If you’re one of those Oregon Duck football fans who believed your team had a real shot at getting into the Final Four this season, with a chance to play for the national championship, you just watched your season start and end on the same night.
Unless both the Ducks and Auburn Tigers go undefeated the rest of the way -- and that’s not going to happen – you have no chance. Sure, the Pac-12 conference championship is still in play. In fact, after the first week of the season, I’d have to say Oregon is the favorite to win it. But take a step back – what does that mean these days? This conference isn’t very good and that’s a fact.
The Ducks went down in a flurry of mistakes Saturday night in Arlington, Texas, and took the Pac-12 with them.
In many ways, it was an astounding defeat. Oregon owned this game most of the night – making Auburn’s freshman quarterback, Bo Nix, look like, well, a freshman. At the same time, the Ducks blended their running game with a lot of short passes from Justin Herbert to move the ball consistently. But what Oregon didn’t do was take advantage of all its opportunities.
The Ducks easily could have come away with two or three more touchdowns than they got. A dropped pass in the end zone, a fumble when on the doorstep of scoring – stuff like that matters.
All in all, I was impressed with Oregon’s discipline, demeanor and poise throughout the game. The Ducks have wiped away a lot of the silly stuff from the previous regime -- the over-the-top celebrations, posing, “sideline surfing,” taunting and extraneous stuff that doesn't help win games and can get you penalized. But right now, they’re trapped in a collision between head coach Mario Cristobal’s desire to be a power-running team and the fact that he has a quarterback touted as one of the best in the country. The end result is that it doesn’t appear Herbert has a creative and complete passing attack at his disposal.
I continue to be dismayed that this program has a big-time quarterback yet always seems low on receivers. They either can’t recruit them or for some reason can’t keep them healthy and neither of those things works very well. So we don’t see a lot of things out of the passing game that you might expect from a team with a talented and experienced quarterback.
I am not even sure that Justin Herbert's decision to return to the school for his senior season was the best move for him to showcase or develop his skills.
And Saturday night there were all those little things that can spell defeat against a good team – and seriously, I’m not even convinced Auburn is going to be anything special in the Southeast Conference. Just a few of the errors by the Ducks, in no particular order:
- Obviously, dropped passes in the end zone come back to haunt you almost every time. Same with missed 20-yard field goals. Those things happening back-to-back are killers.
- Down the stretch of the game, Oregon could have run more time off the clock in between plays on offense. Often, the Ducks snapped the ball with around 10 seconds left on the play clock. When he needed to do it, Chip Kelly was a master at retaining offensive tempo, yet draining the clock. That doesn’t matter too much until you lose on a touchdown with nine seconds to go in the game.
- With five and a half minutes to play and the Ducks facing a fourth-and-one at the Auburn 41, they burned two timeouts trying to get their play and their personnel right – and the whole thing took place within spitting distance of the Oregon bench! Right in front of the coaches, where communication should have been easy. I just didn’t understand the chaos in that situation. And for a team that prides itself on its physicality and strength of its offensive line, going for it on fourth down was the right move. But it obviously wasn’t the right play. Or the right execution. And that’s when you could feel the game slipping away.
- On its game-winning drive, I thought the Tigers, with an inexperienced quarterback, were making a huge mistake when they continued to throw the ball down the field while within field-goal range. They were out of timeouts and just one sack possibly could have ended the game. But instead, they scored. Auburn seemed to have more confidence in its freshman quarterback than the Ducks had in their senior QB, who was under wraps a good part of the fourth quarter when his coaches went conservative.
- Why is it, by the way, that every fan in the stands and the pundits in the pressbox know when a team is playing it too safe in the late going, but the coaches don’t seem to get it?
- By the way, what was with that Hail Mary pass from Herbert at the end? Do the Ducks ever practice that? Kid, I know you understand this, but the ball has to come down in the end zone. Games have been won that way – at least give it a chance to happen.
- For me, it felt that all the good work the Ducks did through much of that game just went down the drain when Auburn stole it with nine second left. The storyline now won’t have anything to do with Oregon’s solid work for all but about five minutes of the game. It will be simply, when the victory was on the line, the Ducks – and the Pac-12 – didn’t have what it took to finish off what may or may not be a decent SEC team.
But what else is new?