In Eugene, there is an unwritten rule that goes something like this: WHEN THE FOOTBALL TEAM LOSES, WE DON’T TALK ABOUT IT…. EVER. I am going to break that rule, and share why I think the loss to Ohio State will go down as one of the most defining moments in Oregon Ducks history.
The loss sucked — there really is no other way of putting it. It’s been three months; we are no longer in the brutal winter that Eugene residents are accustomed to; and Spring Practice is about to start. Things have changed, but nothing will heal the stab wounds inflicted by Ohio State, except winning. Losing is an art, and learning how to overcome that should be taught in school. The rare loss that Oregon does suffer will prove to be worth it in the long run.
Last season was one of epic proportions — there is no other way of putting it. We had the pleasure of watching Marcus Mariota, arguably the greatest college football player of all time. We watched our team overcome a plethora of different injuries to the offensive line. We even watched freshman sensation Royce Freeman begin a career that could land him in the NFL.
Losing to Arizona early in the season was tough, especially for those present at Autzen Stadium. The collective feeling in the air was one of displeasure and distaste towards the Ducks. All the blood, sweat and tears poured onto the field by the players was overshadowed by the loss. Head Coach Mark Helfrich and his team knew they messed up, and the only way to overcome the feeling was by coming back stronger. The loss made the Ducks better, as their push to make it back to the top of the college ranks began the next week. Not only did the Ducks win out the regular season, take down Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship, and triumph over 29-0 Jameis Winston, but they did it all in devastating fashion. And then the Buckeyes came along and rained on the parade.
Life might treat you like a rose one day, and poison it the next. Like I said earlier, losing is an art, and when you are used to winning, it is very tough to overcome. The Buckeyes sent a message to the Ducks last season, and I know for a fact that it was well received. You might think that isn’t true, but just watch what what our Ducks are going to do next season.
Now that I have broken the unwritten rule here in Eugene, let’s take a look at how our Ducks stack up against the competition next season.
Losing Mariota will be tough to overcome, and there is no denying that at all. The greatness that was Mariota will be missed by the fans, but the players will use it as motivation. Great teams find ways to win, no matter what hand they are dealt. With the arrival of Vernon Adams Jr., whom many people expect to take over at the quarterback position, the Ducks have a guy who has experience against top-flight competition. Adams has played two games against Pac-12 competition, with the one win coming against Oregon State. In that game, Adams put up 518 yards of total offense, and six touchdowns. In total, he has amassed 10,438 yards and 110 touchdowns in his career at Eastern Washington. Though Adams lacks the size of a true NFL quarterback, and is a little slower than Mariota, he is the guy for this job.
Around Adams, the Ducks almost have too much talent. With an absurd amount of players returning, and one of the best offensive recruiting classes in recent Ducks history, points will literally be flying onto the scoreboard next year. Helfrich, much to the pleasure of former head coach Chip Kelly, has spent years learning how to operate an offense with so much talent. Will Charles Nelson convert to cornerback? Will Bralon Addison touch the ball at all in the backfield this season? Issues of mass importance in the past are no longer worrisome to the Ducks.
The defense caught a lot of criticism for its underwhelming performance against the Buckeyes. They got pushed around and exploited, things that they are not used to. Look for defensive coordinator Don Pellum to re-create the wheel a little bit. The Ducks might still play a 3-4 base defense, but look for them to be more physical. Losing sucks, but getting beat up makes it worse. With DeForest Buckner and Joe Walker, among others, returning, the Ducks are hungry to prove the haters wrong.
Last season was interesting for the Ducks on defense. I’ve never seen so many big plays result in so few points. Pellum and his staff have instituted a great mindset within the defense. Getting discouraged after giving up a big play is discouraged by Pellum. After a big play, and right when an opposing offense thinks it has the Ducks beat, it makes a mistake. This was almost the case against the Buckeyes, but the Ducks were unable to capitalize off of turnovers. Don’t expect the same from the Ducks next season, as I truly believe they will take the word physical to a whole new level.
Yes, the Ducks will be returning to the College Football Playoff
Right now, the University of Oregon’s sports program is the best it has ever been. No matter how successful any other team is, everyone will judge the University of Oregon based on the success of its football team. While there are people in this world that wish ill will upon the winners, our Ducks will keep flying. Losing is tough, but often times necessary. See you again, college football playoffs.
Top Photo by John Sperry