Cameron Hunt

Ducks must fix themselves mentally to win at Cal

Ducks must fix themselves mentally to win at Cal

Oregon senior guard Cameron Hunt said today that when he called out teammates for not caring following a 70-21 loss to No. 5 Washington on Oct. 8 he meant that they weren't giving maximum effort, not that they were actually indifferent to winning or losing.

"I think during that game what I meant to say was that the effort wasn't there," Hunt said. "I don't think anyone's quit on our team. I think we have a really good squad coming together and I believe in coach [Mark] Helfrich 100 percent. I trust him. He's our leader. I'd go to war with him any day."

Problem solved. Maybe. 

Hunt wasn't the only UO player to wonder out loud about player commitment following the loss to the Huskies. Freshmen Brendan Schooler and Troy Dye also said there were players who didn't appear to have their heart into the game. 

UO coach Mark Helfrich said last week that the notion some players have quit was simply not true, and shouldn't have been stated in public. 

Maybe so, but there has certainly been something negative going on internally. Let's not forget the players-only meeting following a 41-38 loss to Colorado in which teammates called out one another for poor play and poor effort. 

As Hunt indicated, there is a difference between effort and caring.  On the other hand, doesn't caring typically lead to greater effort? Doesn't a lack of effort come from a lack of desire?

Whatever the case, the Ducks (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12) had better fix themselves mentally or their season will essentially end Friday night at California (3-3, 1-2).  

Oregon must win four of its final six games to become bowl eligible. Cal is one of the most winnable remaining games on the Ducks' schedule. A loss on Friday and it would be difficult to believe the Ducks could win four of five to reach a bowl game with road games remaining at No. 19 Utah and USC. 

"I trust in this team and we just have to be able to give our full effort and put everything together," Hunt said. 

Here is the reality: These are young men who have grown accustomed to experiencing success that have recently been slapped in the face by a sobering amount of failure. When that happens, some panic. Some blame. Some lash out. It's quite normal. 

"In times like these, certainly character is revealed and guys expose themselves for who they are," Helfrich said. "For the vast, vast, vast majority of our guys, they're doing, or at least trying to do the right things."

Front-runners can kill a team when things go south. The Ducks players hope to avoid that and readjust as a team.

"I feel like players have taken a whole new accountability and responsibility for what has happened," safety Khalil Oliver said. "We've realized that it's on us."

Oliver said the team focused a lot on team unity during the bye week. If that pays off, the team could be in business. If not... 

A quick look at California:

When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday, California Memorial Stadium. 

T.V.: ESPN. 

Betting line: California by 3.

Records: Oregon (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12), Cal (3-3, 1-2). 

Coaches: Oregon's Mark Helfrich (35-12); Cal's Sonny Dykes (17-26 at Cal, 39-41 overall). 

Last week: Oregon and Cal were both off, previous to that got run over by Oregon State, 47-44. 

Golden Bears' impact players: Cal leads the conference in total offense (530.2 yards per game) and ranks second in scoring offense (42.3) behind Washington, which dumped 70 on the Ducks two weeks ago. 

Leading Cal's offense is senior quarterback David Webb. He leads the conference in passing yards per game (360.2) and is second in touchdown passes with 22, one off of Washington quarterback Jake Browning (23), who threw for six at UO. 

On paper, all of the above spells bad news for one of the bottom five defenses in the nation. 

However, Cal's weakness is also a horrible defense. Oregon State rushed for 474 yards during its 47-44 win over Cal.

Oregon and Cal could set defensive football back about 100 years on Friday night. 

The Golden Bears' leading receiver is Chad Hansen, who leads the conference in receptions per game (9.8), receiving yards (770) and receiving touchdowns (eight). 

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Cal's defense is horrible, but so is Oregon's.  The Ducks can put up points. But so can Cal. The big difference here is that UO is starting a freshman quarterback. Justin Herbert's biggest challenge could be making enough plays to keep pace with Cal's offense while making his first road start. 

Preliminary pick: California 43, Oregon 40.  Ducks could win by three touchdowns if they've ironed out all of the problems from the neck up and Herbert and the UO running game can put up 45 points. But that's a big if at this point. 

Helfrich talks Mullens, addresses reports of team strife

Helfrich talks Mullens, addresses reports of team strife

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said today that he had a conversation with UO athletic director Rob Mullens following the Ducks' 70-21 loss to No. 5 Washington but declined to elaborate on what was said. 

He did, however, say that he feels like he has the administration's support as he works to turn around a 2-4 season. 

"I feel like we have a ton of support," Helfrich said. "The most support we have is the players and we need to play better. We'll shield them from all the negativity."

With six games remaining, Oregon needs four wins to become bowl eligible, which could go a long way toward helping Helfrich keep his job, assuming that it is in jeopardy.  On Monday, Mullens avoided offering unwavering support for Helfrich during an interview on the in-house Duck Insider radio show. 

That interview has raised speculation that Helfrich's job security is at least precarious as he heads into the second half of the season. 

"Nobody is happy," Helfrich said about the team losing four consecutive games. "There's not one person in our organization that's happy with the result. And again, we have to be about fixing that."

Helfrich said practice during the bye week has been solid. He spoke of righting the team emotionally, working on fundamentals, ball security, pass protection, developing young talent and taking advantage of the extra time to improve before playing at California next Friday.  

Helfrich also addressed the numerous reports of players claims that some teammates are not giving maximum effort and simply do not care about winning. Helfrich said those sentiments expressed Saturday night by freshman linebacker Troy Dye, freshman safety Brenden Schooler and senior right guard Cameron Hunt are simply not true. 

"Certainly, absolutely guys are frustrated," Helfrich said. "And that's fine. Number one, you shouldn't say anything like that to begin with when that's not true. It's emotional. All those things. But then our job is to right the ship from an emotional standpoint, from a psychological standpoint and just continue to point out what's going on and why it's going on."

 

Lack of discipline costing Ducks close games

Lack of discipline costing Ducks close games

EUGENE - Welcome to the new normal for Oregon. It involves close games against once-middling teams that come down to the wire. Matchups that require greater attention to detail to win. Contests that these Ducks have yet to prove they can emerge from victorious. 

The Ducks, after losing 41-38 at home to Colorado on Saturday, are 3-5 in games decided by seven points or less dating back to last season, and have lost three such games in a row dating back to the Alamo Bowl debacle. Since the Ducks became national title contenders in 2010, Oregon is 7-10 in close contests with just 14 losses in seven seasons. 

Essentially, when opponents keep games close they have had a better than 50 percent chance of winning.  That's bad news for Oregon given that the Ducks (2-2) are likely to play in many more close games this season in what looks to be a balanced Pac-12 Conference led by No. 7 Stanford and No. 10 Washington. The question for Oregon is if it has enough talent and discipline to win the vast majority of such games in order to contend in the North Division. So far, the answer is no. 

That reality led to a players-only meeting following Monday's practice held for the team to yell, point fingers, clear the air and redirect this sinking ship in the right direction.  

"I think maybe that's what the team needed, is to get called out at certain positions," senior guard Cameron Hunt said.

The result was a spirited, fast and physical practice on Tuesday that coaches and players called one of the team's best, especially for the defense, which has woefully under-performed and blown fourth-quarter leads in losses at No. 15 Nebraska and to Colorado. 

Too often Oregon blames itself for losses rather than give much credit to the opposition. However, there is no denying that in their last three defeats the Ducks committed gross unforced errors late in the games that contributed greatly to them losing. 

From 2010 through 2014, Oregon found itself in only nine close games out of 68 contests (13.2 percent). Mistakes made in other games were covered up with blowout victories. However, the post-Marcus Mariota (2012-2014) coupled with the dramatic improvement of offenses within the conference have led to the Ducks finding themselves in eight close games out of 17 played (47.1 percent) dating back to the start of last season.

So what's to blame for the failure in close games?

Some outside of the program blame coach Mark Helrich and his staff. The players, however blame themselves. 

"I think our effort was terrible, both sides of the ball, special teams," Hunt said. "I think we can do a lot better and that's something that shouldn't be questioned. Or effort should be full-go. There shouldn't be anything left in the tank when the game is over."

Part of the problem liess with younger players who arrive at Oregon with a grandiose sense of self worth without ever having accomplished anything at the college level. 

"That entitlement, that cannot exist," Helfrich said. 

It did a bit in 2013, leading to veteran leaders such as Mariota and center Hroniss Grasu working to eliminate bad attitudes among players. The result was a run to the national title game during the 2014 season. Now today's veterans are out to perform the same type of eradication project. 

"We have a lot of young players on the team who really don't understand the culture and how we do stuff here," Hunt said. "That's something that is non-negotiable, 100 percent effort on every play, best you've got."

All that said, the veterans also share heavily in the blame, according to senior wide receiver Dwayne Stanford. 

"It's not just the younger guys making mistakes," he said. 

Stanford also added veterans must share in the mistakes made by younger players within their position groups.

"If a receiver messes up, that's on me," Stanford said. 

One young player who certainly gets it is linebacker Troy Dye, who had a lot to say about the defense's lackluster performance.

"There's too many missed tackles, lack of effort," Dye said. "It's the effort and the fight and the hunger. We have to want it more."

In Helfrich's experience, sometimes it takes failure for players to realize the importance of executing the little things within a game plan. He said that often times failure on a second down in the second quarter is as important as a poorly thrown pass that's intercepted in the fourth quarter. 

Plus, nothing screams undisciplined like frequent penalties. Oregon ranks last in the conference in total penalties (41) and penalty yards per game (97.2). Stanford, in three games, has committed just 13 penalties for 32 yards per game. 

If the players-only meeting helps reaffirm the understanding that they must play with more discipline and effort, the Ducks could turn the corner. 

"I think those kinds of things are almost always positive in the end," Helfrich said of the team meeting held on the field following practice. "Like a lot of things there's words and then there's actions and commitments that come out of things."

Oregon next plays at 1-2 Washington State on Saturday. The Ducks are the superior team. Both teams are in desperation mode. Oregon could win going away. Or, if the players-only meeting doesn't pay off, the Ducks could find themselves in another close game they could easily lose. 

Oregon's discipline, or lack thereof, could determine its fate. 

"I hate losing," Hunt said. "I bet you a lot of guys on our team hate losing, as well. So, I mean, you hate it, but what are you going to do now to fix it? That's the big question. It's up to some of these guys on the team whether they want to grow up fast and fix it or if not, we're going to continue to lose."

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 4 - Offensive line shuffling

Roses or Roulette?: Ducks Preview Part 4 - Offensive line shuffling

College football is back! The Ducks begin fall camp on Monday so we're breaking down each position to determine if the Ducks, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12, and their fans will be smelling roses as Pac-12 champs during a trip to the Rose Bowl, or placing bets at a roulette table prior to watching a sixth-place UO team in the Las Vegas Bowl. Each position is graded using the poker hand scale.  

Today: Offensive line. 

Projected starters: Junior left tackle Tyrell Crosby (6-5, 310), junior left guard Jake Pisarcik (6-2, 300), redshirt freshman center Jake Hanson (6-5, 288), redshirt freshman right guard Shane Lemieux (6-6, 310), senior right tackle Cameron Hunt (6-4, 295). 

Key backups: Senior-transfer tackle Zac Morgan (6-7, 280), redshirt freshman center Zach Okun (6-4, 310), redshirt freshman tackle Calvin Throckmorton (6-6, 290), redshirt junior guard Doug Brenner (6-2, 305), junior tackle Evan Voeller (6-5, 295).

Smelling like roses: The line certainly will be solid, at least. Crosby replaces Tyler Johnstone at left tackle while Hunt replaces Crosby at right tackle. Matt Pierson was a great story last season, but he should be adequately replaced by Pisarcik. The right-guard spot might be filled by the promising Lemiux. Center, left vacant by the departure of Matt Hegarty, could fall to Hanson, who has never played center in his life, but drew great praise during spring drills. If he is the next Hroniss Grasu, the Ducks will be in business. If not... the rest of the line could begin to ravel just a bit.

However, there is a wild card in all of this. Morgan, a transfer from Dayton where he started at both tackle spots, could easily slide into the right tackle position, which would keep Hunt at right guard. If that happens, the Ducks would have just one huge question mark along the line and that would be at center. 

Place your bets: Offensive line coach Steve Greatwood worked his magic last season while producing a very good mix after losing Grasu and Jake Fisher to the NFL. He might have more talent to work with this time around. But will it jell right away? The Ducks brought in Hegarty because they believed they needed to fill the hole left by the departure of Grasu. This time around they feel good about a young replacement at center. But he is young. If he proves to be a year away from truly being ready, the Ducks' offensive line could be weaker, leading to an offense that won't quite be championship-caliber. 

Odds are: The inclination is to believe that Greatwood will find the right mix, as he usually does. The addition of Morgan at right tackle would allow everything else to fall into place nice and neatly. 

Poker hand: Three of a kind. This group has a chance to be very good, but at the very least should be solid.  

Next up: Defensive line.  

Other posts: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers/Tight ends; Defensive line; Linebackers; Defensive backs.