It could have been worse. It could have been 2007, on the heels of Dennis Dixon’s knee injury against Arizona, when the Ducks stumbled into the Rose Bowl and couldn’t score a point, losing 16-0 to a hapless and free-falling UCLA.
Though the Ducks had national championship aspirations that year, which had vanished in Tucson the week before, they still controlled their own destiny to play in the actual Rose Bowl game (against a not so great Illinois team, by the way).
“Luckily” not so much was on the line this year. Nope, in the midst of a rebuilding process, the only aspirations the Ducks held on Saturday was for improvement, as they look to set the stage for greater success.
A major part of that future success is rebuilding the defense. The good news is that the defense has improved from utterly horrible to completely mediocre. Mediocre being something Duck fans would have died for the past couple of seasons. Despite lack of depth, injuries and general talent, Jim Leavitt has them playing hard and good enough to keep Oregon in games … if they had Justin Herbert. With Herbert, the Ducks probably beat Wazzu, lose to Stanford, win a close one to UCLA and would be looking forward to a decent bowl game. But alas, Herbert is still in street clothes.
Obviously Braxton Burmeister is having a tough time throwing the football, but I’m not seeing any signs of promise in his throwing game. I desperately hope to be proven wrong. Yes, I know he’s a true freshman who is in over his head, I know he didn’t have the luxury of a redshirt season to learn the system, and I know he doesn’t have very much help right now, but I haven’t seen anything so far that tells us he will be able to throw the ball at this level.
Certainly I’m not expecting greatness at this stage, but it’d be nice to see a little glimpse of something. At times, he’s having difficulty executing basic screens and simple dump offs. Maybe it’s just the freshman jitters. My hope is that before the season is over he shows some sort of promise in the passing department. He did show savvy and gamesmanship in the drives that led to his two rushing scores. Now I’m waiting for the passing part of his game to take some steps.
A) The Ducks didn’t move the ball into UCLA’s half of the field until the first play of the second quarter.
B) Running back Royce Freeman became the 22nd player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to rush for 5,000 yards in a career.
C) Freeman needed 140 yards Saturday to break LaMichael James‘ school record of 5,082 career rushing yards, and Freeman finished with 160 for a career total of 5,103.
D) Burmeister was eight of 15 passing for 74 yards with an interception and a fumble.
E) Willie Taggart took a helicopter around the Los Angeles area on Friday night to literally drop in on the games of a couple potential recruits.
F) The Ducks have been outscored 58-0 in the second half of their past three games.
G) UCLA’s running back Bolu Olorunfunmi carried the ball 13 times for 76 yards, including a crazy 22-yard touchdown run (see here) that ended with him going sky high over Oregon’s Mattrell McGraw and into the end zone.
H) Oregon’s sophomore linebacker La’mar Winston, from Portland’s Central Catholic High, had a breakout game with 11 tackles (nine solo) and one sack on Josh Rosen.
I) The Ducks are one for nine on fourth-and-one plays this year. The first coming against the Bruins.
J) Oregon installed a new look on offense that the announcers called the “diamond formation,” but it looked more like a “reverse wishbone” from the shotgun formation.
K) The Ducks cut down their penalties from an average of 97 yards/game to only three penalties for 15 yards on Saturday.
L) Oregon had 151 of its 320 yards of offense on its two touchdown drives. The other nine possessions only gained 169 yards, and only one of those went for over 28 yards.
M) Injuries have taken a toll on the defense, only three inside linebackers made the trip, and Ugochukwu Amadi played safety for the first time.
The Ducks need two wins to become bowl eligible. The extra practice time that a bowl invitation affords would be invaluable for such a young team in rebuilding mode. So, as we glance at the remaining schedule, the time is now. A couple of weeks ago the goal was to get Herbert back in time to play what looked like a cupcake Arizona team and then the Beavers. But Arizona is not looking so easy these days, which makes next week’s home game against a sputtering Utah team a must win.
Calling back to 2007, the Ducks regrouped after losing their final three games to beat — of all people and teams — Jim Leavitt’s South Florida in the Sun Bowl. That bowl win ignited the Ducks to a seven-year run of greatness. The best running back Oregon ever sent to the NFL — Jonathan Stewart — played his final game in that Sun Bowl and went out a winner. Here’s to the Ducks rising up to a bowl game and doing the same for Royce Freeman, the best running back in Oregon history.
That’s the great thing about history; it has a knack of repeating itself. Oh and by the way, another seven year run of greatness would be nice too.
Top photo credit: Jerry Thompson