to do that.

For more on the details of why not to cast blame, you will want to come back to FishDuck.com tomorrow and catch Charles’ weekly post.

Devon Allen exemplifies the excellence that is Oregon athletics -- on the track and on the gridiron.

Craig Strobeck

Devon Allen exemplifies the excellence that is Oregon athletics — on the track and on the gridiron.

2. Oregon remains one of the top athletic schools in the country. This includes football, and it’s not going away anytime soon. There will be good years, ho-hum years and great years, but a defeat or two changes little in the big picture. With this likely being Marcus Mariota’s final season as a Duck, there has been a general feeling that this is a make it or break it year. But there are a lot of things to think about. First, the injury bug is always a tough one to overcome, and you never know when it’s going to strike. It has struck the Ducks hard this year, and they may or may not be able to bounce back. IF the offensive line gets healthy in time, the Ducks are still in great shape. If not, next year really doesn’t look too bad and the Ducks are recruiting well. If this is not the year, the Ducks won’t tank, and the world will not stop turning. Across the nation the Oregon brand – and not just in football — is recognized as elite.

Expressing gratitude is never out of style.

Craig Strobeck

Expressing gratitude is never out of style.

3. If your biggest problem is that your favorite football team didn’t win by enough points, or – shudder the thought – actually lost, drop to your knees and start saying prayers of gratitude. We all prefer to have things go our way, but having this happen all the time is not the way the world works. What’s more, it’s not even a good idea. It’s not the wonderful trips to the beach that develop character and help us gain empathy for what others are going through. Yes, it is a bummer that the Ducks lost Thursday night, but – Big Picture here – we are living in a Golden Age for Oregon sports, and besides that, there are more important things, too many to mention. If we get indignant when our football team doesn’t win by at least three touchdowns (despite injuries), call for coaches’ heads when they’re “only” 15-3 and cast blame all over the place when we actually lose a game, we only lower ourselves to the level of the spoiled and ungrateful. The Universe does not look kindly on the ungrateful. Gifts are meant to be appreciated, and when not appreciated, tend to get withheld in the future. As Oregon Duck fans we have been richly blessed in this particular aspect of our lives. And gratitude feels much better than finding someone to blame.

Feature photo by Craig Strobeck

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Mike Merrell

Mike Merrell

Mike (Editor-in-Chief) is a 1970 graduate of the University of Oregon where he attended the Honors College and received all-conference honors as a swimmer. After college, Mike ran for the Oregon Track Club and narrowly missed qualifying for the US Olympic Trials in the marathon. He continues his involvement in sports with near-daily swimming or running workouts, occasional masters swim competition (where he has received two Top-10 World rankings), providing volunteer coaching to local triathletes and helping out with FishDuck.com. Mike lives on 28 acres in the forest near Sandpoint, Idaho, where he has served as a certified public accountant for most of his working career. His current night job is writing novels about Abby Westminster, the only known illegitimate daughter of Britain's finest secret agent who has to bring down arch-villains plotting dastardly deeds. And, yes, Abby is also a DUCK!

  • FunkyDucky

    Reality Check! Reality Check! I hate exposing on this subject, because the guys on the football team are great individuals. Nothing against them personally. But, as I watch-rewind the games over and over again on noonclick it’s apparent that the O-line is just terrible! Talent level (we have a WALK ON!)?; coaching (COASTING?), no innovation; extremely late recognition of required adjustments! It’s “feasible” that we may not win another Pac12 game this campaign :(

    And, the defense. Horrible, and now Armstead out? Not NATTY caliber.

    Slightly concerned that the parents of national, high-quality recruits are going to be counseling their sons to steer clear of Oregon because of the obvious coaching problems/gaffs. If I were the parent of a budding RB/WR star I would surely have noticed how Frost failed to recognize that slamming it up the middle repeatedly DOESN’T WORK when one has NO offensive push! Don’t we have “so many other weapons in the arsenal?”

    JFischer coming back? Maybe, but he’ll hardly be in football-shape. I feel very sad for Marcus. His H-man hopes and any championship (P12) hopes dashed because… NO O-line and a coaching staff that can’t innovate around it.

    Totally bummed about the severity of the situation.

    • Mike Merrell

      FunkyDucky? Chicken Little (as in the sky is falling)? Or just a good old fashioned troll in Duck feathers?

      I don’t know which you are and when it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter a whole lot. Whatever it is that you are, my words were obviously lost on you. If such a thing is possible, have a nice day.

      • OreotheCat

        Oh nice. Reply with the sole purpose of implying somebody is a troll for disagreeing with you. 2/10, poor response. If you have something to say against the actual points, that would be nice- but don’t do the name calling game.

        • Mike Merrell

          Okay — first, I did no name calling. l raised the question that FunkyDuck has a Chicken Little (of sky is falling fame, if you are unfamiliar) or is possibly a troll, Implying that recruits should steer clear of Oregon is exactly the sort of thing a troll would write, so it is a valid question to raise. But you want something specifically against the points raised, so here are two for your one request.

          First, “No O-line and a coaching staff that can’t innovate around it.” If you and FunkyDucky can come up with a way to innovate around not having an O-line, bottle it and sell it, because you obviously know much more about O-lines than Steve Greatwood, who is widely recognized as one of the top O-line coaches in the game.

          Second, the coaches did not call for repeated runs up the middle. They called option plays, which could have been passes or runs to the outside as well as runs up the middle. Recognizing Oregon’s injuries on the line, Arizona skewed the defensive coverage to take away the other options.

          • OreotheCat

            Don’t be disingenuous. “Raising the question” is just a very thickly veiled implication of the only answers you suggest. They do it on Fox News all the time. “Some people say…” is a very mild attack of character, and a very very fallacious response. Not being OVERT about your name calling doesn’t make it NOT name calling.

            “You aren’t a better O-line coach than Steve Greatwood, therefore our O-line is not relatively bad”, is not a rebuttal to the point, and it should be obvious to any educated adult that this does not follow. There are many people who are worse O-line coaches than Steve, but this fact doesn’t make his O-line good right now, let alone good enough. Even “you aren’t a better O-line coach than Steve Greatwood, therefore you can’t criticize him” doesn’t follow; it is very possible to know the results of a good O-line without knowing how to make a good O-line. Come on now. Basic logic.

            “Second, the coaches did not call for repeated runs up the middle.” He didn’t say the coaches called for repeated runs up the middle. He said the coach’s calls resulted in repeated runs up the middle. There is an important difference that requires attention (re-read carefully), this difference accounts for the fact that the plays called were options. After the sixth or seventh time Arizona “gave Oregon the run option” for no gain or a loss, Frost should have recognized that Arizona was doing this to try and take advantage of the O-line. Indeed he should have noticed this after the third time it happened and made adjustments; counting on one or another Arizona defender to make a huge mistake isn’t good enough.

            SO! Any VALID response to the points?

          • DuckU

            First time posting on this site, long time reader…but I had to comment here:

            @FunkyDucky: indeed sounds more like chicken little, no question…”sky is falling, sky is falling!!”. Grow up FunkyDucky, or learn something about this game you watch.

            @OreotheCat: simply put – you’re just ridiculous, and are throwing tantrums like a little girl. Again, grow up and learn a lot more about the sport you watch here.

            Compare your pain and frustration with ALL the teams this year, and in past years, who’ve come up short for one reason or another.

            IF the AD were to behave as you two (and others you two essentially represent – been hearing it a lot around town lately) we would find ourselves in the same place Michigan, Tennessee, and Washington of the mid-2000’s found or find themselves at. We’re playing with Chip, the “infallible” Kelly’s O-line recruiting – that is to say, poor recruiting efforts.

          • FunkyDucky

            Okay — first, about the recruiting (please reread my post). I said, “Slightly concerned that the ….”. I surely didn’t say that parents SHOULD STAY CLEAR! They should ALL COME ON BOARD! Some of the FishDuck crew should take a little bit of a deeper dive into the real or potential issues. What we’ve seen after the M-State game “might” been seen by parents. Let’s hope they missed it?
            And… NOW the inevitable… “you must know more than Greatwood!”, slide to the bottom. Well, the fans aren’t pulling down six figures or more, with 25+ years experience. Holly molly, of course nobody knows more than Greatwood. But, he’s not the OC or the HC. Hopefully, he’s somehow compelling the other coaches to recognize what we’ve seen and they’re working as a coaching staff to be ready to change things up EARLY ON should the run game not be working. I’m pretty sure he’s not saying, “our line can’t handle the competition….. so let’s slam it up the middle again” – or give Marcus a play wherein that’s EVEN an option. So, enough of the “think you can do better?” line.
            And, yes, opposing coaches are going to stalk our O-line weaknesses like a “wildcat” after a wounded gazelle.
            So, although I shudder at paraphrasing The Weasel, your last paragraph sounds like you think the Oregon offense is “solved”.

  • FunkyDucky

    What “OreotheCat?”…. said!
    And, is that a gratuitous use of a Duck cheerleader’s image? Oh, yes.. no argument that coach Guthrie’s team is in the top 5 – perennially! They’re undoubtedly one of the sports/programs that make Oregon a top notch athletic institution. But, they don’t run or pass block. We cooooould give them a try?

    • OreotheCat

      Now that’s my kind of optimism.

      • Mike Merrell

        Yes, I agree. Sadly, that is your kind of optimism.

        • OreotheCat

          Oh, a little salty are we?

          No need to get angry, Mike. Everyone gets sour when they are embarrassed in the comments section.

  • disqus_Zh8hDRwXyI

    Quite ethereal couple of articles regarding bigger pictures more than technical execution. Comforting, I shall now return to my solitary contemplation of the plights of so many across the universe knowing that the relevance of men playing with balls has returned to its proper place in the relevance of all that is. Thanks Mike !
    PS Pic of Helfrich pointing to and riding out officials while his players are definitely not waiting for some teachable moment wisdom to be imparted, is a nice counterpoint to the article.

    • Mike Merrell

      Thanks for pointing that out. I hadn’t realized that Cameron Hunt (#78) is an official.

      • OreotheCat

        ? He’s not pointing at Cameron Hunt, look at the picture…

  • Jon Sousa

    Thanks MM for a great piece. Totally agree. And I totally disagree with those who say the sun has set on the Oregon football program.