There Are Bright Spots Moving Forward

I won’t lie, it was hard. I stood nine rows back on the 20-yard line, surrounded by my fellow students and friends, watching the Ducks let opportunity after opportunity slip out of their grasps. We were wet and cold, but simultaneously numb to all other feelings but that of overflowing anticipation for the next snap.

Would this be the down the Ducks defense stepped up and created a turnover? Would someone besides Royce Freeman make a play for the offense? Would Uncle Phil strap on a helmet and prove he truly is a God amongst mere mortals?

To be concise, no. No, nope and noperino. It was like a horror film where you wanted to scream at the girl to not go into the closet, but she can’t hear you because, well, she’s in a movie and if she didn’t check the closet, it’d be a pretty boring horror flick.

But instead of one girl, it was a crowd of more than 55,000 people waiting, hoping, for something to believe in. Something to remind them of the team the Ducks were less than one year ago.

But, just like in the movies, we didn’t leave. We sat there, all game long. We checked the closet.

So, this is it. This is the lowest the team has been in a while, and as fans I understand the itch to find something to cheer for again. So what, if anything, can we still cheer for?

Well, here are a few things that, for me at least, still give me hope.

Taj Griffin

Griffin showed incredible promise.

Kevin Cline

Griffin showed incredible promise.

I could get into the lengthy debate about Ty Griffin‘s decision to switch positions, and how every day I wish we could see what he would be like under center, but for now I’ll have to settle with his younger brother.

The younger Griffin has been phenomenal so far in mostly limited play time, but he really took the WSU game as his opportunity to shine.

With wet conditions and undeveloped quarterbacks, the running game was in full effect against the Cougs, with Griffin and Freeman front and center. Freeman was phenomenal, putting on an absolute clinic against the weak Cougar defense. But we all knew Freeman was great.

What we didn’t know was that Freeman has a pretty great backup, too. On 11 carries, Griffin tallied 96 yards rushing, displaying an uncanny combination of balance, strength, but most of all, speed. Griffin’s speed looks almost cartoonish and guess what? He’s just a freshman.

Buckner dominated against WSU.

Kevin Cline

Buckner dominated against WSU.

The Defensive Line

Forget the fact that, as my friend and fellow FishDuck writer Kim Hastings pointed out, it wouldn’t have mattered if Oregon had 11 or 18 guys on defense. They still wouldn’t have been able to cover the Cougars’ receivers.

It’s true, the secondary is weak. But, as a glass-half-full type of guy, I sure loved watching the defensive line.

Led by DeForrest Buckner, the D-line provided some huge plays all game long. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way, and that was especially true while watching some of the rushed passes Luke Falk made.

Falk got away with multiple bad throws, but none more so than a terrible throw while being dragged down that fell harmlessly to the turf. The D-line brought it, now it’s up to the rest of the team to catch up to them.

New Jerseys

I know, I know. It was a tough game, okay? I don’t have a whole lot to be optimistic about, but even I have to admit the Lewis and Clark jerseys were sweet. Win or lose, we’re going to look good while doing it.

Top photo by Kevin Cline

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Caleb Couturie

Caleb Couturie

Caleb is a sophomore at the University of Oregon intending to double major in Journalism and Sports Management. He is the Managing Editor for FishDuck.com, along with being a lifetime Saints and San Francisco Giants fan, as Caleb fell in love with sports at a young age and developed that love into a passion for sports analysis. He is looking forward to cheering on the Ducks throughout his career at Oregon, and is always willing to talk sports with any fellow fan.

  • jerry

    Caleb,

    I feel your pain. Our defense outplayed our offense this game, which could have been iced with a first down on our last possession.

    We have talented receivers, but can’t find them evidently. We’re one dimensional and defenses can gear up to stop our running game. When they do, we have no credible response. 3 downs and out.

    Cant put our defense on the field the whole game and expect to win.

    Taj has awesome speed but he needs space. Or a slight crack.

    Bottom line is our offense can’t be one dimensional and win against good teams. Not going to happen

    • Caleb

      I don’t know if I’d say our D outplayed the offense honestly. I would say our running backs and our D line played excellently, better than they have all year, but aside from that both units were pretty much awful.. Ducks didn’t capitalize on opportunities for turnovers, and I’m sure this is an over exaggeration but I swear I didn’t see the offense complete a pass of more than like six yards down field. I know it was rainy but with the dynamic receivers we have that’s just awful. I think more than anything this just proves how vital the QB position is. Oregon, no matter how good the surrounding players are, will continue to be dreadful until we can find a QB who looks like he wants to be playing. (Everyone else just scrambles around)

      • jerry

        Agree with you on finding receivers. I don’t recall a lengthy pass play. I think the longest may have been 12 yards to Allen early in game.

        Don’t get that. Maybe lack of game experience?

        • Caleb

          Lack of confidence if you ask me. Locke, Alie, and Adams so far have underwhelmed in their ability to look at more than one read. Lockie especially. He looks at the one guy he wanted to throw to and unless he’s wide open he’s gonna tuck and run. Ugly football.

  • GoDucks

    A nice piece of writing, Caleb. I strongly agree with you on the performances of Freeman, Taj and the D-Line. The one name I didn’t see mentioned in the same light was Charles Nelson’s. What a playa.

    Here’s my take. This situation is going to get worse before it gets better. We’re in a correction that will last at least two seasons, and more of this is assured for next year because after this one we will still be stuck with subpar quarterbacking.

    Furthermore, as this situation gets worse our recruiting is going to suffer, so after Lockie is gone we’ll have much less talent to work with than we do now. Although we may get better than we are now in the third year of the correction, and then even better in the fourth, we’ll probably be nowhere near the likes of what we’ve seen in the previous few seasons.

    How to get back to that level?

    Until now I’ve avoided focusing on the coaching. However, after yesterday’s loss I’ve had a change of heart. We should have been penalized 15 yards for just thinking about putting Alie in in the 4th quarter. Then, just after that, running on three downs: Why not have Lockie throw one of his five-yard bombs on the first or second down, to take some of the heat off Freeman? Why wasn’t Taj in the backfield with Freeman if we knew we were going to run, run run?? Come that third-and-two everybody knew Freeman was going to get the rock. I could go on. We could go on. In the end this all comes back to Mark Helfrich, and he Couged it.

    Nothing less than a return to the elite level will feel acceptable to Duck fans of this era. We can get back there, but there is only one way to expedite the process. But first, we must acknowledge that our policy of hiring from within – although laudible – has apparently run its course.

    Keep in mind how we got to the elite level to begin with: All of the investment that has been put into Oregon football’s infrastrure has been geared towards attracting superior recruits. The time has come to focus on how that applies to coaching. We need to hire a big-name with a very strong reputation for recruiting prowress. Whomever is hired will probably need to be paid as much as the best coaches in all of college football. But that will cost a fraction of the hundreds of millions that has been pumped into our facilities since the late 90s.

    This is the only way that I can see us having a legitimate hope of returning to elite-level status anytime soon.

    • Caleb

      Now you’ve got me kicking myself because after the game all I wanted to do was mention the play of Charles Nelson. I’ve written about him (a lot) in the past. I love the kid. He’s the second best athlete on the team (I’m telling you, Ty Griffin is even better than his younger brother he just can’t find a position that he fills properly). Nelson is simply playing at a higher level than the rest of the team. He’s faster, he hits harder, he’s honestly just hungrier. He wants to win more than the rest of the guys and you can see that. It’s hard to watch certain players, who you know are hungry, bring it week in and week out and have the rest of the team settle with mediocrity. It’s going to be a long season.

      • GoDucks

        A final word on this…

        I certainly like Mark Helfrich as a man, and I hope he proves me wrong. But for now I figure that we’ll have a new coach by the end of next season if current trends continue.
        I agree that there are bright spots, but there are other things to enjoy as the Ducks go through this recession. For example, for the last couple of years it began to feel like we only had three meaningful games each season – our bowl game, Stanford, and whatever one other team there was out there that could hang with us.
        It was amazing to see a football offense click like the one’s we’ve had. But then again, when was the last time we got to watch the Washington State Cougars and think that they would provide any meaningful competition? Likewise the the Huskies, the Beavers, the Bears and just about everybody else we played.
        Next week we go to Washington hoping that we will be able to compete. There isn’t a team in the conference from here on out that we should expect to defeat ,including Oregon State. That’s actually quite interesting to me, and it will be a moral victory if we can get three more wins and play in a bowl game. Who knows what difference Adams will make if he gets healthy?

      • MAITAIDUCK

        Caleb thats all on the Coach’s and to make that change nin the spring and then not play him until Colorado was a bit puzzlling from what were the Coach’s thinking. These guy’s are now in over their heads because if a certain player isn’t getting it done as a HC you put people in that will play harder hit harder just play and contribute. Chip would of never stood for this subpar play from any players. This is not what he started here at Oregon and it was truly about winning the day and these players are so far removed from what Chip started it is ugly. Nelson should play but with his speed why isn’t he playing CB and Griffen needs to get reps at CB because Ihenacho SUCK’S as a CB period.

  • John John

    helfrich is proving to be a not so good head coach, Pellum is absolutely an incompetent defensive coordinator. Helfrich is responsible for pellum since that is his decision as his defensive coordinator. Helfrich and pellum are both clueless as to what they are doing or not doing that has resulted in the train wreck ducks football team. Wash state is not a good football team, and oregon lost to them at home. The evidence, which tells on the current state of the team under helfrich and pellum. Colorado is also a very bad team, and oregon struggled. Oregon,under helfrich and pellum is a bad football team. The team has plenty enough talented players to be a very good football team- absolutely. That is the full and undeniable proof that helfrich and pellum in particular, are in way over their heads and things will not be getting better until both of them are no longer coaching in their current capacities. That is the hard and cold truth.

    • Caleb

      It is no one person’s fault. Last year Helfrich was the next great Oregon coach, and this year his head is on the stake. You’re right, it starts with the coach, but Oregon’s failures are collective as a team.

      • De Cunha

        Helfrich had three years to groom a quarterback to replace Mariota, he failed to do that, he was too busy taking his foot off the pedal and instructing his “quarterback in training” to complete vanilla hand offs to third string backs. Guess what, he doesn’t have a quarterback ready for DI action and that is on him and nobody but him.

        When you have players on the field taking bows and performing the throat cut maneuver on the field in front of live TV audiences, you have coaching issues.

        If you have a back with over 200 yards in a game and a horrible secondary you go for it on 4th and 1 and finish the game off with a W. You don’t punt the ball and see what happens next. Hellfrich will always be a nice guy, but he won’t ever be a good coach because he will always play not to lose instead of playing to win.

    • MAITAIDUCK

      USC is a very talented Football team and look at them under Sark. Disaster and this could bode well in the end for Oregon’s recruiting and I absolutely agree with you on the Coaching as if these guy’s are all getting too comfortable being from within the program for so long it’s scary. Oregon is the NO.1 Team period to getting this program into the TOP 5 for almost 10 years straight and this was by vision and innovation. Were is that innovation now because they need to make changes and even though it may be hard to do because of the unity within sometimes you have to go pay BIG DOLLARS to a Top Coach. Who wouldn’t of wanted Urban Meyers on this staff as HC. The guy is a genious and he knows how to get players up for a game. I truly hate watching Helfrich with that same stupid look on the sidelines watching him do his stupid clapping. I would much rather see him chewing some butt once in a while when players don’t get the job done.

  • duckusucker

    First off, Ty is NOT a better athlete than Taj. Look at high school productivity. HS ratings. Taj is a freak running back, period. A stud among studs. Now, the real question to ask is what the hell Frost/Helf are doing in running the kid between the tackles? A few more hits like he absorbed in this game and he’ll have as ineffectual a year as DAT did when coaches forced him into a “power runner.” Suicidal for a guy w/his build.
    We need a two back backfield, period. Freeman threatening the gut, Griffin the perimeter— and Alie a threat to go anywhere.
    Of course, unless we can establish a threat to throw more than 10 yards from the line-of-scrimmage, forget ALL that.
    Coach Neal: did he not realize our secondary was going to be weak before this year hit him???? Not just weak, but pathetic? I think these guys will be good, but for now, they couldn’t be less effective.
    And… at some point, didn’t Frost and Helfrich—- after YEARS of seeing him perform— realize that Lockie didn’t have the right stuff?
    Adams was an unexpected tragedy, but getting him was somewhat of a miracle: if he heals, we’ll be tough to beat (we can outscore most anybody, even w/a porous secondary).
    The future looks bleak, too: who’s going to be under center next year??????????
    Lockie? Don’t think so.
    Mahalak? Nah, he couldn’t beat out Lockie or Alie, for goodness’s sake.
    And forget any new recruits: this system ain’t gonna be learned well enough by ANY true freshman. Nope, ain’t gonna happen.
    I truly don’t know what Helfrich and Frost have been doing in that regard—- cognitive dissonance?

    • Caleb

      Travis Jonsen is redshirting and shows a ton of promise for next year.

      • duckusucker

        True, but Jonsen also suffered a MAJOR “leg injury” (presumably an ACL-tear) earlier in camp. It’s hard to see a recovery in time for full-speed spring practice, setting him back (remember Jake Rod?).
        And getting zero game snaps this season is tough; the old saw about game speed and practice being no substitute is true.
        Next season is on track to be… trying.

  • MAITAIDUCK

    the young DB’s have played 6 games and should be showing remarkable improvement but are not. Our Safety’s are not what we are used to and their 2 of the biggest most athletic safety’s Oregon’s ever had and they suck. This Defense is embarrassing and DP is not the future because thats apparent in how these guy’s play and it isn’t together. Helfrich does not get people motivated and someone needs to motivate this team and why isn’t Carrington playing because Helfrich isn’t helping this kid by keeping him out of games. If he doesn’t play him soon we’ll probably read something real soon on a discrepancy in his conduct because he’s obviously bored. This is a business so we might as well say MR Knight owns this team so lets start running it like a business and let Phil make changes or suggestions about what needs to be done. Too many outstanding offensive players to not have a competent QB getting them the ball down the field.