Okay, now that I’ve answered the entire question of the article I guess I’ll just go home …
… Kidding. But seriously, confusion is the only appropriate answer for how the Ducks game unfolded.
Over the course of this article, I will do my best to shine a light on some controversial moments, but trust me, I am not any better off than you. I am equally confused, a little hurt, but mostly scared. Now, here are a few reasons I’m confused:
1. Vernon Adams‘ Performance
How does a guy, after two weeks of rest, perform so terribly against a defense far worse than the one he played when his finger was ‘more’ injured (presumably) than it is now?
It feels like the coaching staff isn’t telling us something, because Adams did not look like the same guy we all saw from the EWU highlight videos.
He looked uncomfortable in the pocket, he looked hurt, and honestly, he didn’t look like a starting QB. Now, after just a month and a half with an offense, that isn’t necessarily surprising.
The hook, of course, is how well he played in his first two games. Such a drastic regression must mean there’s something more to this story. Please, Lord, let that be true.
Adams completed just two-of-seven passes for one touchdown and no interceptions, but it was the passes he never attempted that are most worrisome.
He looked like he just didn’t want to throw, which is not an endearing trait for a starting QB to have. Whatever is wrong with Adams, whether it’s a confidence issue or an injury, must be fixed if the Ducks want to salvage this season.
2. Special Teams Miscues
This has been a weak-point for the Ducks for awhile but luckily, due to players such as Byron Marshall and Bralon Addison, the Ducks have, so far, been able to break-even by making big plays and exciting returns.
However, that luck ran out Saturday night. After Addison made a questionable decision to not call a fair catch on a punt that ended up netting the Utes 76 yards, the Ducks gave up two more huge plays on punts.
Now this is important, so pay attention.
At first glance, I thought the Utes were just poor sports. I thought they ran a fake punt — up 30 something points — just to mess with us, and then executed another fake punt play to perfection just to put the icing on the cake — they didn’t. They aren’t that poor of sports, despite how it may have looked.
Both plays, as seen below, are actually just unlucky bounces for the Ducks.
After a high snap, Utah punter Tom Hackett made an excellent catch and decided to hold on to the ball to make a run for it. Of course, due to Utah’s highly respected special teams unit, the Ducks put all their eggs into the “assume Hackett would get the punt off without issue,” basket.
No one was prepared for a Utah miscue, so Hackett scrambled for an easy 30 yards. I mean, the guy made it 15 yards before anyone even noticed.
On this next play, Utah did something truly impressive. Ducks punter Ian Wheeler shanked a punt, barely making it 30 yards down field. The Utes, prepared for a situation just like this, executed a fake punt play on the fly.
The play isn’t called before hand, because there’s no way Utah can anticipate a poor kick. Instead, they ran this play all game long due to Wheeler’s scouting report, with the Utes basically waiting for their opportunity to run it correctly.
The players were smart enough to notice this opportunity, and ran the play as the ball was in the air, a clear example of how well coached this team truly is.
The play didn’t make a difference either way, but it gave Utah a chance to practice a play that could actually prove to be dangerous against other competition, as well.
So again, don’t hate the Utes for being poor sports — they honestly just got lucky.
Those were not the only bad bounces for the Ducks, as they struggled to come out on top of any close play. The “should’ve-been,” punt where Hackett ran for 30 yards was actually a do-over, and came only after the previous punt was called back for hitting a camera wire, something that never happens.
And speaking of called back, I would just like to mention that the penalties in that game were Utah (6 for 54 yards) and Oregon (10 for 90). Just saying …
… Moving on.
3. The True Impact of Marcus Mariota
Look, no one was a bigger fan of Mariota than myself. Seriously, I worshiped the guy. I mean, I’ve even cried for this guy. I knew what he meant to the offense, and I sure as hell knew he was a better QB than Jameis Winston (Bucs front office, hire me!).
But seriously? Did the guy mean so much to the team that after his departure, a 51-27 victory in Utah becomes a 62-20 beatdown in Eugene?
And here’s the deal: Yeah, the defense gave up 62 points blah, blah, blah. The guys were straight up exhausted. They’re a young defense that needs more time and more rest. They’re not as well conditioned as veterans would be, and they’re still learning the nuances necessary to be elite.
Oregon’s longest offensive drive in the first half was 2:40 seconds and, seriously, that was twice as long as most of the other drives they put together. Oh, and it didn’t help that Utah started four out of their seven first-half drives, past their own 35.
Short fields and little rest does not make for a good defense. Utah’s defense is actually slightly worse than last year, especially after the departure of now NFL players Nate Orchard and Eric Rowe, so Oregon’s struggles to execute offensively were especially troublesome.
The truth of the matter is that the same offense from last year, minus Mariota and a couple linemen, managed 20 points (at home!) compared to 51 last year. I felt that I had reached a point of inner-zen, able to appreciate the fact that we ever had Mariota in the first place, instead of lamenting the fact that he’s gone, but nights like Saturday’s do not make it any easier.
Now look, every team has off days. The game against Michigan State was not an off day. Our team played well and we lost a close one. Had Adams been healthy, maybe he completes that touchdown to Marshall and maybe we even win.
Saturday was an off day. That was not the same Ducks team you should expect to see moving forward, and it’s important you keep that in mind as Monday rolls around.
So instead of being angry, be like me — confused as to how it happened, but unwilling to indict my team for one bad game. They’ve given us a lot of great ones over the past couple of years, more so than most universities — by far. That doesn’t excuse losing, but it does give us a reason to pump the brakes just a little on the “hate train.”
And, as my friend’s girlfriend from Corvallis mentioned last night, “That game felt like an OSU game.” So relax, let out a deep breath, and appreciate the fact that you’re not used to this feeling — sorry Beavers.
Top photo from Kevin Cline