Our Beloved Ducks are “mental yearlings”? A few of my Greybeard Duck-Buddies wanted to understand the label I gave to the current Oregon football team and why I would come to that conclusion? It comes down to my judgment of the mental component, the game maturity, if-you-will, of this team compared to the past. We have a ways to go in that department, but like last week — I noted continued improvements in many other areas I wish to share with you.
For those few who have grown up on a farm, a “yearling” is a common term given to animals who are no longer babies, but instead about a year old, but have no wisdom or judgment yet. Call them the “teenagers of the animal world.” They can create humor and frustration for those who have pets or livestock at that particular stage.
Years back I was walking our beautiful boxer, who, while adorable with our family, harbored a hatred for cats that I figured could result in killing one, if given a chance. We always kept her away from the neighbors’ cats, but on this day a yearling cat approached us on our walk, and you could tell that she had no experience around dogs. She was simply curious and wanted to come up close and sniff this creature out.
Our dog froze into an “attack” stance, and I could tell her facial expression was one of, “I cannot believe my eyes!” The yearling continued to trot right up to this boxer, and I decided that an important life lesson needed to be administered to this cat for its own long-term survival. I gave enough slack on the leash to allow the boxer to lunge at the yearling and come within inches of biting it’s head off before pulling the dog away.
Like the “mental yearlings” on the football team, the cat simply did not know the danger it encountered, as it had not yet experienced it in a live situation. The scene was cartoonish: The yearling leaped up into the air, went into a full electrified puffed-fur state, and somehow turned and began to bolt away without touching the ground.
Sometimes making the escape matters more than how it looks, (as our beloved Ducks can attest), because the feline pissed all over itself from the fright and “flight” instinct as it blurred out of sight. We saw elements of that Saturday night in Berkeley. The Ducks struggled to put an opponent away and actually opened the door for a Cal victory, had the Bears recruited a good quarterback. The point is, both “yearlings” learned important lessons that will help later in this season and for future ones.
For perspective — think of the group of players and coaches from 2009 through 2014; they went through tons of big regular season games, and even bigger BCS Bowl games, playoff games and even National Championship games. They were a mature and hardened group mentally, and we projected these expectations upon a current team of yearlings, where they simply do not apply. This team encountered nothing until the Stanford game, and stepping on an opponent’s neck to deliver the final blow has been unheard of in the last couple of years.
The core of the team is built around juniors like Troy Dye and Justin Herbert and, yet, even Dye had his coming out party against Cal-Davis in 2016, long after all those big games. You can say the same for the coaching staff, and thus when I refer to a learning curve, it is very real for the players and coaches at Oregon. They all have quite a bit to learn yet and do not have the experience of Washington’s players, for example, who have been in big regular season games, a Pac-12 Championship game and a national playoff game.
We have to take this into account when judging this team and add it to our entertainment experience, as we watch our beloved Ducks grow and progress in this important mental aspect of the game, and hopefully leave the “yearling” stage at the end of this season. In the meantime, I am concerned about all the yardage and only 28 points put up by the offense, and all the futile drives that went nowhere for a variety of reasons. Cal gave the Ducks five turnovers total, and those are gifts Oregon will not see from great opponents. Some of the passes thrown were poor decisions or even worse execution by the Bears, and we have to consider ourselves fortunate that the Ducks escaped.
Watching Players Grow Before Our Eyes …
I have been harsh on the Oregon wide receivers, and it has been justified in results until recently. In particular, I like how they are beginning to go-after the ball instead of waiting for it to arrive on their route.
It’s third and long (above) and yet the defensive backs of Cal give Dillon Mitchell a large cushion. I noted in the Stanford game the huge cushion given to Mitchell, which resulted in a ton of short passes that piled up yardage, and also build his confidence. Herbert has demonstrated the ability to throw a good long-ball, and thus, the strategy of both Bay-area teams was to keep the Oregon receivers in front of them. This gave Mitchell the opportunity to rack up a ton of short catches in both games.
In the first play above, the chemistry between Mitchell and Herbert is evident. Justin throws the ball to the outside where only the Duck receiver can catch it. Dillon comes through with a great extended catch to keep a drive alive.
In the second play above, I like how Jaylon Redd jumps back and up to position himself in front of the good Cal defensive backs we had been hearing about.
The third play above is Mitchell going to where the ball is to secure an Oregon touchdown!
The screenshot above exemplifies the growth on the defensive line as Drayton Carlberg executes a perfect swim move for the sack and fumble, which results in a scoop-and-score by La’Mar Winston.
This improvement by Carlberg (above) eases our minds about the departure of Jalen Jelks to the NFL later, as great coaching on the defensive line is developing talent that is already resulting in big plays.
The mental aspects of this “yearling” team has tempered my expectations about the results of this season, as Oregon will face teams far more skilled at passing (Washington State) and much more mentally experienced in the big games, as the bastard Huskies are. The talent is there for a fine season, but I am not sure the mental aspects will be acquired until more big games are played by this Oregon team.
Just as it is going to take time for the Mario Cristobal staff to acquire the raw talent to challenge the top ten someday, it is going to take time for the learning curve to take place with the “mental yearlings” of both the players and coaches of the Ducks. But it will be fun to watch the growth in all these areas over the next three years!
“Oh how love to ponder about our Beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Top Photo by Asan Awan
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