Winning Ugly: When Culture Wins Out

David Marsh Editorials

Good teams win games and lose games, but truly great teams always find a way to win.

This does not mean Oregon is a great team, but they are on their way to greatness. Oregon is currently 3-0, and as fans, we haven’t felt good about any of those three wins.

Against Stanford, Oregon turned the ball over twice and left points on the field, while the defense couldn’t consistently stop the run. The following week against Washington State, Oregon turned the ball over three times on three consecutive possessions and the Cougars shredded the Duck defense in the first half.

Saturday’s game against UCLA was filled with ups and downs. We were happy for the win but you wouldn’t have known it based on our biggest takeaways from the game.

The offense couldn’t run the ball, and though Tyler Shough played a good game overall, he found himself constantly under pressure, as Oregon’s offensive line was less of a wall and more of a sieve.

Jamal Hill chases down a UCLA ball carrier while being held.

Oregon’s defense had three takeaways, one of which was a pick-six, and special teams came up with another during a kick return. However, the defense caved to UCLA’s constant rushing attack.

But Oregon won.

A win is a win and as far as the AP Poll is concerned, that win was enough to boost Oregon into the top ten. Winning isn’t easy and sometimes an ugly win is just what a team needs.

Trust the Culture

Mario Cristobal has steered Oregon to victory in ugly wins before. As Oregon fans, we want to see Oregon win big every game, and those days are coming. For now, we will have to wait and remember that this is the youngest team in the country. An ugly win is a major learning opportunity for this team. It teaches toughness, perseverance, grit, and above all, trust and teamwork. These are the things National Championships are made of and Cristobal knows it.

The Rose Bowl last year was a perfect example of winning ugly. Oregon won 28 to 27, winning by one point, one! That was a culture-building win. The defense managed to hang in against a physical Wisconsin team that owned the time-of-possession, and when the defense needed a stop to end the game, they got it done.

Oregon’s defense works together to stop the run.

This year’s Oregon team is hurting from a loss of leadership. Many players who led that Oregon team to victory in the Rose Bowl are gone. Some graduated but others opted-out due to the ongoing pandemic. These opt-outs have hurt the team more than any of us fully realize, because if these veteran players had started, it would have granted our younger players another year of learning and developing as back-ups.

Instead, Oregon has had to turn to new faces to fill the leadership void.

Furthermore, both sides of the ball have been affected by players being unavailable for games. Some have had minor injuries, and it would seem others have been affected by contact tracing. (Although Oregon has not stated whether this is or isn’t the case, the timeline matches up.)

Yes, Oregon’s defense was dreadful against UCLA. UCLA’s Demetric Felton ran over Oregon’s front seven for 167 yards, and backup quarterback Chase Griffin made Oregon’s secondary look silly on too many occasions. And yes, Oregon’s offensive line couldn’t get enough push to get the running game going and they let Shough get sacked far too many times.

Isaac Slade-Matautia makes a tackle against UCLA.

But Oregon’s offense managed to capitalize on the turnovers generated by the defense and were able to build enough of a lead for the defense to protect. In the end, the defense did protect that lead as Oregon won the game, even if it was only by three points.

Champions Win Ugly

Winning ugly is something championship-quality teams can do.

Winning ugly forces players to come together as a team. It is a shared experience that each player at Oregon will take away from the game, and it will drive them to become better. This is Oregon’s culture under Cristobal, and winning ugly reinforces everything Cristobal preaches.

This is the youngest team in college football, and before the pandemic, this Oregon defense wasn’t supposed to have so many new faces. There is a major upside to this young football team. If they can come together and play as a team in the most difficult conditions football has been confronted with in the last hundred years, just think where this team can go when they have a full spring practice, offseason weight and conditioning regimen, and fall camp.

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo Credit: Tom Corno

Andrew Mueller, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.

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