Losing sucks. It makes players and coaches miserable, demoralizes fan bases and eliminates teams from the College Football Playoff conversation. Given that Oregon has never ended a season without a loss, Duck fans everywhere are fully aware of this fact. Losing has never felt good, especially to the Beavers. Especially when the Ducks should be so much better than their little brother.
But Jonathan Smith is a good in-game coach. He had the Beavers ready to play against a team that looked like they didn’t want to be on the field, at least defensively. Smith managed the clock better than Oregon’s head coach Mario Cristobal, and his team executed his game plan to perfection. It all resulted in a 41-38 loss for the Ducks.
A loss the Ducks desperately needed.
Coming off of a National Championship loss following the 2014 season, Oregon felt like they were due to take a step back in 2015. A solid defensive season and a historic offense got them to the championship, but most of the major contributors were gone. Marcus Mariota was in the NFL, significant portions of the secondary were gone, the offensive line lost key starters and there were holes all over the roster. Just about the only Ducks who returned were the team’s running backs.
The addition of a talented QB made it seem like Oregon could repeat as conference champions despite all of the losses. Unfortunately for Mark Helfrich, Vernon Adams Jr. was nearly transcendental. Willing the offense to be good enough to overcome abysmal defense and subpar game management in most of his starts.
In 2015, Oregon finished the season 9-4, with a historically bad showing in the second half of their bowl game. The year was viewed as disappointing, but the team showed that they could win as long as the offense was humming.
In 2016 the offense stopped humming. Adams had only prolonged the inevitable implosion of a team that couldn’t stop the run or the pass defensively with his incredible play on offense. The Ducks finished with the worst defense in school history and blew up the team. The lack of urgency by the staff to fix the defense could have been due to the team still winning. The Ducks were on a hangover from an almost-national-championship and the coaches couldn’t get the team motivated.
Flash forward to 2020. The Ducks are coming off of a dreamlike Rose Bowl win to end the 2019 season, and the defense looks flat. They went from forcing turnovers and sacks at a near record pace in 2019 to not being able to force anything in 2020. The defensive line looks uninspired, the secondary looks uninterested, and for some reason it feels like the linebackers aren’t ever on the field.
The Ducks played defense against Oregon State like it was 2015, but this time there was no QB injury to blame a loss on, like the Ducks did for almost every loss that year. The loss hurt, for sure, but if the staff can open their eyes to the fact that what they are doing on defense is simply not working, the loss will be better for the program than a 10 point win would have been.
We are at a junction as a program, either Cristobal and his staff are going to kick the defense into gear, or a Rose Bowl will be the signature win of his tenure. Just like Helfrich.
Top Photo By Eugene Johnson
Ryan Robertson is a defense contractor for the United States Marine Corps. A lifelong Duck fan from Grants Pass, he joined the Army out of high school. After four years as an Intelligence Analyst he decided it was time to further his education and pay more attention to his Ducks. One of Ryan’s first memories is of watching the Ducks, led by Joey Harrington, beating up on the Utah Utes in 2001. He is studying to be a Human Rights Investigator for the UN and intends to attend the U of O for graduate school in a few years. His grandfather ran track at Oregon in the ‘50s. He loves the Ducks, and has a passionate interest in reading every scrap of analysis centered around the football team.
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