My last full season writing about the Oregon Ducks culminated with them winning the Pac 12, and due to the pandemic, playing in the Fiesta Bowl against Iowa State. Unfortunately the Ducks were, shall we say, uncompetitive in that game, against a team that it was perceived they had more talent than.
This year the Ducks started off their attempt to recreate the end of that season by losing the conference championship, so we are already in uncharted waters. Sure, it hurt to lose the game, but in service of not repeating the abysmal bowl performance, isn’t it worth it (it is not).
Next, as a superstitious fan, I will be travelling to Phoenix the day prior to the game, instead of the day of like I did last time. As I won’t be in the press box, but I will be cheering. Hopefully the thing missing three years ago was my voice.
Overall the Ducks should be able to win the game based on slightly changed circumstances and superstition!
Okay, maybe there are a few other differences. What can these Ducks do different than those 2020 Ducks?
Okay this one is simple, way too easy. The 2020 Oregon Ducks were nothing special on offense.
Mario Cristobal went in to the pandemic season with high hopes, and won three straight games to start the shortened season. The offense even looked pretty good! Tyler Shough was throwing decently, but not fantastically. The rushing attack was solid, but not as dominant as it should have been at times.
Then Oregon played the Beavers and gave up a whopping 22 points in the fourth quarter to lose in regulation.
Sure, up to the start of the fourth quarter of that game, the Ducks had a pretty solid offense. After scoring with about 6 minutes left in the third, Oregon would only score 7 more points the rest of the game, allowing 22 from their rivals.
It was the beginning of the end, with Oregon losing to Cal the very next week after scoring a measly 17 on the Golden Bears. After a fluke led to the 3-2 Ducks making the conference championship game, they somehow pulled off a win against an equally mediocre USC, leading to the tragic performance against Iowa State.
So how is this years team different?
Well, for starters, the play of Shough had fans booing him at Autzen Stadium and reporters asking Cristobal about replacing him in every press conference. He was turning the ball over at a truly alarming rate, along with losing his confidence down the stretch. His play was so far below fan expectations that fans were asking for the now-maligned Anthony Brown to start for the team. Brown did get a chance to play – in the Fiesta Bowl.
Cristobal, in an all-time mess-up-your-QB’s-confidence move, sporadically played both Brown and Shough in the bowl game, leading to no offensive consistency.
This years team has Bo Nix, and all-time great QB looking to end his college career with a legacy-boosting win.
As underwhelming as the offense was in 2020, the defense was probably worse.
Historically, Oregon fans have been pretty positive about the defense as long as they can make a play here or there. In 2020, that’s about how good the defense was: good enough to make a play here or there.
The 2019 season saw one of the best defenses to ever take the field in Eugene, but it lost most of the major producers heading into 2020. This led to a drop off in points-per-game from 16.5 in 2019 to 28.3 in 2020. Allowing 12 more points per game is fairly alarming, and allowing nearly 30 over the course of 7 games is abysmal.
Luckily for the 2020 defense, the fan outrage at the quarterbacking situation was such that many people ignored how bad they were.
The 2023 Ducks allow only 17.3 ppg. This is a far cry better than the poor effort from the 2020 team.
Sure, the 2023 defense has a few issues, primarily in allowing deep passes and outside runs, but the 2020 defense would allow just about anything most games.
Now the real rub. Sure, the 2020 Ducks were almost certainly worse overall than the 2023 team, but they only played 7 games. They had a strange offseason where they weren’t really allowed to be around one-another, and they had a coach who, let’s face it, does not know how to handle late-game situations.
But they definitely did not match up with Iowa State well. Iowa State was physical on the lines of scrimmage, something that the team struggled against. The Cyclones were disruptive on defense, which Shough and Brown both struggled to deal with throughout their careers.
Offensively, Iowa State had Brock Purdy and Breece Hall, both of whom were smart players who are high caliber athletes in the NFL. The below-average Oregon defense just wasn’t going to stop them. Not to mention that ISU was playing their 12th game, to UO’s 7th, meaning the Ducks were five weeks of progress and practice behind their opponent.
The team wasn’t great, but the matchup was abysmal.
Now in 2023, Oregon will be playing Liberty, who also matches up well against the Duck defense. Remember how the 2023 team allows runs at the edge? That’s where the Flames excel.
On the other side of the ball, Oregon should be able to score at-will. Liberty wasn’t very good defensively against inferior competition this season, and they haven’t seen the likes of Oregon yet, as their crowning achievement this season has been beating 10-win New Mexico State.
I think this matchup is easily favorable when compared to the previous game.
Sierra Vista, Arizona
Top Photo By Karl Maasdam of OSU Athletics
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. 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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