Oregon Football Still on the Rise

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The Ducks’ 42-20 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff National Championship game had many people shaking their heads in disbelief. It seemed Oregon was finally positioned to claim its first college football national championship.

The Ducks had everything a championship team needs to win: a dedicated and innovative coaching staff, a Heisman winning quarterback, a solid running game, a smart and powerful offensive line, and an aggressive defense.

Oregon could not stop OSU's Ezekiel Elliot

John Giustina

Oregon could not stop OSU’s Ezekiel Elliot.

But ultimately, Oregon lost the battle in the trenches, allowing the Buckeyes’ running back Ezekiel Elliot to have a career day, rushing for 246 yards on 36 carries and four touchdowns. Oregon’s Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman were held to just 132 yards rushing and zero rushing touchdowns.

The Mighty Ducks that bullied teams throughout the season didn’t execute their game plan when it mattered most; even Marcus Mariota struggled to capitalize on turnovers and finish in the red zone.

But there is nothing wrong with the Oregon football program, head coach Mark Helfrich, his staff, or the players that won Pac-12 Championship and the Rose Bowl.

Despite the loss, this football program is still on the rise.

Ohio State’s dominating performance over Oregon has resurfaced the unfortunate and inaccurate ”finesse” label, a negative implication that for the Ducks, speed and brute strength are mutually exclusive; either you’re fast or you’re strong, but not both.

Former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly wanted his offensive linemen to be physically dominating.

Kevin Cline

Former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly liked physically dominating offensive linemen.

Oregon’s perceived sophistication comes from a simple mantra — repetition, preparation and practice to the point of perfection.

Chip Kelly, former Oregon head coach, best explained what he was implementing at Oregon at the Nike Coaches Clinic Presentation in 2009 (later printed in 2009 Coach of the Year Clinics Football Manual by D. Mark Robertson).

“The inside zone play is our ‘go to work’ play. It has become our signature play. We want to get off the ball and be a physical, downhill-running football team. This is not a finesse play. We teach our offensive linemen a block we call the bust block. The idea is to bust their sternums up against the spines on every play. We want to come off the ball, create a double-team, knock the crap out of the defender, and deposit him in the linebacker’s lap […] We tell our offensive guards and tackles or our centers and guards in their combinations, we want them to be butt-to-butt and cheek-to-cheek in their double-team. We want them handling the defender as if they were a bouncer in a bar throwing him out of the bar. They understand what type of force has to be implemented to throw a guy out of a bar.”

At the time, offensive line coach Steve Greatwood developed an offensive line under Kelly that was one of the best in the business, helping Oregon lead the nation in scoring and total offense.

The battle is won in the trenches.

Kevin Cline

The battle is won in the trenches.

It takes a strong, physical offensive line to create running lanes, pushing defenders in a direction against their will, and to create and maintain a secure pocket for the quarterback.

When Oregon gets beat physically, it’s not necessarily a matter of a lack of strength. It’s often an issue of technique. Earlier this season, the Ducks’ offensive line was being hammered by Arizona, stifling Mariota and disrupting the offense.

Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood continues to develop strong, physical linemen.

From video

Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood continues to develop strong, physical linemen.

“After the Arizona game, I had to look at myself first and see what I was doing. We (the linemen) weren’t getting beat by mental mistakes. We were getting beat physically because of fundamentals,” Greatwood said.

Oregon fixed those errors and beat the same Arizona team in the Pac-12 Championship game, demonstrating that executing the physical fundamentals the right way is the key to success.

Maybe Ohio State was just more physical than Oregon, and all the fundamentals and techniques in the world couldn’t have stopped the Buckeyes on Jan. 12.

But Oregon has shown it knows how to take an honest look in the mirror, examine weaknesses, and make the necessary adjustments in order to improve and keep rising. And a program that is willing to adapt is always a winning program.

Top photo by John Giustina

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Jordan Ingram

Jordan Ingram

My name is Jordan Ingram and I am currently a student at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism. I am a proud Oregonian with an insatiable thirst for Oregon athletics. I am in hot pursuit of my dream career as beat writer for anything that goes “Quack.” Follow me on Twitter : @jpingram3

  • MarcTheDuck

    The Duck football program is definitely still on the rise. I was surprised to see so many (mostly media people) questioning whether the Ducks just can’t go all the way with their brand of football. As if losing this particular NC proved it once and for all. Just as the game was coming to an end I was already thinking that this is just the beginning to next year now. It’s not the final stop along the way. It’s a continuum. The bar was set a little bit higher this year than it had previously been. Yes, we have been to a NC before. Yes, we have finished ranked #2 before. But we have never had a Heisman Trophy winner before. This is the new high bar for Oregon and it is very very close to the summit. Oregon will learn a few things from this loss (as we have in the past) and continue making adjustments until we get there. The thing is, when you get this high up the mountain, each step forward is very difficult… like climbing Everest. But we took a step up this year. And remember, we lost our first couple of Rose Bowls, too, before we started winning those. I believe the thinking at the time was that Oregon couldn’t win a Rose Bowl against a big, strong team. Familiar? We are not done.

    • JP

      Oregon played looked like they were unprepared.where was the coaching staff?
      Lets get somebody to coach. This let down Oregon followers I didn’t se any great coaching. Did they all stay home? In my opinion they took a dump in game.

      • Lexduck

        Congratulations JP. You won dumbest post of the year.

      • Anthony Joseph Gomes

        they coached the team into the national championship. out of over 120 division I programs only 2 teams make it that far each year and oregon was one of them. i dont think they did so bad

    • MarctheDuck: There are so many positive things to take away from this special season. A Heisman trophy, a Pac-12 Championship, Rose Bowl Champions, representing the Pac-12 with a final national ranking of No. 2? Oregon didn’t do anything wrong. They lost the biggest game. But they also DESTROYED opponents in huge games. They don’t need to fix anything regarding their schemes, personnel, or philosophy. If anything, Oregon needs to put the same amount of energy into recruiting elite, special linemen (think, “Let’s find the ‘Mariotas’ of the O-Line or D-Line) as they do with the skill position players. Ohio State had several SPECIAL offensive lineman and Meyer knew the game would be decided in the trenches. OSU has traditionally produced great linemen. But Oregon has the power, talent, and size in their O and D lines. Oregon has Greatwood, one of the greatest offensive line coaches alive. Offensively, Grasu, Fisher, and Stevens were exceptional players all year. So, what went wrong? I think most of us just didn’t recognize the Oregon team that showed up to play in the NC that day. But you’re right, Marc: Oregon took a huge step up this year. They shook up the college football world and were rightfully praised for their accomplishments. As Oregon blazes its own trail in college football, the football program bears the risks and rewards of new frontiers. The pursuit of perfection is not a smooth ascension to supremacy, but rather a battle of will power. Oregon has the means, the minds, the teachers, and the strength of will to continue its pursuit for a national title.