The Full Gameday Experience

My search for a good Bloody Mary in Eugene brought me to Sixth Street Grill, downtown on . . . . . . uhh, where was it? . . . . . Oh ya, 6th Street. It's just across from the Incredible Hult Center.

Excellent tomatoey body, not too watery like so many BM's are. Superbly spiced. They could afford to be bolder on the vegetables and other fixin's. But plenty bold on the alcohol. This beverage is heavily fueled!

While there, I discovered a new viable pregame routine thanks to Oregon grad and longtime Eugene resident Vance Naegle, who asked to remain anonymous for this story. The Hult Center parking structure is free on weekends as long as no events are scheduled. And I doubt they would be fool enough to schedule an event during a game.

The Sixth Street Grill, as I said, is right across the street. It's split in half -- kid friendly dining room on the right and minorless bar on the left. Great food. Not a huge place. But the idea is to park free at the Hult, pre-function at the Grill, then bus to the stadium, which isn't that far.

At the game, we enjoyed the usual . . .

Eric Dargan intercepts.

IT'S A FUMBLLLLLE! Oregon steals it. 

And then, THIS guy again! Or as he is called these days: "Cover Boy". 

"Cover Boy". For the third consecutive
year, Mariotta dons the cover of SI.
Let's just hope this year he shakes
off the curse and takes Oregon all
the way.

Some of us got to hang with Da Duck:

This was the best dressed Duck fan. 
Duck in Bobo Fett helmet.
"Bobo Duck"?

Then we walked back towards campus and enjoyed one of the funnest experiences for an Oregon fan or grad.
After a successful game at Autzen, this is Oregon fans' victory cigar.
Don't bother with foo foo artichokes and basil goat cheese here.
Just order yourself a damn pepperoni pizza and be prepared
to have your eyes roll back into your head. 

If you're going to spend 50, 80, or 100 bucks for each game ticket these days, you gotta mix in those other venues that fill you with the great memories.

Does anybody remember when was the last time Washington State had a winning season? Would you believe it was over 10 years ago?!?  In the 2003-2004 season, they capped off a brilliant 10-win season with a win over Texas in the Holiday Bowl. Since then, they've been generally terrible, mediocre at best. 
In all this time, they've had trouble getting a coach to capture the imagination of players and new recruits to rebuild the team. And the jury is still out on whether Mike Leach is that guy now.

He's trying. But before they beat Portland State last week, he was talking of his team's "culture of losing". This excerpt from AP sources:

"There is nobody on our team that has won in college football, and so we have to take that step and that's why it's so important that we're strong internally," Leach said. "There are no players on the team that have won."
The Cougars remain a young team, with plenty of underclassmen and walk-ons seeing playing time. They have already had 12 players make their first career start this season.
"We're younger than nearly everyone we've played," Leach said.
That includes the rapidly improving offensive line that protects quarterback Connor Halliday, the nation's leading passer. The line is made up of walk-ons and first-year players.

Let's get something straight. Connor Halliday is the nation's leading passer for one reason. The Cougs don't run. They just don't. In their win against Portland State, they threw for a whopping 630 yards and ran for 76. Nearly 3/4 of their plays were pass plays. 

Can you think of a team who passed 75% of the time and won the National Championship, or a major bowl, or won their league, or even finished high in league standings? I can't. Those teams are few and far between, and probably had a super QB and at least one gifted receiver. In other words, a fluke. A novelty.
So I'm confused about Leach talking about getting beyond this "culture of losing", all the while having his team play a one dimensional system that is doomed to fail. 

Oregonion writer Ken Goe is a football genius (at least for this week) because he's thinking what I'm thinking. Here are his thoughts posted yesterday:
My first exposure to what would become the "Air Raid" offense came in 1990 when a young, cocky coach named Hal Mumme brought his Iowa Wesleyan team in to play Portland State.
Mumme was just beginning to develop concepts he refined into the Air Raid at Valdosta State and Kentucky.
Mike Leach, currently running the show at Washington State, was on Mumme's staff at Iowa Wesleyan, Valdosta State and Kentucky, and part of the offensive brain trust.
On Saturday, Leach will pilot the Air Raid against Oregon in a 7:30 p.m. game in WSU's Martin Stadium.
Here is a good story on Mumme, which traces the evolution of his career and the offense.
While he and Leach were at Kentucky, I visited a practice prior to the 1999 Music City Bowl. I asked if there were any rules for reporters at practice. The response? Don't get run over.
After practice Kentucky quarterback Dusty Bonner broke down some of the Air Raid's concepts for me.
As Bonner explained it, the Air Raid is all about matchups. The quarterback comes to the line of scrimmage and examines the defense. Because of the Air Raid's spread formations, it's hard to disguise defenses and coverages. So, Bonner said, he just looked it over, found the matchup he wanted to exploit, took the snap and exploited it.
Because the quarterback usually determines his receiver with the pre-snap read, he gets rid of the ball quickly. This makes Air Raid quarterbacks very difficult to sack.
There is a well-designed method to the madness.
My problem with the Air Raid is two-fold:
-- It's difficult to stop until it gets into the red zone. When it's close to the opposing goal line and space compacts, those quick passing routes don't work as well.
-- In this offense the running game is an afterthought. It's another reason the Air Raid isn't as effective in the red zone. And the lack of a running game makes it difficult to protect a lead late in the game.
It's a stat-friendly scheme for quarterbacks and receivers. But unless an offense can translate yards into points, it's not an offense you win championships with.
So there you go, long suffering Cougar fans. Fun. Exciting. But don't expect a whole 'lotta success. Are you OK with that? 

Gametime: Saturday evening at 7:30 Pacific on ESPN.


Wyoming and the Big Question

Wyoming is coming to play. Like the Ducks, they are undefeated. They have an offense, a defense, a bunch of coaches, and they came all the way to Eugene on a jet plane. When the game starts at 11 a.m., they will be on the field ready to play.

The Cowboys, coached by a highly respected Craig Bohl, boast a stingy defense, particularly against the run. The following are excerpts from the SB Nation blog, Mountain West Connection:
The odds are definitely stacked against the Cowboys (43 point underdogs) but none the less the Pokes will hope to come in showing they will be "Cowboy Tough" and that they will be able to play their brand of football regardless of the strength of the opponent. . . . .
The Cowboys defense hopes to contain the Ducks offensive attack by staying disciplined and tackling well in space.  It will be very important for the secondary to improve on their tackling, a weakness for the defense the first two ball games against Montana and Air Force.  The strength of the defense is the Cowboys front seven.  The first two Mountain West Conference Defensive Players of the Week have come from two of Wyoming's linebackers in senior Mark Nzeocha in week one and senior Jordan Stanton in week two. It will also be important for Wyoming's talented defensive ends in junior Eddie Yarbrough and senior Sonny Puletasi to get a good pass rush on Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. . . .
Offensively the Cowboys will look to continue to control the ball, have no turnovers and win the time of possession battle.
In the end the Cowboys just need to show they won't back down from the Ducks and that they are able to play their brand of Cowboy Tough football. 

Did you see that? He called Wyoming "Cowboy Tough" two times more than anyone has EVER called the Ducks "Cowboy Tough". I mean people have called Oregon "Duck Waterproof" or "Mallard Melancholy". And of course Eugenics are considered "Liberally Lackadaisical" or perhaps "Patchouli Pungent". But Cowboy Tough? Never.

This raises some key scouting questions for Oregon. Should Mariota pass? Should he run? Should he hand it off? Wyoming is going to try to limit turnovers. Should Oregon do the same?

But beyond all that is an even greater question. Early before kickoff. Before the teams even show up at the stadium Saturday morning, we need to know. . . . .

. . . Where in Eugene might one be able to get a really good Bloody Mary?

I'll be on the search.

Wyoming at Oregon. 11am Pacific on Pac-12 Network.


Spartans Fall Down, Go BOOM!

The following is a message delivered from the Oregon Ducks to the rest of the college football nation.

Michigan State fully intended to win this game. And for awhile, it looked like they would. Through the second and beginning of the third quarters, the Sparts scored 20 unanswered points. At this point, Oregonian writer John Canzano was apparently writing Oregon's obituary. You know, the one that says that as good as Oregon's blur offense is, they will never ever ever beat the big boys. Who could've argued?

I'm going to print Canzano's entire story (apologies to those of you who have already read it) and interject [my comments] in and around it.

Canzano: End of an era? Nope. Marcus Mariota saves Oregon's season
[This just in. Marcus Mariota named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week.]
By John Canzano | The Oregonian  
EUGENE -- Ron Mason is 65 years old. He makes $9.50 an hour working sideline security duty during Oregon football games at Autzen Stadium. When he reported for work on Saturday for the Michigan State game, Mason was assigned the visiting-team sideline and given explicit instructions should he encounter joyful Ducks fans leaping over the railing to rush the field after the game.
Said Mason: "We were told to let 'em go. And I'm too old for anything else."
No. 3 Oregon beat No. 7 Michigan State 46-27. Mason and his crew tried to "let 'em go." But in the end, nobody came. Very few Ducks fans hopped the railing. Almost none, in fact. It was as if Oregon's fan base had been here before, and expected to win, and acted like it.
Two quarters earlier, a funeral was being held for the era.

Oregon was done, right? They'd surrendered 24 second-quarter points to Michigan State. They'd fallen into a coma on offense. Gone was the edge. Lost was the identity. Marcus Mariota's final season was bleeding out in a 20-minute, 39-second scoreless span in which the Ducks played with the energy of a slug.
The Ducks had 14 rushing yards on offense in the first half. This means if you got off the couch and walked 59 feet during the intermission, and your dog got up and followed you, you'd both outgained them.
Oregon's season was going to be a goner. Dead. Over. Both coaches spent the week politicking for the college football playoff-selection committee. Lots of talk about how the loser would still have a chance to be in the final four. But the performance for a while was so anemic the entire season was slipping away.
"People around here are used to us getting yards easy and scoring easy," offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. "It can be frustrating (to call the game) when we're sputtering. We need those tempo plays. We knew we had to keep going fast."
The Ducks started going fast. The rhythm picked up. The tempo returned. Oregon's lifeless corpse jumped out of the coffin during the funeral procession, and ripped off 21 points in a five-minute span in the second half. This was sparked by Mariota's feet, arm, brain and improvisational work.
After the game, coach Mark Helfrich was asked what it is that causes Mariota to get it going.
His answer: "Genetics."
Game ball to Toa Mariota and his wife, Alana.
I don't know what happens to Oregon football after Mariota departs. Right now, I don't care. Because as long as No. 8 is in uniform, as long as he is healthy, as long as the Ducks have time on the clock, Mariota has this thing right where he wants it.
He threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns, including a 70-yard bullet down the seam to track star Devon Allen. He finished with 42 rushing yards. But it was his dancing in the pocket, his spinning out of trouble, the burst into the left flat and the flip to teammate Royce Freeman that became the difference between a death spiral and a victory march.
[The Spartans sacked Mariota again and again. On a third down in the third quarter at about the 5:50 mark, they came after him again. He stumbled through, then scrambled away from three would-be sackers. And that's when he made that gutsy, desperate shovel pass to his freshman running back Royce Freeman that Canzano spoke of above. See it here on the video at about the 1:10 mark.]

[It was at this point that we saw not just Mariota's determination, but the whole team. They all came together, shook off the Sparts and started playing Oregon football.]
"Michigan State had one of the best defenses in the country last season," Frost said. "They're going to be one of the best defenses again this season."
They were fast, and physical, and flew around the field like someone in their old neighborhood had stolen their bicycle. The Spartans are good. They may even compete for the Big Ten conference title. But their playoff hopes are dust. I hardly believe the selection committee will ever forget the sight of Mariota gobbling them up in the second half and spitting them out like sunflower seed shells on the Autzen carpet.
[In addition Oregon keeping up the pressure and the pace, I think the Sparts ultimately started wilting in the second half from the heat and the noise. As the
evening wore on, you could see it in their faces. Hot, worn down, and the Ducks kept coming.]
Oregon's era over?
An awful loss became a 19-point victory. This was like watching Kentucky trail North Carolina or Kansas by 10 in an early-season NCAA basketball game, only to have them come out in the second half and win by 30. Helfrich joked that his halftime speech was, "Gettysburg Addressish."
I'm thinking if Abe Lincoln had a field general like Mariota, he'd have KO'ed the South a couple of months earlier.
The knock on Oregon is that the Ducks can't beat physical teams. The losses in recent seasons to LSU, Ohio State, Auburn and Stanford suggest it. Be sure, the selection committee was watching Oregon-Michigan State to see for themselves. I suspect after seeing Oregon hang 46 points on MSU, Condoleezza Rice went to sleep wondering if there's a defense in America that can hold the Ducks under 35.
"Just because we don't run two backs out there and two tight ends people think we can't play physical," Frost said.
The Ducks played more physical Saturday. But mostly, Mariota knocked the will out of MSU's sideline one big play at a time.
[When they needed it, Oregon's offensive line pushed back Michigan State's big uglies. Yes Virginia, Oregon IS a power team!]

Maybe you talk about Oregon's 22-19 loss to Auburn in the January 2011 BCS title game as if it were the great missed opportunity for the program. The Tigers won on that last-second field goal. Or maybe you look at the one-loss 2001 Ducks team as the one that got away. They might have been the best team in football.
That's nonsense that will never be settled.
Because this season can still be settled. This is the opportunity. There is no more looking back, only ahead. Oregon has everything it needs to run the table and play in the national semifinal for the right to go to the national title game this season.
There will never be another opportunity set up quite like this. There will never be a team as complete. And most compelling of all -- there will never be another Marcus Mariota at Oregon. [OK now he's starting to sound a little like a Boston song. . .

"Don't look back
A new day is breakin'
It's been too long since I felt this way
I don't mind where I get taken
The road is callin'
Today is the day."]
"I should pay to watch him play," Helfrich said.
He will, one day.
Mariota saved the season Saturday. He did it with those good genes. Most of all, he made it look so easy, and so expected, that when the game ended, a 65-year-old part-time security staffer bracing for a wave of Ducks fans charging the field at the end of his work shift was greeted instead by a breeze.

Not to change the subject; but could somebody please tell me what the hell is happening here?

It looks like a high school prank. It looks like the linemen got pissed off at their QB and went on strike for a play. It looks like they bet on the spread. It looks like they heard gun shots.

So let me get this straight. #3 Oregon beat #7 Michigan State 46-27 . . . a full touchdown over the spread. Meanwhile, #2 Alabama beat Florida Atlantic (Isn't that a weather school?) 41-0. So the Ducks passed them. But somehow, Florida State's 37-12 "crushing" of The Citidel (The military academy with the shiniest shoes.) was good enough to keep them in 1st. Where's the strength of schedule factor?

Yes, last week the Seminoles beat Oklahoma State, but only by a touchdown, and Okie State is ranked far lower than Michigan State.

Oh well. All Oregon can do is look ahead. For they can see the dawn arrivin'. They see beyond the road they're drivin'.
It's a new horizon. They're awakin' now.

Next Saturday, 11am on the Pac-12 Network:
WYOMING -- The State of Evil.

Is That Big Enough for You?

I was watching Oregon State host Portland State and was stunned how terrible the Beavs played. As The Oregonian's Ken Goe put it:

PSU gave sloppy Oregon State all sorts of trouble, led after a half, and if not for four third-quarter turnovers, the Vikings might have slapped OSU with another in a series of season-opening embarrassments.

Rusty. Unprepared. Like several previous years, they weren't ready to start the season. And not just them. Washington struggled against Hawaii. Washington State lost. I started worrying. What if the Ducks come out the same way? It took them exactly 1 minute, 30 seconds to answer that question.

The Ducks were like a hot rod sitting in a garage all summer, getting tuned, timed, revved, retuned, retimed, until finally they got out on the road. They came out, all pistons firing, not perfectly; but plenty well enough to bury the needle.

And the Coyotes.

Through the off season, I've had a dim view of two key players. RB Byron Marshall and QB Jeff Lockie.

Marshall made one dumb mistake. As he
crossed the goal line he slowed down and
dropped the ball on the 1-yard line. It got
kicked into to the endzone for a
touchback. Marshall was clearly embarrassed
and I don't anticipate him doing that again.
Hey Marshall, it's a finish line, not a goal line.
Run through the tape!
Marshall, I felt, went down on a first hit. Sure he was a thousand yard rusher; but he picked up so many of his yards in scrub time. He never once reminded me of LaMichael James or Kenyon Barner. He never fought through blocks. He would stop, hesitate and get tackled for a loss far too often. I just assumed he would be in the mix of Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman until they showed they were better, then Marshall would start carrying a clip board. Saturday, I was so delighted when he proved me wrong.

Not only did he master the running lanes, but he proved to be the Ducks top receiver as well. The spotlight is on him. He is no longer in anyone's shadow. And he appears to be taking advantage of the moment. As a junior, he is the veteran old man of the running corps. And he did a phenomenal job of showing his protégés how to be solid contributors.

Jeff Lockie got the number two QB spot by default. After the Spring scrimmage, I was disappointed when Jake Rodrigues left the team. I thought he had edged ahead as the better QB over Lockie. When Rodriquez quit, I feared that the lack of competition
Lockie looked great.
would leave Mariota with and unreliable backup. But Saturday, Lockie looked 100 percent better than last season.  Throwing 11 out of 12 for 113 yards and a TD, he showed poise and moxie. He moved the team again and again. He even executed a perfect triple option for a TD.

And then there were the youngsters.

Thomas Tyner rushed 11 times for 65 yards. Freshman Royce Freeman had 10 carries for 75 yards and two scores. But more than that, they fanned out and became receivers. Tyner had three catches, Freeman one. And Marshall led all receivers with eight receptions for 138 yards and two scores. That's three 200-plus pound power runners with a dozen catches.

Again and again I saw the two backs behind Mariota take a fake handoff and then look for the open spot in the field along with the other receivers. And, lo and behold, at that moment, Oregon's run option offense suddenly looked more like a 'run and shoot', with Mariota just looking for the open man.

I'm telling you, I had never been this excited over an offensive setup since Rich Brooks' "Swinging Gate". And all the credit has to go to Coach Helfrich, Offensive Coordinator Scott Frost, and Passing Game Coordinator Matt Lubick. No doubt they sat down over the offseason and decided to get their running backs used to the idea of catching passes.

When it all was clicking, Mariota didn't have to run as much and only needed to allow himself an open space in the pocket to deliver the ball. 


Another nice surprise was the freshman wearing DeAnthony Thomas' old number. Charles Nelson, a 5'9", 170 pound wide receiver from Florida fielded a punt and returned it untouched for a TD. He's so new, he doesn't even have a roster portrait yet. I had to find a pic of him on Google.
Oh Charles. You're such a cut up.

Why sure they are! Why wouldn't they be?!?

All Michigan State did was beat the one team that has beaten Oregon two years in a row. Michigan State is Super Stanford. They can do anything Stanford can do, and better.

An article in USA Today said this:
"Their nemesis, their kryptonite in recent years has been Stanford," [said Fox Analyst Charles] Davis said of Oregon, bringing Superman into the discussion. "What's Stanford's style of play? Heavy-duty running the ball on offense, being extremely physical, excellent tackling team on defense, which makes you run more plays. All those yards after catch, yards after contact, open-field plays that Oregon's used to getting, that hidden yardage, they weren't getting against Stanford.

"So for Oregon to win the Pac-12, they have to beat Stanford. They know that, they have to get past that hump. For Oregon to clearly get into that playoff consideration and have the chance to be an undefeated team, they have to beat Stanford twice this year. And what I mean by that is, Michigan State is Stanford."

The Spartans are coming in confident and looking forward to making the statement that they're for real. The spread has Oregon favored by 12. Autzen certainly has something to do with that. Give the Autzen crowd credit last week when Oregon was up by 49 points with two minutes left in the game. South Dakota was in the red zone and trying to score once more for pride. The fans were still in the stands and screaming loud. The 'Yotes failed to score.

There is one more factor that the oddsmakers mention only in passing, but I think is very important. Oregon has lost to Stanford twice. In 2012, they beat a freshman Mariota. In 2013, they beat an injured Mariota. This year let's see how Michigan State and hopefully Stanford do against a healthy and veteran Mariota.

That is explanation enough for the double digit point spread. But the Wall Street Journal's "Prediction Machine" (Cute) went even farther in this write-up saying that Michigan State simply won't be able to keep up with Oregon through the whole game. We've seen that before.

So more about that Mariota factor. This is what I'm talking about. . . .

Gametime at 3:30 Pacific on Fox.

And don't forget Gameday at 6 a.m. Pacific.


Reasons to be Happy

Oregon has Stanford and Michigan State at home. They're ranked in the top five by everybody. Marcus Mariota is back and has a barn full of fast receivers. Running back Thomas Tyner is ready for his close-up.

It's all coming together, albeit delicately. The Ducks failed to strengthen their backup QB situation in the offseason. If any one of Mariota's joints twists badly, it's over.

But nobody's hurt yet. So now is the time to dream of the possibilities and be happy.


A look at Oregon's opponents in no particular order, plus the two other league teams not on Oregon's schedule. . . . . .

USC made an all out national search for the best and most highly reputable coach worthy enough to come to LA and wear the crimson cap. But none of them wanted the job. So the Trojans had to settle for Steve Sarkisian. That was his big upside. He actually WANTED to coach them. Unfortunately they're not on the Ducks schedule this year.

Washington is continuing with their long hallowed tradition since Don James retired of hiring coaches on the downswing of their careers. Since 2009, Chris Peterson's record at Boise State had been 14-0, 12-1, 12-1, 11-2, and finally 8-4. We're done with our fingers. Now let's take off our shoes to count to eleven consecutive wins. 

UCLA is hot. If this ends up being another year where the Ducks get one trip-up to knock them out of Title contention, it could very well be against the Bruins.

ASU is hotter. Oregon won't see them during the regular season, but despite getting picked to finish third in the South, I predict we'll see them playing for the Pac-12 title.

Cal's new coach Sonny Dykes was 1-11 last season. This season marks the second of his five-year plan to get fired.

Oregon State: After losing their home opener to the Eastern Washington Eagles last season, the Beavs say they are "not looking past Portland State" this year. Can't argue with that. OSU's QB Sean Mannion is considered by many as the second best in the league behind Mariota. The rest of their roster is noteworthy because they will be wearing the same color uniforms as Mannion.

Arizona was very proud of themselves for stunning Oregon last year, and deservedly so. Come up to Autzen, 'Zona. Try that again.

Washington State will not beat Oregon. But the Cougs could hurt Oregon. You know, like an over-sugared kid pushing Mom's shopping cart through a crowded store aisle . Like an old person confusing the gas pedal for the brake. Like Dick Cheney with a shotgun. Like Tony Stewart picking up a hitchhiker. I'm worried the Ducks could come out of Pullman with a win and a locker room full of injuries caused by so much "uber-hyped Cougar goonery" (Say that three times fast.).

Michigan State will be one of the biggest regular season games in the nation. Can Oregon beat the team that beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl? And they didn't just beat Stanford, they out-Stanforded Stanford, beating the Card at their own game of overwhelming the battle at the line. This game will affect the future of many teams through the remainder of the season.

Stanford isn't getting any respect and I don't get it. Nearly everyone is picking Oregon to finally topple Stanford to win the Pac-12 North. Sure, Mariota is back and this game is in Autzen. But in my mind, Stanford is still the king ONLY UNTIL the Ducks retake the crown.

Colorado is high.

Utah: Whatever.

Wyoming: What? . . . SHUT UP!

That brings us to Saturday night's opponent.

North Dakota was 3-8 last year in the Big Sky Conference. Their quarterback, Joe Mollberg, had seven starts last year. He was given the nod to start this year by new coach Bubba Schweigert after a tough fall camp battle for starter with . . . .

Oh I'm sorry. I just realized Oregon is actually playing the other one.

South Dakota was 4-8 last year in the Missouri Valley Conference. Their quarterback, Kevin Earl, is the returning starter from last year. Third year coach Joe Glen thinks that . . . . . . . Oh who cares?

A crappy team from a crappy league is going to serve as the opening season patsy that will give the Ducks a chance to blow the dust out of the carburetor.

Never mind the opponent. All eyes should be on Oregon and who their playmakers will be.

Mariota is a given. But what about his backup Jeff Lockie? Last year, he and the other backup Jake Rodriguez had lots of playing time as Mariota often sat down in the second half of many games after stretching the lead to a blowout. But all that PT failed to result in a trusted and capable backup.

Now Rodriguez is gone. He left in search of a team where he can start right away. The backup job is all Lockie's. Will he take advantage and step up?

During Spring drills in April,  Bralon Addison was lost for the season with an injured knee. Concern was high, as he was considered Oregon's best receiver. But through fall camp, others have really shown up. We need to keep an eye out for Chance Allen, Darren Carrington, B.J. Kelley, Keanon Lowe, Dwayne Stanford, and especially the current NCAA 110 meter hurdle champion, redshirt freshman Devon Allen (#13) 
Sure, Devon Allen can be the best 110 meter hurdler
in the nation. But can he do that while catching a
football? I wouldn't bet against him.

And then there is one more person to watch for -- a running back. Oregon apparently has a surprising Manhattan Project-like secret weapon on the roster. Duck fans were content to have Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall in the backfield to handle the ball carrying duties.

But along comes Royce Freeman. A true freshman rated at 6',0" and 229 pounds, although others say he's a little shorter, but every bit as brawny. He's been compared to former Duck powerhouse RB Jonathan Stewart, but with better footwork and juking skills. Coaches can't say enough about him. This is from Tyson Alger of the Oregonian . . . .

Freeman flat-out has something the other two guys don't: Size. At 6-foot, 229-pounds, Freeman has 14 pounds on Tyner and an additional 24 on Marshall. Add the fact that numerous coaches have said Freeman is way ahead of where most freshman begin, the question shifts from "Is Freeman going to redshirt?" to "How does this guy not start?"

 He busts tackles and wears down defenses. They say he's got good hands; he's a good blocker. Smart. He's also a good receiver. I read somewhere, "Chuck Norris has a Royce Freeman tattoo." Look for him, #21.

Over these past few years Duck fans have learned to take these seasons one game at a time. Good things are expected to happen. Bad things can happen. The Ducks have a great shot this year. They know it, and they'll take it. For myself, I'm not planning to nut up and hold my breath until Oregon goes to the Natty. I'm just going to enjoy each game one at a time for what they are.

And be happy . . .

Oh hell. Who am I kidding?

Gametime Saturday 7:30 Pacific on the PAC-12 Network.


On His Back

Marcus Mariota put the Ducks on his back and went nuts. His 253 passing yards and one TD were well and good. But his real damage came in the form of a game leading 133 rushing yards of 15 carries.

Texas saw what Stanford, Arizona and Oregon State did and bet that Mariota couldn't run. From the second play of the game, he proved them wrong.

Big time.

MM ran like he was possessed with the demons of those two losses in November and all the criticism that went with them.

In the second half, his legs started cramping up. Duck fans got nervous as he collapsed to the ground in the middle of one run.

"Take him out," I thought. Better to have a healthy second string than a hurt starter at QB. But did you see the look of determination on his face? His mission to establish himself as a threat to Texas' D was already accomplished, and their secondary was soft and ripe for his pass attack.

It wasn't perfect. Time and time again, Oregon got bogged down in the red zone, settling for field goals. Thank goodness our kicker was better than average. But it goes to show that even winning ugly is likely so long as the QB can run.

That, and a defense that is playing for it's departing coach.
Flying to the ball.
Two interceptions returned for TD's.

That's Aliotti with a capital D
I will sit with a tall cool beverage and go toe-to-toe with anyone who says Nick Aliotti wasn't a good coach. He personified Fast, Hard, Finish.
Nick Allioti gets a well deserved shower.
He was a momentum killer. Time and time again, he had a way of turning up the heat in the fourth quarter as opponents tried to rally. His blitzes were well timed and came from nowhere. Through his career, he was never married to one type of defense -- 3-4, 4-3 -- whatever the head coach and the talents of his players called for.

He had seen it all and done it all. No offense surprised him.

To honor their outgoing coach Mack Brown,
Texas renamed their cow after him.
And now comes the hard part.
It's going to be a real trick finding a new D coach who won't make us say "We miss Nick." The field of choices is target rich. But who will be the right choice?

The emotional favorite would have been getting Justin Wilcox out of Washington. But he just made it official, signing with Snarky Sarkisian to USC.

That means that former USC assistant and interim head coach Ed Orgeron is available. But is he the right fit, or just the latest popular flavor of the month to have his name thrown on the wall?

The "Oregon Way" of late has been to hire from within. That brings up names like 20-year veteran Don Pellum and 10-year staffer John Neal. Pellum is a key recruiter and has been in charge of the linebackers. Neal is the aggressive minded secondary coach.

Then if you want to get really creative, you look for talent in the areas of Texas, Louisiana or Florida to cash in on recruiting in those areas. Who is in Gus Malzahn's stable? Who is tired of being in Nick Saban's shadow? What is Lane Kiffin's dad doing?

Ya, I was just kidding about that last one.

THE FUTURE IS NOW . . . give or take four months.
Oregonian writer Ken Goe, who made me swear never to mention his name in my blog, showed some of his genius when he said the exact same thing I've been saying about the Ducks being a night-and-day better team when Marcus Mariota is able to run.
In this write-up including other good links, he makes the clear point that the Ducks simply cannot gamble on going an entire season with a 100% healthy Mariota.

Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost probably won't find another Mariota. They don't have to.
But they do need somebody to whom they can turn if their franchise player is too hobbled to properly execute the offense.

Translation: They can't have Jeff Lockie come in for one play and fumble the ball off his knee. If he can't do it, then Jake Rodrigues has to step up. All of those games this season where Mariota came out in the third quarter to give those two some real-time snaps, and they still couldn't be counted on to fill the need against Stanford or Arizona, or finish the Alamo Bowl when Mariota's hammies started tightening up?

It's time for those two redshirt freshmen to grow up.

Did you see, amongst the balloons and cheers and trophy hoisting, who was NOT getting a whole lot of love?

From the Portland Tribune:
• De'Anthony Thomas had only five touches on offense, a kickoff return and played some on kickoff coverage. He also spent much time hanging around defensive back huddles before the UO defense took the field, for some inexplicable reason. He has purportedly fallen out of favor with coaches, as he decides on whether to jump into the NFL draft. He didn't show up for an interview request. Who knows what his future holds.

And this excerpt from John Canzano's critical post game story:
Let's see. Thomas fumbled in the red-zone against Stanford. He dropped what would have been a critical first-down catch early against Arizona. Those were big plays, ones that we all know Thomas might have easily turned into six if he's locked in. But on Monday, he dismissed the anemic role he played against Texas with, "You know, I can't control that. It's up to the coaches."
No, kid. Show up. Work hard. Perform. Some of your teammates have been doing it all season. If you want to follow someone's lead, your starting quarterback is a pretty wise choice. In the end, a huge piece of how involved Thomas is in the offense is really up to Thomas himself, isn't it? He's that talented when he wants to be.
The word is DAT allegedly missed a practice. He opened his big mouth before the Stanford game with his "been there, done that" remark about the Rose Bowl, then he played subpar. He's been dangling his choice to go to the NFL over the team's head for too long now.

He reminds me of QB Akili Smith, who in his senior season started talking NFL and interviewing agents while the rest of the team was preparing for the Aloha Bowl against Rick Nuhoser's Colorado Buffs. Smith's head clearly wasn't in the game and Oregon got embarrassed.
DAT: "Where's the love?"

This is a critical decision and crossroads for Thomas. He would be wise to stay at Oregon and get serious about his focus, discipline and preparation. Then take that to the NFL next year. If he goes to the NFL now, I'll bet he'll return some kickoffs for a few years and then be cut loose to team up with Darron Thomas in the Arena League.

There is nothing more frustrating in sports than watching a talented player dogging it. Maturation is what he needs, and college is the best place to get that. Because as Crash Davis said in "Bull Durham", right now he's got a "million dollar body and a ten cent head." 

Josh Huff, who had a phenomenal game while collecting records and scoring the offense's only TD, is the only starting senior graduating. All other starters in the offense will be back. Thomas would be doing the smart thing to stay. 

Huff. All day
This season has been like the song, "What a long, strange trip it's been." The 11 wins is great. It was a year when we had lopsided wins against traditional powerhouses Virginia, Tennessee and Texas. So why does it feel lackluster? 

Have we Duck fans done what I swore we'd never do? Have we become jaded? Do we throw up our hands after one loss and say "The season's over!"

That's not Oregon. That's Washington. That's USC. That's an SEC school. 

This was a great season. Next year could be as good or better. The off season will be very interesting. 

But for right now, let's just lie back and enjoy the moment.

Thank you all for sharing another Duck season with me.


Win One for the Aliottipper

Here's the truth about Texas. They're Texas. Nothing less. Texas is better than Arizona. They could beat Stanford on a good day when the Cardinal locker room is rife with the stomach flu. The Longhorns are plenty good enough to stampede roughshod over Oregon if the Ducks choose to approach this game feeling sorry for themselves.

That downer we all felt when we knew Oregon wasn't going to play 'Bama, Auburn or Florida State? Forget it. Texas will give the Ducks all they can handle. And they have good game film from Stanford, Arizona, and Oregon State.

The good news is Marcus Mariota will be as healthy as ever. He proved to be the most valuable player in the losses as well as wins. When he couldn't run, Oregon's offense didn't run. 

If you were to ask me for the key to the game (and you didn't, but I'm giving it to you anyway), it would be the FIRST QUARTER. Stanford and Arizona were able to take a good lead in the first quarter and then control the tempo with running. Had Oregon been able to keep pace or take the lead, the opponents would have been forced into riskier plays.  The team that controls the first quarter, controls the tempo. 

The question is an interesting suggestion I heard recently by a fellow Pac-12 fan who happens to be an avid hater of the Ducks. 

My initial reply was, "SHUT UP, IDIOT!". But after pondering his entitled opinion for a few weeks, my reply today is,


Oregon's rise to the top over the past decade didn't merely happen by an infusion of cash, a lucky guess at a new coach and a few good recruits. It came by the methodical building of a foundation reminiscent of a Fortune 100 company. Oregon has set itself up to where they can have a disappointing year or two, and then suddenly come back to win the Pac-12 and get back to the championship again.

A recent article in Forbes Magazine, Why the Oregon Ducks Teach Us that Luck isn't Everything explained it like this.

Oregon's success is based on key management and development models of Entrepreneurial Forethought, Pioneering Innovation, and Disciplined Overachievement.

Nike designed End zone at Alamo
Bowl has winged pattern in background.
So which does this fall under, Entrepreneurial
Forethought, Pioneering Innovation or Disciplined
In addition, the stability of the coaching ranks has a huge positive impact. Writer Jason Belzer says the following:

There is no better example of consistency for the Ducks than when it comes to the hiring of coaches. The last three head coaches of the university’s lauded football and track programs have all come from within the existing staff, a streak that is unmatched in college athletics. Even more impressive, a number of the current assistant football coaches have been on staff for all three of those head coaching regimes. In fact, under former head football coach Chip Kelly, the football coaching staff had absolutely no turn over for four straight years! Such continuity is simply unheard of in the turbulent profession of coaching, much less for any organization operating on a budget in excess of $21 million.

Aliotti: "I'm retiring after this game."

So while Mack Brown is coaching his last game for Texas, Oregon answered that "Win one for the Gipper" motivation with the announced retiring of Defensive Coach Nick Aliotti.

After about 90 years in coaching, roughly 60 of them at Oregon, Aliotti has decided to hang it up. The word is he was ready to retire last year when he didn't get the head coaching position, but felt he should stay one more year to help Helfrich transition.

That's the class of Aliotti. All the college football history books will talk about Oregon's head coaches including Helfrich. But just looking at the past six seasons of 10 wins or more, three coaches owe their success to the one constant, Nick Aliotti.

Rich Brooks couldn't have gone from zero to Rose Bowl bound hero in 1995 were it not for Aliotti's Gang Green defense.

What is Aliotti's legacy? Let him answer that in this Oregonian Article by Jason Quick:

“Bottom line, I’m very satisfied with my career,’’ Aliotti said. “I did it the right way. I did it with integrity. Never cheated to get a recruit. We were a laughingstock; they wanted us to get out of the Pac 8 ... five decades I’ve been here. All those nice buildings they have? Those were parking lots... I’ve been able to watch this thing grow from what was nothing to what it is today. I’d like to think on some level I had a lot to do with that.’’

Thanks for all the great games, Coach Aliotti. Now we ask that you do it just one more time.

Alamo Bowl Game time 3:45 pm Pacific on ESPN

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