First and ten, run it up the middle.
Second and four, run it up the middle.
Sack for a six yard loss.
Third and ten, run it up the middle.
This is the simplest way to explain Oregon’s game plan on Thursday night. There were times last season where the peanut gallery were pointing their fingers at head coach Mark Helfrich and accusing him of being in over his head. Ironically enough that was right around the time Oregon played Arizona, and lost. Now in 2014 the same tune should be sung from the mountain tops, or nearby Skinner’s Butte will do.
I was lucky enough, or rather unlucky however you want to look at it, to be at Arizona’s showdown with second ranked Oregon and I feel perfectly fine saying given how they played even if Oregon won it would have been a disappointment. Oregon’s latest game was a microcosm of Mariota’s time spent in Eugene. Plenty of hype, more than enough noise, and no follow up. What I mean by that is every time Oregon and the college football world think they have it figured out the Ducks let you down like a poor man’s Christmas. Sitting in the stands I heard statements like, “most over hyped team ever” and “(offensive coordinator) Scott Frost is getting paid $700,000 a year for this?!” and “worst Oregon game I’ve ever seen.”
It’s unfortunate, but the harsh reality is those fans are right.
Best backfield in the nation? What does that statement look like five weeks in? The most frustrating thing about that question is the fact that the three headed monster of Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman have the ability with the right offensive system to be unstoppable. Why in the hell was offensive coordinator Scott Frost hell bent on running it up the middle every other play? It was like he wanted to be stopped. The Ducks looked sluggish from the opening kickoff. They had no fire, none of that famous “Chip Kelly OOMPH.” They looked bored and uninspired. No better way to get the team fired up then to have them repeatedly run the same play that’s not working! Where the hell was Helfrich? He’s the head coach, can’t he override the play calls if something’s not working? Or did he think the play calling was prudent too?
Best corner in the country? Ifo Ekpre-Olomu has had moments of brilliance, but the guy can’t play 11 positions, and he got trucked something nasty by some Wildcat I forget the name of. All I know is that the result was a missed tackle and a touchdown. That’s all that matters.
Marcus Mariota for the Heisman? Good luck with that. Not that Mariota isn’t talented enough, it has been said before and I’ll say it again he is probably the best quarterback in the nation. Some days it just doesn’t matter how good you are. Most days in order for a quarterback to play his best the quarterback needs an offensive line that isn’t necessarily even great, but good. At the very least he needs a group of guys that can stand in someone’s way and slow them down for a second. It seemed Oregon couldn’t even do that.
Now with a porous defense, a terribly depleted offensive line, and an offensive system that is vanilla to put it kindly; the Ducks in a matter of one week have gone from head of the table to peeping Tom across the street looking in when it comes to four team playoff talk.
Grantland published an article last week titled “The Quiet Genius.” I saw plenty of quiet on Thursday, but can’t say I ever did catch the genius. All I kept saying was, “that was so stupid,” more times than I can count.
Okay, we know the offensive line is beat up and torn down. So why insist on running it behind the guys that have been struggling for three weeks? Why on Earth with a whole extra week of practice was nothing done to compensate for the struggling line? Maybe some two tight-end sets and a focus on running it to the outside with all that speed on offense? No, no, let’s spend two weeks working on running it through the A gap.
Oh wait, I stand corrected, they did work on something else; that beautiful trick halfback pass to Mariota for a second quarter touchdown. That was insane, and very well done. What did the coaching staff decide to do with all that excitement and momentum? It’s probably somewhere buried down on Autzen’s 35 yard line where the running backs were being slammed for one and two yard gains.
The bad news is the Ducks dropped 10 spots to #12 in the AP rankings and this loss to Arizona broke a 28 game home win streak versus unranked opponents for Oregon. The good news is now every team (except Arizona) in the Pac-12 now has at least one loss. That means Oregon still despite the pessimism has as good a shot as anybody to finish the season Pac-12 champs. The conference is truly wide open, especially with Stanford now having two losses.
Oregon heads down to California on Saturday to face off against the similarly heartbroken UCLA Bruins. After their loss to Utah, UCLA is also in a must win situation. It’s going to be interesting to say the least, watching the rest of this season unfold. Oregon future is at this point very uncertain, however a few things are certain–
The offensive line will continue to struggle.
Adjustments need to be made for this team to have any shot at saving their season.
And, the playcalling just simply needs to be better.
Godspeed Oregon Ducks.