A blowout loss like the Ducks suffered Saturday gives two false indicators: The winning team isn’t truly as good as it appeared and the losing team isn’t as bad.
Kirby Smart knows that sports axiom, which is why he is working to suppress thoughts that his team is ready for the next Natty. And Dan Lanning is trying to keep his team’s psyche from imploding from the second-worst debut by a head coach in Oregon history.
Lanning has to get their heads right fast so they are ready to work and learn again—because they need lots of both.
Up here in the bleachers, we moved quickly from anger to acceptance. We are old (old) fans who were students at Oregon in 1974 when No. 7 Nebraska routed Oregon 61-7 to spoil Don Read‘s first game as head coach.
We had no hope back then. That’s not true today.
Oregon remains a program with the tools to build a national title contending team—fan support, facilities, national brand value, tradition and history. So let’s get on with it.
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First, Kenny Dillingham‘s offensive schemes were smart and creative. The issue was execution against a smothering defense—and quarterback play. Oregon didn’t execute Dillingham’s schemes but there were few times when a play seemed doomed for failure of imagination. Dillingham kept looking for ways to play to the strength of his athletes.
Second, Georgia did Oregon a favor by exploiting the weakest point of its defense—the young secondary. Georgia, which won last year with a punishing rush-first offense, came out slinging against Oregon. The team that passed in 42 percent of the time last year threw the ball 60 percent of its plays on Saturday.
That strategy took away Oregon’s defensive strength at D-line and linebacker—stopping the run. Yes, it provided a road map that every opponent will follow this year. But it’s better to have it exposed now than against, say, Washington State’s aerial circus in three weeks.
Third, we know that Bo Nix isn’t the answer. We found that out quickly.
From the bleachers, QB is the most glaring disappointment. No matter how much we candle that egg, we can’t find signs of life. Nix is what he was at Auburn. But worse, Lanning seemed like what Cristobal was at Oregon.
Is it 2021 all over again? Either the highest ranked pair of quarterback recruits in Oregon history are still—in their third season with the program—not good enough to replace a flailing quarterback for even one series, or Oregon has another stubborn coaching staff that would rather stay with a crippled gunslinger than take even the slightest risk that a backup might do worse.
Question: if the game is hopelessly lost, why not give the backups time on the field if only to prepare them in case the starter is injured in the future?
Or on flip side, if you are in love with your face-planting starter, why risk his injury?
Lanning’s inexperience was a big reason for skepticism when he was hired last year. Nothing we saw Saturday allayed those doubts.
But just as a recession can set the stage for a robust recovery, a devastating football loss can help a team grow stronger.
I’m eager to hear from the FishDuck Forum Irregulars on all of this, maybe especially from those who have known Oregon football only in its last three decade when the Ducks grew into a top 15 program.
Los Angeles, California
Top Photo by John Giustina
Drex came to Oregon from the Alaska bush at a time that Dan Fouts, Ahmad Rashad and future New York Giant great George Martin (a freshman dorm mate) roamed Autzen. He was Emerald editor-in-chief before going on to a 44-year career at newspapers in New York, Alaska, Nevada and California. He spent half of his career at the Los Angeles Times, including stints in New York and Washington D.C. bureaus, where he was foreign affairs editor.
Drex worked in news, not sports, but did occasionally indulge his passion for football and once covered a tickertape parade for the New York Yankees. He directed investigative stories in 2008 that won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize gold medal for public service. He retired in Los Angeles but has a season seat at Autzen and flies up for most home games.
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