As I prepared to watch the Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday and saw a fired-up Royce Freeman addressing “his” team, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “What the … ???”
As most know, Freeman–arguably the greatest running back in Oregon history–chose to sit out the game. And even if some fans disagree with his decision, most people understand the reasoning behind it. But if you’re out, you’re out. Buy a ticket or watch the game at home on your couch like the rest of us.
Issue 1: I pretended to put myself in Royce’s shoes. If I had chosen to not go to battle with my teammates, I would feel like the world’s greatest hypocrite by asking them to put it all on the line while I watched comfortably from the sideline. The phrase “actions speak louder than words” would be endlessly looping in my head.
Issue 2: Where were the adults on this issue? The coaches, the administrators, the athletic director … somebody needed to put their foot down and say, “We love ya’ Royce, but you can’t come.” It’s a minor detail, but I’m assuming he traveled on the University’s dime. Sure, it’s only a drop in the bucket money-wise, but it’s a bad look. It’s like an employee telling his company that he’s not going on a business trip and then the company paying for him to go and hangout anyway. Not good.
It was reported that his teammates wanted him to go, which makes you wonder who truly is calling the shots for the Oregon football program. Remember, the players signed a petition to have Mario Cristobal promoted to head coach. It’s too early to tell, but if Cristobal doesn’t work out, athletic director Rob Mullens‘ decision to go with the perceived emotionally charged “quick-fix” over a long-term, substantive solution will come back to haunt him.
Quality leadership often requires making unpopular decisions, so is this the kind of questionable decision-making that we’re to expect going forward in the Mullens-Cristobal era? Let’s hope not.
The Oregon players clearly followed the example of their senior star running back—they showed up, but they did not play. A forfeit would have almost been more palatable. It’s not as if the Ducks went limping into this game; they finished the regular season with dominating performances against the Beavers and Wildcats. It seems baffling that they rallied around Cristobal to get the job, but didn’t let that momentum follow them into the bowl game, as often is the case when a team feels abandoned by their coach at season’s end.
Sure, the Ducks can fall back on a laundry list of reasons why they played horribly: The Willie Taggart mess, playing in lower-tier bowl game, the new early signing period for recruits, etc., etc … But at some point, you need to take pride in your job, pride in yourself, and get it done. Not to mention, the Ducks had “excuses” to play well, too: A national television audience with ABC’s A-list announcing team, recruits watching and a revenge factor against Boise State (which apparently only mattered to Duck fans, not players).
A) The Ducks had 10 penalties for 95 yards.
B) Boise State receiver Cedrick Wilson, with NFL aspirations of his own, had 10 catches for 221 yards and a touchdown.
C) The Ducks rushed for 47 yards, the first time the Ducks were held to fewer than 100 yards on the ground in 16 games.
D) Herbert led the “charge” with 16 yards on nine-carries.
E) The Broncos ran 90 plays to Oregon’s 64 and gained 481 yards to Oregon’s 280.
F) Tyree Robinson‘s 100-yard interception return is the longest in Oregon’s history.
G) The Ducks’ offense didn’t move the ball past the 50-yard line in the first half and didn’t score until the 10 minute, 7 second mark in the fourth quarter.
H) Did the Ducks employ an inordinate amount of predictable screen passes?
I) Historical Perspective: Before we get too down on things, the Ducks got blown out in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl and lost to Boise State to open the 2009 season. In both instances, the Ducks bounced back.
J) The Ducks 3rd straight bowl loss.
K) Just a thought in the best interest of college football: Shouldn’t the Mountain West champion play the champion of say, the American Athletic Conference? A battle of winners from the top two Group of Five conferences would be a much more compelling matchup than the 8th (or so) choice from the Pac-12. (With Central Florida in a New Year’s Six Bowl, the Bronco’s would have faced either South Florida or Memphis, depending on the selection process.)
I think I speak for many college football fans when I say we could easily cut the number of bowl games in half and not miss a thing. The lower-tier games too often come down to who takes the game more seriously. There’s no question who did on Saturday. Because of this, I’m not nearly as worried about the state of the Ducks as I would be if they had played this way in say, the Civil War. But it does raise eyebrows.
Thankfully, the Ducks don’t have time to worry about this flop. With the new early signing period upon us–and the puzzle that is putting together the assistant coaching staff–the Ducks simply cannot afford to mope about what disaster experts are labeling the “Lay-down in Las Vegas.”
Here’s to hoping the possible historic recruiting class and assistant coach casting don’t come up snake eyes. Especially when you consider the snake who started it all slithered off to the sunshine state.
Top photo credit: Bryan Kaisk