FRACTURED: How one Injury Undermined the 2017 Oregon Ducks Football Rebuild

Momentum is the quantity of motion of a moving body, measured as a product of its mass and velocity. Momentum. Velocity. Mass. All factors that led to the Ducks losing four out of the last five games, and three straight losses.

As Justin Herbert stretched across the goal line against California, a slightly late defender who’d already committed his energy a mere second before, came crashing down, causing Herbert to fracture his collarbone. The damage to that single bone sent cracks throughout the Oregon Ducks football rebuilding effort.

Recruiting doesn’t heal it. Recruiting doesn’t provide experience to existing players where it didn’t already exist. Coaching cannot provide reps or in-game experience. Only playing can do those things, and Braxton Burmeister has been playing.

Not surprisingly, he’s looked lost and overmatched against opposing defenses that could probably predict the play-calling from the Oregon sideline. Interceptions, fumbles, and penalties occurred regularly, calling back the few positive plays that did happen.

Punting abounded. Scoring has not abounded. Losses abounded. It’s funny to write this way, but the losses have not been humorous at all.

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A little bit of high school physics drastically altered the 2017 season

Oregon football started the season 3-0 and immediately exceeded expectations. The offense was good enough to put up big points, the defense was showing glimmers of greatness while improving overall, each and every week. A penalty-besmirched game in the desert led to a 2-point loss to Arizona State, but unlike under the previous coaching regime, it galvanized rather than depressed the team.

Oregon came out smoking against Cal. Social media and the forums lit up with predictions of eight, nine, 10, even 11 Oregon wins for the season.

And then the news of Herbert’s injury, and the timeline for healing: six to eight weeks, almost the rest of the entire season. Still, some thought that, with our running game, we could still flip the record from a year ago and end up 8-4 and heading into a decent bowl. As we all know now, that hasn’t come close to occurring.

After Cal, the Ducks lost to Washington State by 23 (33-10), to Stanford by 42 (49-7), to UCLA by 17 (31-14) and to Washington by 35 (38-3). In those losses, we were outscored 151-34. Essentially, that’s a 5 to 1 ratio in points. The lone bright spot in that stretch was beating Utah 41-20.

In that game, the defense was – insert your favorite grandiose rhetoric here – well, really really fun to watch. Sacks abounded, Ugo Amadi had a strip and score, and the fire we’ve all been waiting for on that side of the ball was lit. We also got to see Charles Nelson throw a touchdown and Royce Freeman and Tony Brooks-James combine for 244 yards rushing. That was a joyous occasion, and it was cathartic for the fans, the players and the coaches.

From video

Charles Nelson’s touchdown throw, and the the win against Utah, provided a much need soul salve for the Ducks.

Looking back, with more games for all teams to compare against, Oregon likely would have been much more competitive against Wazzu, Stanford, and even Washington, had Herbert been at the helm.

If I had to pick one, I’d think the game against Wazzu is the one we’d probably have won with Herbert. Our defense played great even though we ended up giving up 33, and we even led 10-3 early at home.

If we’d kept up the scoring, I think that would have ended up about 45-33 with a Ducks win. Stanford and Washington just have too many unknowns, and they’re a combined 15-5. So realistically, I think those are still losses. We also would have dominated UCLA, and that is a fact that needs no elucidation.

So, where would be we had we not lost Herbert? We would have been 7-2 going into the Washington game with our only two losses coming to ASU and Stanford. A loss at Lake Washington would leave us 7-3 with games remaining against Arizona and Oregon State, but both are at home where we are 4-1, and coming after a bye week.

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With this random guy at QB Oregon would dominate Oregon State

Arizona is also 7-3 and has a Heisman candidate, but we have a future Heisman candidate coming back … we think. If Herbert does come back for the Arizona game, I predict a close win at home in a shootout. Without Herbert, we lose 42-14. I believe we can beat Oregon State at home with Charles Fischer at quarterback.

So, with Herbert we’ll end the regular season 7-5, without Herbert it’s likely 6-6. The problem with that is there are already five teams in the Pac-12 with six or more wins and only six guaranteed bowl slots.

Bottom line? It’s time to bring back Herbie, get a win against Zona, destroy Oregon State 59-3 at home and work towards winning some random bowl game (with sponsors changing so many times recently, we would all assume it’d be brand new). With more practice leading up to that game, and one more game of experience, the future will be bright for the Ducks in 2018 with a healthy Herbert leading the charge.

David Miller
Washington, DC

Top photo credit: Photo by Scott Kelly, and Photo-Editing by David Miller

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