As the final gun sounded on Saturday and the usual post-game mad scramble took place across the field as the head coaches tried to find each other for their customary handshake, I half-expected the ending music to the movie “Rocky” to kick-in.
After all, a relatively large underdog (13.5 points) had gotten the tar beat out of it early on only to fight, scratch, and crawl its way back into almost winning. And at the very end, even though the underdog still lost, it kind of felt like they had actually won.
Which in turn begs the question, what the heck do we make out of these Ducks?
Instead of viewing them as 2-0, perhaps we should look at them as 3-1. They have won three halves, and lost 1. This would seem to be a more accurate representation of how the new season has gone.
1) Wide Receiver: Charles Nelson has established himself as a legitimate number one receiver; while Dillon Mitchell, Johnny Johnson III, and Brenden Schooler round out what is looking like a very solid receiving corps in an offense that is explosive.
2) Ball Hawking Defense: Four interceptions against Nebraska. The Ducks were not creating turnovers last year because they seemed to lack unity and effort. While defenses that fly around tend to get rewarded with picks and fumbles.
3) The Ducks are 2-0: While the 2nd half near melt-down showed that the Ducks have obvious flaws, they did, barely, pass their first real test of the season — if only scoring a C-minus on the exam.
While the defense gave up way too many yards and big plays, especially in the second half, it was nothing that was wholly unexpected. On the other hand, the sudden lack of the once unstoppable Oregon offense is what left everyone puzzled.
If before the game someone had said that the Ducks would win 42-35, every Duck fan would have been good with that, but if that had been said at half-time, Duck nation would have let out a collective, “WTF?”
Sure, realistically the Ducks weren’t going to put up another 42, but at the very least a couple of more touchdowns was reasonable to expect. But not to be.
While Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich were often guilty of not killing the clock by taking their foot off the gas late in games — which at times let opponents back into games — Willie Taggart took the opposite approach in slowing things down much too early. Proven by Justin Herbert’s 25 first-half pass attempts against only eight in the second-half.
There is correcting things, and then there is over-correcting things, safe to say the problem on Saturday was the latter.
THE WHAT’S NEXT?
After Oregon’s bi-polar act, it’s hard to say. At half-time, they looked like a team headed for 12-0, but by the end of the game, they looked like another 4-8 team.
Wyoming is trap game. A rabid crowd will be on hand to witness the biggest home game in Wyoming history, while the Cowboys field an NFL talent at quarterback.
The Ducks better be ready.
But a thought that may have crossed the minds of many was that under last year’s coaching staff, the Nebraska game would have been given away. The defense would have been even more porous with more missed tackles and blown coverages, and yes, unnecessarily going for two probably could have been the difference, again.
It seemed telling how in the first half, in a mid-field fourth-down situation, one that the Kelly-Helfrich era Ducks most surely would have gone for, and where Oregon fans — via muscle reflex — were expecting the offense to stay on the field, Taggart sent out the punting unit.
And it was the right call.
The Ducks don’t need to take unnecessary risks like that anymore. They are no longer the go-for-broke up-and-comer they once were. Oregon is an established, blue-chip-esc program that at the end of the Helfrich administration looked silly trying to pretend that they were still an unproven challenger trying to take that next step — when they already had.
Referring back to the loose “Rocky” analogy, what the Helfrich era did was lose the eye-of-the-tiger, and on Saturday, in the face of implosion, in the face of sure disaster, with thoughts of the TCU Alamo Bowl from two years ago and Texas A&M’s epic collapse last week, the Ducks just might have got it back.
Eye-of-the-tiger, baby, eye-of-the-tiger. Time to put this one behind us, and put an eye on Laramie.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline