Hope and expectations are close companions in the hearts of Duck fans. For the past eight years our collective hope has been greatness, and our expectation has been a national championship. Twice the Ducks have reached football’s apogee and twice they have slowly fallen back to earth, saddened but not distraught, discouraged but not despairing. Each season our hope has remained and our expectations have been indefatigable, until maybe now.
At the beginning of last season Oregon was coming off the utter crushing of Florida State in the Rose Bowl (in the Ducks’ first playoff appearance) and perhaps the worst fourth quarter in recent memory on the biggest stage. They had a new quarterback who, though diminutive in stature, was indomitable in spirit. A person who truly believed that no matter the field position and time remaining, if there was at least one snap left, the game could still be won.
As Vernon Adams marched through the season, winning every game in which he was healthy, we fell in love with him. While his style was more cardiac arrest and less Marcus Mariota’s calm dominance, it was effective and infectious. Vernon personified our hope last season, defeating Arizona State in triple overtime as well as helping to bring down the only other dominant PAC-12 team this decade, Stanford.
Although they didn’t return to college football’s grandest stage at the end of 2015, fans realized that the Alamo Bowl was no small achievement, given who they’d lost to graduation and the NFL, not to mention Vernon’s injuries. Our expectations were fulfilled in the first half when Vernon led the Ducks to a 31-3 dominanation, only to watch it slowly evaporate like a large puddle under a weak sun, Vernon once again sidelined, unable to do more than wince at the long tragedy of errors.
That was a soul-crushing loss to every Duck fan with a pulse. I wasn’t able to watch the “highlights” for six months. At that point, the definition of hope: a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen, didn’t seem to exist for Duck football.
Honestly, 2016 might be the season of hope lost. The season where expectations are reduced. The season when we realize Oregon is now on one of those roller coaster PAC-12 programs, the ones who annually realize the falsity of pre-season promises by underachieving against some other middling PAC-12 teams.
Despite the Ducks’ second season with a transfer quarterback, I do have hope. But my hope is not in their dynamic and ever-evolving offense, it’s treasure trove of receivers and the best running back in college football. My hope is in a defense reborn, a defense that by all accounts will be more aggressive, flexible and able to adapt on the fly. My hope is that out of the ashes of Pellum’s tenure as defensive coordinator, the Ducks’ new defense will match their 22nd-century offense, finally.
My expectations for the offense are zero. After the games last season when Vernon was injured, I recognize that it requires something special to run this offense, no matter how good the running backs are. So I’m turning a new page in the arc of my fandom.
My hope is now in their defense and its newfound ability to disrupt instead of react, to apply constant and constantly-changing pressure, to dictate the tempo, the time of possession and the score. And I’m not talking about blitzing per se, I’m talking about taking the Oregon way, the science of our offense, the blueprint of blur and applying that to the defense and making it the anvil against which opposing offenses crash against with futility. I want to see the Oregon defense become known for it’s shock and awe. Not for slowing opponents, nay, for dismantling them.
I want the Oregon defense to become something of record, something admired across college football. My hope this season is that regardless of what happens on the offensive side of the ball, the defensive side finds greatness, and through that the team finds greatness, and that once again our collective hope and expectations will reach yet even greater heights.
David Miller, FishDuck.com Writer
Top Photo by John Sperry