It was all turning around. The Ducks were about to flip the script on Arizona State Saturday night in Tempe, Ariz.
After pulling to within 24-21, Oregon had the Sun Devils pinned back in their own territory, facing a third-and-16 with five minutes to go. But ASU freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels slung an 81-yard touchdown pass to effectively snuff out any hope that the Ducks could play their way into the College Football Playoff.
But teams with hopes of winning a national championship don’t allow touchdowns on plays like that when they’re in great position to stage a terrific comeback. They don’t allow another one of those OK-but-not-great Pac-12 teams to beat them in a game they had to have.
And if they couldn’t beat Arizona State, which has lost five conference games this season, I have a difficult time believing they could whip LSU or Ohio State.
That’s the cold, hard truth.
And there are other truths that were exposed in the desert Saturday night.
For one thing, the Ducks aren’t as physical as they think they are. On either side of the ball. They could have gotten more pressure on Daniels all night and protected Justin Herbert better. And an even deeper truth is that Pac-12 physical isn’t the same as national-championship physical.
Oregon has a ways to go in that department.
And I think Oregon’s offense this season was trying to go two different directions at once. I believe the head coach was torn between being a run-first, conservative offense and cutting loose his soon-to-be-NFL quarterback. The result was a team that never seemed to find its identity on offense and didn’t function at full throttle in all its games.
The Ducks’ passing attack was not worthy of an All-America caliber quarterback – neither sophisticated nor diverse. I just never thought there was a real commitment to the passing game.
But it matters not. Oregon still has a Civil War game to win and that doesn’t look as easy as it usually is. After that, there is a chance to recover some swag in the conference championship game.
But a national title? It wasn’t going to happen, anyway.