Fans’ Response Tarnishes a Solid Road Performance

marshall.Michigan State

Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out

Adversity develops and reveals character much more than pleasant trips to the beach. That’s just one of the inconveniences of living on Planet Earth.

So when your team loses on the road by a field goal to a top five team, what do you do to show the world who you are?

For too many Oregon fans, the answer isn’t pretty. Oregonlive’s John Canzano heaped the blame on quarterback Vernon Adams for not being Marcus Mariota, and his followers towed his party line in the comments section. Even after the Ducks’ victory over Eastern Washington, a certain segment of fans was calling for the heads of defensive coordinator Don Pellum and D-backs coach John Neal.

It’s a sad fact of life that sometimes things just don’t go your way. Finding someone to blame when they don’t is not a high-character response. Unfortunately, it is the response of too many Oregon fans, and the shallowness of this response is the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out.

1. Don’t blame the quarterback. Canzano belabors the point that Vernon Adams is no Marcus Mariota. Maybe, maybe not. No, Adams didn’t just complete his third year starting for the Ducks and he didn’t just win the Heisman.

But let’s be fair. How did Saint Marcus do in his first road game? After having an entire redshirt year to learn the system and four home games to get his footing, Mariota went on the road for the first time and completed 21 of 32 passes for 169 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions — against Washington State. And it wasn’t even a true road game. It was played in Seattle and there were about as many Duck fans there as Cougar fans.

Adams had a solid opening road performance despite many challenges.

Tom Corno

Adams had a solid opening road performance despite many challenges.

On the other hand, Adams’ first road game — after less than a month in the Oregon program and after only one home game — was a true road test against a top five team that boasts a strong defense. He completed 22 of 39 passes for 309 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions — playing with a dinged index finger on his throwing hand and wearing gloves.

Adams did miss on some throws, and his passing game did look a bit off. Having a messed up index finger on your throwing hand and wearing gloves will tend to do that. Even still, his first road game compares favorably to Mariota’s — and it was against stronger competition in a much more hostile environment to boot.

But for those fans — and columnists — who are determined to live in the past, I have a suggestion. Go be a Huskies fan. You’ll fit right in.

2. Don’t blame the coaches. The Oregon coaching staff is flourishing at the highest level. There is no shame in losing by a field goal to a top five team on the road. No team in the country has had a tougher stretch than Oregon’s last five games: the Pac-12 Championship, the Rose Bowl, the National Championship Game, a game against one of the top FBS teams in the country, and a road game against a top five team.

That’s as high a level of competition as there is, and the Ducks have weathered it well.

Results show that Oregon's coaches are among the best in the country.

Tom Corno

Results show that Oregon’s coaches are among the best in the country.

Beyond that, the Oregon staff has coached 28 players who are currently on NFL rosters. Only seven programs have more – and those are all programs that get more than their share of the five-star recruits.

The most striking example is USC. There are 32 former Trojans on NFL rosters — four more than Oregon — but considering the ratio of four and five star recruits out of high school vs. the number of players now in the NFL, it’s a safe bet that Oregon’s batting average is closer to a major league hitter’s than USC’s is, and this is a reflection on the quality of the coaching.

But let’s get more specific. Fans who think that the Ducks’ defensive coordinator and defensive backfield coach aren’t getting the job done should maybe consider that the two — Don Pellum and John Neal — have developed a lot of talent that has done just fine at the next level. Duck linebackers and defensive backs recently or currently in the NFL include Patrick Chung, Eddie Pleasant, Casey Matthews, TJ Ward, Walter Thurmond, Jarius Byrd, Terrance Mitchell, Kiko Alonso, John Boyett, and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

Mark Helfrich is off to a 25-5 start as a head coach, and is likely to pick up a nice string of wins before the next loss comes along.

To put it mildly, the Oregon coaching staff’s resume stacks up to be pretty strong as compared to, oh say, the average internet blog commenter who doesn’t have the guts to put his real name behind his work.

3. So, who can we blame? If we must have someone to blame, then people who get worked up over a three-point loss on the road to a top five team — by a team playing with a new quarterback with a dinged up throwing hand — can blame themselves for not taking better care of their emotions. As the old adage goes, you can’t win ’em all.

Hidden among the masses are any number of fans who are quick to condemn.

Kevin Cline

Hidden among the masses are any number of fans who are quick to condemn.

The 2015 edition of Oregon Ducks football shows all the makings of a promising year — with or without fans who think they know more than one of the top coaching staffs in the country. Michigan State, on the road, the second game of the year, was a tough draw and in spite of everything, the Ducks darn near pulled it out.

The rough schedule that the Ducks have faced over the past five games is about to pay dividends as the schedule lightens up. Now, if a certain segment of the fan base would just lighten up, the world would be a better place.

Top photo by Tom Corno

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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!

  • Dylan

    All fair points. Yes, he threw for 309, but points matter more than yards (see Mizzou @ Florida, October 2014) and his mistakes (missteps?) contributed mightily to leaving some of the former on the field. I don’t mean to be critical of Adams as a person or a player, but I do have to question whether we wouldn’t be in better hands with the less-dynamic, but more studied, Lockie right now (aka 2-0). I don’t think it’s unreasonable to question the wisdom of choosing to “be patient” with Adams for one year when Lockie might well have made better decisions about when to get rid of the ball and *where* to run when the play broke down. These are things that come with knowledge, experience, and rapport with the offense (all of which played a big part in Mariota’s dominance in 2013-14 compared to 2012). Having Lockie as a possible second year starter in 2016 might also have opened up the realm of possibility a lot more for 2016.
    The defense…well I thought they played a lot better than in week 1 (aside from a few admittedly costly missed tackles) and I’m excited to see those young guys improve and get stronger. I think the secondary looks a lot closer to the 2011-13 units by the end of the year and beyond.

    • Mike Merrell

      Dylan —

      thanks for reading and commenting. I too wondered if playing Lockie might have won the game, mostly because of the injury to Adams’ finger. I suspect the coaches may have had a tough decision and decided to go with Adams to give him the big game experience that he will need as the season progresses.

      Looking at a one-game proposition Lockie may have been the better choice, but missing this game would have been costly for Adams in preparation for games with Stanford, USC, etc.

      • Dylan

        Mostly agree. But my skepticism is about naming Adams the starter at all, rather than Lockie. The minute Adams failed that first math final, I felt that Lockie would and should get the job because we could get more out of him over two seasons than out of Adams for one and whoever-else for the other. I don’t always agree with continuity for its own sake (I wasn’t 100% behind promoting Pellum), but this is a situation where I think it could well have been a better overall decision in the long term. But, my expectation for this year was a ceiling of Santa Clara + Pasadena (next year could be special), so I’m enjoying the ride all the same. There’s also a reason I’m not being paid (let alone paid millions of dollars) to make these decisions. WTD.

        • Dan

          Obviously the coaches feel that VA gives the team the best chance to win, even with an injured finger. Who are we to say which QB should start, since we don’t see what happens in practice?

      • MarcTheDuck

        Yep, I was thinking Lockie might be put in the game too. When he wasn’t, I wrote that down as the coaches deciding that the investment in more experience for VA was more important than just beating MSU on that night. Probably good thinking.

  • John F. Kohler

    Never ever read Clowzano’s stuff. He wants you to go to his sites and go OMG. The best way to get rid of him is to just not click on his reports, He is not a reporter and he will tell you this. He doesn’t need facts, or Truth he just has an opinion and its always slanted to make people crazy.

    Now about the game. The kid did great. The way to win on the road is to put yourself in position to do it in the 4th quarter and he did that. The ball doesn’t always bounce your way and we lost this time. I am so proud of Vernon and this team. Big things are going to happen. Support and be proud Duck fans!

  • Tom

    Yup. New Duck fans are annoying. These are the same guys who called Allioti “Allowaloti”. The same guys who called for Helfrich’s head or call for Pellum’s job last year even though the Ducks eventually went on to the National Championship. These guys are barely football fans who expect the Ducks to stuff every run for no gain and get a sack every passing down, then score on play one of the ensuing possession. Here is what I saw: a bit less zip on VAs passes – possibly due to the finger? VA putting a couple of jump balls out there which ended up as interceptions. A few too many designed QB runs (and one successful one at the goal line) which VA did not look comfortable running. Various other assignment misses and breakdowns. Despite all of these I also saw the Ducks fight back. A lot of runs stuffed for no gain against a power rushing attack. The secondary didnt look nearly as wide-eyed as last week (remember theyre almost all new starters and underclassmen). I also saw the Ducks nearly pull it out against a top-5 team on the road. This may not be a playoff year, but I think we have a team we can be proud of. Go Ducks.

  • Dr. Kirt Kirchmeier

    One of the best post loss articles I’ve read in years. Kudos to you. Go Ducks! Going to be an awesome season

  • Boggs

    Mike,

    Thank you. it’s good to know readers can come here to get calm analysis that’s tempered by historical reality (i.e. your comparison to Mariota’s first away game). To read the many articles breathlessly announcing that Mariota would have been the difference on Saturday, you’d have thought the guy never had an off game. Yet, having watched every single one of his games, I recall very clearly that he struggled in his losses and at times looked far worse than Vernon did in this loss.

    Canzano’s article was stunning not only in it’s lack of perspective or historical recall, but also in it’s simply inaccuracies. He got basic stats wrong. And then doubled-down by drawing faulty conclusions.

    I, for one, have never wished to see Lockie play instead of Vernon. The talent gap is enormous.

    If anything, I was encouraged by Saturday’s loss (albeit heartbroken). Vernon did some beautiful things (e.g. convert on 4th down, while being tackled . . . with his left hand, exhibit extraordinary heart in his goal line run, drop a dime on the sideline from the opposite hash, and take the blame in the post-game even when much of it wasn’t rightfully his to take). It’s too bad we only have him for one year, and that he didn’t have the summer to get up to speed like originally planned, but it’s going to a hell of a year and I’m looking forward to more.

  • cfluegge

    Don’t use Canzano as an example of fan disillusionment. He’s not much of an example of a journalist either, but that’s what he is by trade at any rate, and hence isn’t supposed to take sides in his reporting. Yes, Duck fans are spoiled. I think Oregon’s upside is considerable if VA can stay healthy. MSU’s Conner is as good as he’s going to get, and Oregon almost beat his team with a QB who’s been practicing with the team for an entire month. I think 2015 looks bright for the Ducks (and their entitled fans).

  • Jeremy Holden

    I agree 100% with your article and was very disappointed with Canzano’s article. The ducks played well. Yes, they could have done some things better but were still in the game till the very end. Also, Vernon Adams did great and will continue to improve with each game. In reality, Oregon still has a shot at the playoffs if they go undefeated and win the Pac12 championship.

  • John Eastman

    Well said, my man!

  • MarcTheDuck

    Pretty much agree, but also VA is a work in progress. He is in the process of getting to know the playbook and his teammates (and how they play their games). He’ll get better as the year goes on. But we fans and sports writers are largely guilty of overly high expectations for him and the team, despite telling ourselves a few months ago that we ought not do that. VA won’t grow into Marcus Mariota. No one would. Especially a guy who will only be here one season and who only just arrived on campus. VA’s skills are great but his experience, so far, with this program are not. Again, he will get better, but he also needs to not expect himself to pull out wins when the going gets rough. Forcing plays usually ends up with a negative result and we did see a lot of that against MSU. Part of the learning process. And we need to drop names like playoffs and championships from our lexicon. We are reloading and our QB and secondary are coming up to speed. They’re new to their roles and won’t play like they’ve been there for three years. What we need to do is focus only on the next opponent. Stop thinking about winning the conference, the Pac12 North or playoff games. This was always what Chip Kelly preached and we seem to have moved away from that. “Only the next opponent matters and the rest will take care of itself.”

    PS. We’ll go through some reloading again next year on D and at the QB position.

  • Drex Heikes

    Great piece. The team learned a lot about itself will now be focused in a way that only a loss can elicit. Oregon outgained MSU. The only disappointment for this fan, who goes back to the Fouts era, is the reaction of the newbie fans. Get real. VA has been in the system for a whole month. The coaches are demonstrable winners. The D found its footing. Onward. Saturday night will mark the start of a great roll.

    As for Canzano, any of you who read him have only yourselves to blame.

  • Tim Spencer

    Agree! One other thing I mentioned to everyone watching the game with me, many people wanted to jump right to the conclusion that Marcus would have pulled out that game, and I don’t think that is necessarily the case. How many games did we see Marcus win in the last 5 minutes? Now how many of those were against a top 5 program? On the road? In a night game? I know the Mariota love is strong this week, especially with the way he performed in his first NFL game, but I say there is a good chance that on third down and 15 on the road against MSU, there is a very good chance he would have held the ball for too long and gotten sacked or stripped. I am a HUGE fan of Mariota, but I remember well his losses and when he looked most vulnerable. I think Vernon Adams did some amazing things, and will continue to for the rest of the year. This loss is only going to make the Ducks that much more of a formidable team for the rest of the season. Luckily the College Football Playoff Committee has more level heads than Ducks fans, only dropping to 12th or 13th depending on which poll you follow is the correct response, some even think it’s a little too far down. I was very proud of the way those guys fought and seriously, this was the best possible game we could have chosen for a loss this season, and by a field goal! Could Oregon have won? Yes of course! Take field goals when you can get them, even early on in the game, that would be my only advice to Helfrich and Frost, otherwise, they’re doing great things.

  • goducks58

    This blame game isn’t productive. The piling on of Vernon Adams makes very little sense, IMO. I actually think the coaches and all players share some of the blame. As I have said across several blogs, yes we could and should have won the game, but we played poorly enough to lose. With Vernon Adams obviously not at full strength and a limited playbook, we had a tough task. The poor tackling by the linebackers and secondary continues to be a major issue. The play calling on first and goal against a top tier D line was extremely suspect. Yes, Byron Marshall miss by VA was a heart breaker and will sting, but there were plenty of plays that would have changed the outcome. The referees, even with the benefit of replay missed not only that obvious 4th down play where VA got the first down, but also the touchdown. All in all, taking a top 5 team down to the wire at a hostile stadium in an early season game was (almost) all I was hoping for. The team made me proud and I think this team is going to be special. Bottom line: This loss most likely won’t hurt the Ducks in the long run as it relates to the Rose Bowl and CFP. Let’s get out there and win the rest and make our own destiny. GO DUCKS !!
    PS – Cantzano is an passive aggressive idiot who hates the Ducks and never misses an opportunity to bash them. He’s a ratings whore and should be ignored.

  • GoDucks

    Consider that VA was up against his first-ever elite Div One defense, whieh neight the Dogs nor the Beavs brought. He was playing with a glove on, in their house, in a revenge game that MSU saw as also the biggest home game since 1966.
    We’re talking about a guy who has had less than a month to learn our offense, which Mariota had studied for four years at the time of the first MSU game. Sparty planned to give him all sorts of different looks. There was the crowd. National TV.
    As we all know, VA was forced to learn on the fly, and he brought Oregon to within one drive of victory. Had he done that, because of what he was up against, the media would be asking who had the better day, Vernon or Marcus

    I was especially pleased by the way he adjusted in the second half. There seemed to be less tripping up on guys who were getting pushed around by MSU’s line.

    And since we’re splitting hairs, let’s be real and affirm that VA only threw one interception. It shouldn’t count in any QB’s book’s when a defender steals the ball out of the receiver’s hands.

    We now come to that stretch of the season that we’ve all forgotten about – the part where VA actually has time to develop and adapt in the Oregon system before it really, really matters. If we lose before November it won’t be because VA isn’t good enough to crawl back in the national discussion, it will be because this Oregon team isn’t.

    I for one like our chances. And I like Vernon Adams. It’s clear that he’s in it to win it.

  • Rich Aanrich

    I so like your article. Being realistic, we played a top rate team,with more experience on their own turf and were in it until the last minute. I am damn proud of the Duck team and VA!
    Keep the articles coming your insight was spot on.

    • Ted Pikes

      We were concerned that an Eastern Washington player would try to hurt Vernon. That is exactly what happened. I thought backup QB Lockie should have started and played the Eastern Washington game, and not risk exactly what happened.

  • Nate Haas

    Thanks for this corrective perspective, Mike. I am really looking forward to seeing how this Duck team grows and improves as the season progresses.
    I’ve been very, very impressed with Oregon coaches for years now and the way they have built the program and the culture. It’s largely the “magic of compounding” in the coaching that has led to the Ducks’ ascendancy in the last 6 years. The coaching leadership has been able to progressively build on what came before.
    Some teams out there have had to go back to the proverbial drawing board and start over completely from scratch with new coaches – who, in some cases, are having to rebuild the plane in flight. Look at Tennessee, Texas, and Nebraska. Be glad we aren’t fans of those programs.
    As a native Oregonian who has lived away from Oregon for a few decades now, I’ve developed some degree awareness of the aggregate personality of the state. In my opinion, the University of Oregon football program is very Oregonian in its personality – regardless of where they recruit the players from, or where they hire their coaches. It’s innovative, bold, and open-minded… not given to paying too much homage to tradition, but with a high emphasis placed on developing teamwork synergy and having a strong work ethic. I also like the sort of enlightened, mature, sports psychology that is integral to the culture. I read Josh Huff’s bio a few years ago (in, I think, an Oregonian article) and came away impressed by how the coaching staff helped Josh develop as a person. That’s really good stuff and it is not unrelated to why they have been so successful.

  • John John

    the kind of preachy politically correct leftist crap that too many of the oregon/eugene culture tends too attract. Strange that you are a football fan at all. Afterall between concussions and the dangerous collisions, surely you must be concerned that not only might someone get hurt, but anyone with a bleeding heart liberal socially-responsible conscience like yours, would have to demand that ‘we’ act to prevent it!! Including banning and demanding that rules be strictly enforced to restrict it. Much like you are demanding that every ‘good’ sports/football fan agrre with and act as you have preached we must, lest we be some version of ‘bad fans’ as you dictate your definition, and instruction. Wow, arent we blesed to know there is someone like you to teach us what to think or say!! hallelujah!

    • Mike Merrell

      John John —

      Living in mountains of North Idaho just over the hill from Ruby Ridge I am not really heavily influenced by the Oregon/Eugene culture. All of my neighbors have guns. One of my tax clients sells them. I cut down trees with my chainsaw. I eat my steaks rare. In case you haven’t heard, North Idaho is not the land of leftists. Not that that really has anything to do with football.

      You are certainly entitled to your opinion, as I am mine, but you have leaped wide chasms to paint me as a “bleeding heart liberal.” As for sports injuries, I’ve pushed myself to many over the course of my lifetime. Whether it’s swimming, running, football or any other sport, to excel you have to push your limits, and injuries are inevitable.

      I don’t demand that anybody agree with me. I’m just saying that getting bummed out and casting blame over a three-point loss on the road against a top five team can lead to a person having a really negative attitude, and in extreme cases, even lashing out at others.

      But I’m sure this doesn’t apply to you, so don’t take it personally.

    • Eric H

      Not sure if you read the same thing as everyone else, but he’s calling on fans not to jump to such immediate reactions and conclusions after one loss and then call for rash action from the coaches and/or administration that may or may not improve the situation. Seems too many fans (especially bandwagon and younger fans) think one loss means the program needs major changes when all that’s really needed are a clean-up of smaller details that can lead to bigger gains in the future.

  • Marcus Morey

    you can spin it any way you want. a loss is a loss. This kind of “Hey we lost but it’s OK “is the kind of attitude that breeds losing, and it’s why the sec is still considered better than the pac 12.John Canzano blames Vernon Adams, and rightly so. Not only did he miss a WIDE open byron marshall that would have won the game, he took a sack the next down, which put us in an impossible 4th down situation. Like I said Mike Merrill, you can spin it any way you want to but at the end of the day, we lost a game we were in position to win because of a lack of playmaking

    • Mike Merrell

      I agree that one more play would have won the game. However, to say “a loss is a loss” carries with it the implication that all losses are the same, and this is no more accurate than saying that all wins are the same. Some wins are sweet and some are kind of stinky. While there is probably no such thing a a sweet loss, some are certainly stinkier than others. Second game of the season, on the road against a top five team, playing with a new quarterback with a broken index finger on his throwing hand … I can’t view this as a stinky loss, and neither will the selection committee, if it comes down to it.

      As far as this kind of attitude breeding losing and this is why the SEC is better than the Pac-12, I don’t for a minute flatter myself by believing that my attitude influences the outcome of a lot of games, and if you check win/loss records over the past five years or so, you will find that my belief that Oregon shouldn’t fire its coaching staff every time it loses a game has worked out pretty well.

      This is not to say that the coaches and Adams should accept this game as the pinnacle of achievement and accept it as the best they can do — and of course they won’t. But the fact remains that fans calling for coaches’ heads and dumping on a kid with a broken finger giving the best he can is unproductive.

      Before you get too critical, I would invite you and John Canzano to break the index finger on your throwing hand, go play 60 minutes of football and then put a 40 yard pass on the money with 300-pound linemen breathing down your neck. After you’ve done that, let me know how it works out.