Ducks’ Season Becomes One Big “What Might Have Been”

Protect the quarterback. It’s Football 101. It’s football gospel. If football had ten commandments it would be etched into one of two stone tablets, just like the original Ten Commandments.

But apparently protecting the quarterback in Eugene has gone the way of that mysterious 3rd tablet, as illustrated by the classic Mel Brooks movie The History of the World:

 

So now protecting the quarterback has become a “thou shalt not.” And Oregon having a chance at a very good season — considering how good the defense looked on Saturday — is also a “thou shalt not.”

If the Ducks had the talented Justin Herbert behind center, matched with the defense that contained the Air Raid offense by pressuring Luke Falk and providing excellent downfield coverage, the Ducks may well have cruised to victory.

Without Herbert, we can analyze the stats from the game and breakdown the shortcomings of the Oregon offense on Saturday, but why waste the time? The only stat that mattered was that No. 10 was out with an injury.

Since the beginning of the season, many have criticized how the Ducks have allowed Herbert to get hit so many times, especially up the middle. Hey, if Herbert wants to get tattooed, that’s great, but visit a tattoo parlor, not an opposing linebacker five yards up the gut.

This isn’t to say that the Ducks should abandon the “Gulf Coast” offense, start snapping the ball from under center, and resort to 7-step drop backs. The Oregon quarterback should run, but do it less often and strive for every run to end in a slide or out of bounds. Of course he’ll still get hit occasionally, but Oregon must lower his exposure to hits. And since the Ducks didn’t, we’re living with the consequences.

Kevin Cline

OFFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT: the Ducks’ only offensive highlight.

Top 3 reasons given by those who defend the Herbert injury:

1) “Hey man, that’s football.” Yes, it is football, but the football I know and love protects the star quarterback.

2) “He could have gotten hurt throwing the ball.” Yes, but he must throw the ball, it’s in his job description; he doesn’t have to run 7 yards up field only to get destroyed by hard-charging strong safety.

3) “That’s what Oregon does; Marcus Mariota ran the ball.” Sure, but it doesn’t seem as if he got hit at the rate of our quarterbacks this year. Mariota either was taught to avoid contact, had a natural inclination to do so, or both. (Ironically, Mariota also got hurt at the goal line last week – go figure.)

Please Willie Taggart, bring in tape of Russell Wilson on how a quarterback should slide. Taylor Alie should have slid on the play that knocked him out last week. Saturday, Braxton Burmeister got drilled on several occasions when he should have gotten down. After one such hit, a person next to me said, “he needs to learn to slide.”

To which I replied, “Yup, but first he needs to be coached to slide.”

And hey, I love the “next man up” mantra as much as the next guy. It makes for great tough-guy barroom bravado, but unless you have Steve Young as your back-up (hello late 80’s 49ers), it’s just crazy talk at the quarterback position.

Tidbits

A) With only one healthy quarterback, the Ducks, amazingly, doubled-down on QB runs. Burmeister lead the team with 15 carries (for -4 yards), while the running backs only had a combined 30 carries. Hmmm …

Kevin Cline

GRATITUDE: Mike Leach presumably thanks Willie Taggart for not protecting Justin Herbert.

B) Ten points are the fewest by the Ducks in eight years, since Chip Kelly’s debut against Boise State in 2009.

C) This game ended UO’s 47-game streak of scoring at least 20 points.

D) The Ducks had 6 turnovers: 3 on downs, 2 interceptions and 1 fumble.

E) Oregon’s 277 yards of offense (3.8 yards/play) were its fewest since the 2010 Rose Bowl, against Ohio State.

F) Oregon finished with 132 rushing yards — just 2.9 per carry.

G) Royce Freeman did not score and is still one touchdown away from breaking LaMichael James’ school record.

H) Oregon converted two of its 17 attempts on third down, while WSU converted two of 13.

I) The Ducks were zero for 3 on fourth down.

J) After allowing a 41-yard touchdown on WSU’s first offensive play, UO’s defense held WSU to zero of six on third down before halftime.

K) The Ducks held WSU to only 369 yards of offense. The Cougs were averaging 495.

L) Oregon’s defense held the Cougars to 33 points, about 10 points fewer than they averaged last year.

M) Oregon had four sacks and kept consistent pressure on Falk throughout the game.

N) Luke Falk passed Marcus Mariota for second all-time in Pac-12 history with 106 touchdown passes. Ouch.

O) Six Cougar receivers caught a ball for over 20 yards.

Perspective?

Kevin Cline

OUT OF SYNC: without Herbert, the offense was not clickin’.

Oregon wasn’t going to compete for a national title this year, even with a healthy Herbert. But with the way the defense has come together, and against one of the most potent offenses in the country, the idea of eight, nine or maybe even ten victories would have seemed entirely plausible. Now, we pray for six.

Of course, there is always a silver lining: Burmeister getting key experience this year may pay dividends over the next couple years as the Ducks hope to have a solid backup while looking to contend for greater things. And who knows, Herbert missing out on a good part of this year could keep him around for his senior year. We’ll see.

But let’s flash forward to 2019: The Ducks have a Pac-12 leading defense, Herbert is a projected first-round draft pick and the Ducks are a sure-fire playoff team. Then, sometime in early November, Herbert keeps the ball on a zone read, gets decleated by a 275-pound defensive end and is out for the rest of his Oregon career.

Now, how easy would that be to swallow?

Please protect the quarterback Coach Taggart, after all, as “commanded,” it’s a sin not to.

Darren Perkins (@PerkinsDarren)
Spokane, WA

Top photo credit: Kevin Cline 

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