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

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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