Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out
Any team this determined to shoot itself in the foot should not wear fluorescent orange shoes. It makes it just too easy. They should wear green shoes that match the color of the turf. Or if they HAVE to be exotic, they could go with camo. Anything to give the poor feet a sporting chance.
Besides that — first black, now orange. How much do we want to be like Oregon State? Really.
There’s no denying that Oregon has been trending down since slicing up Florida State in the Rose Bowl two seasons ago. There are many excuses that could be made, ranging from injuries, to other programs catching up with what was once the most innovative offense in the country. But they would only be excuses. And they wouldn’t be productive in finding solutions.
Having a new offense that nobody knows how to defend and having Marcus Mariota to run it is not going to happen every year. But where do we go from here? That’s the subject of this weeks’ Three-and-Out.
1. Where are we? The Oregon Ducks football team is young. It’s making a lot of rookie mistakes. The defense is practically void of seniors. Both interceptions against Colorado were hauled in by true freshmen. The offensive line started four redshirt freshmen. There’s a new offensive coordinator. A new defensive coordinator. That is a lot of new that has not been properly broken in.
It’s not much consolation, but even with the youth and too many injuries to key players, the team is two plays away from being 4 – 0.
So it’s not as though Oregon football is totally in the toilet, and we shouldn’t feel like Lone Rangers. Notre Dame (1-3) just fired its defensive coordinator. LSU just fired Les Miles. And USC? There is a real train wreck.
Even conference favorites Stanford and Washington struggled against unranked teams this past weekend. So two narrow losses — as hard as they are to swallow — doesn’t mean the Ducks can’t beat anybody.
But what about the good old days of Chip Kelly and Marcus Mariota?
In many ways, comparing Oregon football’s present state to what was accomplished in the earlier part of the decade is not fair. Being among the first with the hurry-up/no-huddle/zone read/blur offense, Oregon was the only kid on the block with the cool new toy. But everybody has that toy now. Chip Kelly’s continued involvement in the program would not have changed that. And few quarterbacks are going to match the talent of Marcus Mariota.
But- but, two losses in a row? To Mike Riley and Colorado?
2. How did we get here? Mariota has moved on, and Chip Kelly was an exciting, uncommitted one-night stand. Mariota left a hole at quarterback, and Kelly brought two years of uncertainty to recruiting with his flirtation with the NFL and the anticipated and then eventual Willie Lyles sanctions.
The Lyles sanctions caused damage through uncertainty as the “investigation” dragged on for over two years. And the sanctions, while not severe, nonetheless dealt the Ducks an uneven playing field. All that is behind us now.
The roster has a handful of upperclassmen who are absolute studs. But there are not enough of them. Take a look at what was happening with the recruiting classes three to five years ago, and you have the answer to how we got here. Weak upper classes.
3. Where do we go from here? Re-living the past and lamenting the present bring only heartache. The only positive way out is to build toward the future.
Let’s start with quarterback. First of all, it’s the ONLY position that Oregon is not building toward the future by providing live game experience. And it’s a fairly important position.
Second, while Dakota Prukop is getting the job done — to a degree — he has failed to deliver game winning drives two games in a row. Last year, at Montana State, Prukop’s team had three games decided by one score or less. They lost them all.
Any games the Ducks win this year are unlikely to be blowouts. Prukop currently plays well enough to be a solid backup, and given the chance he might start delivering when the game is on the line. He hasn’t done it yet. But by any means, he’s gone after this year.
With practically the entire two-deep returning on defense next year, along with a contingent of offensive linemen and a strong cast of skill players, wouldn’t it be sad to have the whole thing not work due to no returning experience at quarterback?
Darren Carrington said that he likes the way that Justin kid from Eugene throws the ball. Maybe it’s time for Carrington to learn the kid’s last name. A game — or at least some meaningful series — with Herbert at the controls on offense might result in a bigger loss, but it could not possibly be more sickening than what we’ve experienced the past two weekends. And it would at least build for the future.
Beyond the quarterback position, the future really should take care of itself, and there’s no reason to hit the panic button. Certainly, with another year’s experience, those losses to Riley and the Buffs would have been wins.
A statistic that has perhaps gone unnoticed is that over the past two years, Oregon is 8 – 0 in November under Head Coach Mark Helfrich. Beavers aside, few of those wins were against patsies. That’s a bit of an indicator that players are getting coached up during the season.
It’s always more fun when you win, but in this day and age, there are also some bigger issues. Alabama has won so many national championships that a Tide fan would probably have to take off his socks to count them. And they will probably get another one this year. They also have a player who was arrested for possession of marijuana and a stolen firearm. He never missed a snap, thanks to southern justice.
Washington State has way more arrests than wins since Mike Leach arrived. USC is some sort of sick reality show.
If there is an athletic program that has recently produced two better ambassadors than Marcus Mariota and Ashton Eaton, I don’t have a clue who it would be. Perhaps the Ducks could recruit better if they weren’t so fussy about character, and if they told recruits that the program had their backs no matter what they did.
But I’d rather sit here watching Marcus do the Heisman ads, and listen to Ashton urge me to get out there, buy some Coca Cola, and put it on my VISA card. It makes me proud of that Oregon letterman’s jacket that’s been hanging in my closet the past 50 years. And I’m willing to accept some losses to keep that pride.
Marcus Mariota is gone. Chip Kelly is gone. And with all of college football except Stanford copying the Ducks’ offense, the advantage of innovation is gone.
You have to expect that there would be a bit of a hangover. But the Alka Seltzer should be kicking in by next year, and if things go well, maybe even yet this year.
Meanwhile, keep your chin up. Keep fighting as hard as you can without forgetting to keep your gun up. And ditch the fluorescent orange on the feet.
Top photo by Rhianna Gelhart