Football is a hard sport. It takes its toll on players and teams both mentally and physically. This season, we have seen Colorado and USC crumble as their seasons have gone on. Their morale was sucked out of them from devastating losses. But Oregon bounced back from their one loss in triumphant fashion, and that is a testament to the culture created under Dan Lanning.
This is a physical team that has taken a beating with minor injuries that have sidelined players. However, Oregon has had few long-term injuries to date. A massive part of the Ducks’ health has been due to Wilson Love and the strength and conditioning staff. They have created a fantastic culture around the strength program but also around the recovery aspect. It’s one thing for coaches to discuss recovery following a game and another to enact recovery in a way that gets noticeable results — as in, few significant injures.
During the game against USC, Oregon lost both starting corners, Khyree Jackson and Jahlil Florence, to minor injuries. Oregon’s depth showed itself, as they moved onto playing their second string corners in Trikweze Bridges and Dontae Manning. Manning would go out with a minor injury as well, and Nikko Reed would replace Manning. Bridges would also leave the game, though for an unknown reason, and be replaced with freshman Rodrick Pleasant.
Oregon took some hits by going deeper into the depth chart against USC, but the defense didn’t let the Trojans get back into the game. Furthermore, the players who came in seemed prepared to play. The culture around Oregon is preparing everyone to play even if they are not expected to be needed, which means if the Ducks need to dig into the depth chart, they can do so with confidence.
Pleasant was even matched against arguably USC’s best receiver in Brenden Rice and stopped him from scoring on a two-point conversion. That is deep development and preparation from Oregon’s coaches and team culture.
The November Slog
Perhaps one of the most profound results of Oregon’s culture came on Saturday against ASU and it is something that no one is probably thinking about in this way. Oregon came out of the gate and demolished ASU in the first half. Bo Nix threw for six touchdown passes, and when the Ducks went into the locker room, Oregon was up 42-0. Nix and the starters would come out and really only play one drive in the second half before sitting on the bench for the rest of the day, giving the backups an opportunity to get some valuable live reps.
This in and of itself doesn’t sound too remarkable. The stats were amazing, but Arizona State is one of the worst teams in the conference this year (though they are far better than their record shows). It is not that surprising that Oregon ran away with the game and had a chance to rest their starters. However, this is November, and unless you’re an SEC team playing an FCS team in November, it is rare that any team gets to rest their starters against Power Five competition.
In November, it is common for players to be dinged up. As a result, they won’t be as effective on the field and will allow lesser opponents to keep things closer than they should be. Last Saturday, Oregon was the heavy favorite and it would not have been inconceivable for the Ducks to suffer a mental lapse and let ASU hang.
Instead, the Ducks were laser focused on the mission at hand and beat the Sun Devils. Oregon disposed of ASU like a National Championship caliber team should. This is how Alabama, Georgia, and Clemson in all of their National Championship runs dealt with lesser teams in November — they beat them handily and moved on.
The Ducks did just that. They were mentally and physically the best team on that field on Saturday, and as a result, the starters got a much needed rest on the sideline during the second half, and some of the young talent got a chance to shine.
Oregon gave up 13 points because they played their backups for almost an entire half, but the game was never in any doubt. It was also in Oregon’s favor that this game was on early enough in the day that the East Coast audience could tune in for the first half to watch Nix carve up ASU and take a seat for the second half. So everyone knows that ASU scored those 13 points in garbage time.
Oregon plays Oregon State on Friday in what will most likely be a top 15 match-up and one of the best rivalry games on this weekend. For Lanning to achieve Oregon’s goals this season, he is going to need his team engaged both mentally and physically. With the culture around the program right now, it seems like that is a given — even if the outcome of the game is not.
It is going to be a tough game in Autzen this Friday against a good Oregon State team, but Lanning’s Ducks should handle them and maybe even give Nix a rest on the sideline before the final whistle.
Top Photo By Vasco Dixon
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.
David Marsh is a high school social studies teacher in Portland, Oregon. As a teacher he is known for telling puns to his students who sometimes laugh out of sympathy, and being both eccentric about history and the Ducks.
David graduated from the University of Oregon in 2012 with Majors in: Medieval Studies, Religious Studies, and Geography. David began following Ducks Football after being in a car accident in 2012; finding football something new and exciting to learn about during this difficult time in his life. Now, he cannot see life without Oregon football.
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