Picture this: you sit down with your loved ones around the TV to watch your favorite show. You’re all snuggled in as the episode starts, but soon everything looks familiar, too familiar. It’s at that moment you realize you’ve seen this episode before.
This is how I felt watching the first quarter of Oregon vs. Bowling Green.
I’ve seen it before. The lack of energy, the offensive miscues, and the complete inability to tackle at the start of a game.
I did see a number of good things in the game. Justin Herbert looked like the Top 5 NFL Draft Pick we all expect him to be. Marcus Arroyo’s offense attacked the defense at multiple levels, and the offensive line flashed their monstrous potential. The defensive line rebounded after being pushed around in the first quarter, showing the ability to control the line of scrimmage.
Even with all the good, that start ate at me. Will we ever be able to start a game at full speed?
In his short tenure, Mario Cristobal has consistently repeated the same message: he wants this team to play disciplined, forceful football where they impose their will on opponents, and play with a lot of JUICE. He wants to build a culture of toughness and tenacity.
Saturday was the first chance to back up all that talk, and the team fell flat. Not that the game was ever in jeopardy, but they didn’t show us a new culture that pushes them to be at their best at all times, either.
“Juice” doesn’t require you to settle in before it makes its presence known. It needs to be there from the start. Championship teams play with juice from the first snap of the season to the last. Is Oregon a championship team or not?
The slow start and lack of energy worked out OK against Bowling Green, and a repeat performance most likely won’t lose a game to Portland State or San Jose State. Oregon can survive most of their opponents with a lack of fire until a big play provides a spark, but certainly not all of them. Oregon football should dominate, not just survive.
I was in the stands for the Stanford game in 2012 when Zach Ertz caught the pass in the back of the end zone to seal the game for Stanford. That’s juice. Oregon was the better team that night on paper, but Stanford had the swagger, confidence, fire, juice, or whatever you want to call it. They played hard from the word go, and you could tell by their body language and antics that they had no doubt they would walk away the victors. And they did. That is where we need to be.
Need an example of how a hot start can impact a game? Look no further than Saturday’s Washington–Auburn matchup. Auburn came out playing like their pants were on fire, and turned that energy into a relatively easy early score, in what wound up being a one-score game. They came out ready to play from the start, and gave themselves an edge over a team that looked evenly matched as the game went on.
This is not meant to be an indictment of Cristobal. I believe in him and in his vision for this program. But this team isn’t where it needs to be yet.
Building a culture takes time. You can’t snap your fingers in one offseason and renovate the mindset of a team. This team could still have that dream season where the stars align and everything goes their way. After all, it has happened before.
For now, I am tempering my expectations for this season, and am ready to enjoy the ups and downs with this team. Cristobal knows the importance of culture and juice. His postgame press conference references them throughout. So, I am not worried, just a little impatient. I believe in the end Coach Cristobal will be able to execute his vision, and when he does we will all enjoy the rewards.
Top Photo By Kevin Cline
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