Washington at Oregon 1994. As I remember it.


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It was a sunny October day in 1994. Perfect football weather in Eugene. I don't remember where I got my two tickets to the game. They were hard to come by because Washington fans usually bought up most of them.

THE WAY IT WAS . . . AND COULD BE AGAIN.

The 80's and 90's were the Dark Days of the Purple Haze when Huskies would come down to Eugene and fill no less than 51% of Autzen Stadium. The Dawgs had won their mythical national championship just a few years before this game. At the end of that year, they were #1 in one poll while the Miami Hurricanes topped another. The Huskies thought it was good enough, so they crowned themselves king and made themselves a National Championship flag to fly over their stadium.
 
During that time, they were beating everybody, especially the Ducks. Sure we had nipped back at them a few times over the years, but they were the dominant force in the football galaxy and they lorded over us like we were their peasants. Whenever their fans trekked down to Eugene in their massive army of travel trailers, you often saw a popular sticker on their bumpers:
"WE'RE NOT ARROGANT. WE'RE JUST BETTER THAN YOU."

Their collective superior attitude swelled. In all my years, I could never have a conversation with a Husky fan without him or her scoffing, bragging, belittling, or sometimes just swearing in my face.

The morning of this game was no different. I believed that my tickets could have been in a particularly Husky-held part of the stadium. As I and my wife walked around the tailgate area, I came across several Huskies talking loud, complaining about their seats in particular and the puniness of Autzen in general. I walked up to one particularly loud meathead in a purple lettermen's jacket and offered to trade.

I said, "I think these will be better seats for you."

HIs reply, "They better be or I'll come back and find you and kick your ass."


I wasn't at all shocked by his reply. In those days, that was a typical conversation with a Dawg fan. This was life under the dominance of the Washington Huskies. It was like the Romans over the Jews. African Americans in the Deep South. The Germans over the Jews. The New Worlders over the Indians. Everybody over the Jews.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not comparing Oregon and Washington's football rivalry to the catastrophic dehumanizing plight of the Jewish or Native or African American peoples.  I mean granted, there were no fire hoses and German Shepherds; and they didn't make us build pyramids or smash our glass storefronts and haul us by train to our tortured deaths. But a few years before, the Husky marching band stood in the middle of Autzen and played Oregon's fight song in a waltz. I mean . . . . who does that? Have they no shred of decency?

Now let me just make one other side note here before I continue with my story: The day that we EVER let the Dawgs win again -- just one game -- we will see that attitude come right back as if they had never lost. Mark my words.

Get your commemorative jersey now
at The Duck Store.

FRONT AND CENTER TO A MIRACLE
That ticket trade proved very fateful, as they put us right in the corner and just a few rows up from where the miracle would happen. The Pick. Or as I had always called it after seeing it with my own eyes -- The Immaculate Interception.

But this trade for my new seats did nothing to get us away from Husky fans. We were surrounded -- literally surrounded -- by purple in our own stadium. Being a nice guy, I tried to strike up conversations. But I was always met with condescending and critical feedback about what Oregon's problem is, what we did wrong, why Washington is better.
 
At one point in the fourth quarter I was able to get in a good jab in the tight back-and-forth contest when Washington was FINALLY called for holding. I said to one Dawg fan who had decided early he would give me no measure of respect for the Ducks, "Best not hold a Duck or you might get something nasty in your lap."
 
I know. Corny. But it was all I had at the time. Made him and the other purple people laugh though.
 
AND THEN, EVERYTHING CHANGED
The following is the first of three nice videos compiled by 'keeerrrttt' of approximately the final 5:20 minutes of the game. In it, Washington had just scored to take the lead. But Oregon engineered a drive and a heroic performance by Danny "Boy" O'neal, Patrick Johnson, Dino Philyaw, Ricky Whittle, Dameron Ricketts, and a little used fullback named Dwayne Jones. It started out terrible when Johnson fielded the kickoff at the two and slipped on one knee to be called down right there. Deep in Husky territory, Coach Rich Brooks made a very gutsy unBrooks-like call when he said to his young offensive coordinator Mike Bellotti: "Come out throwing."
 
This is "The Drive".
 
 
 But Washington wasn't finished. And they were Washington. They were used to winning. They expected to win -- especially against Oregon. They had all the time in the world. Their objective was to score while letting all the air out of the clock, leaving the Ducks to suffocate in yet one more defeat in their bizzaro world where the Dawg was the Master.  At the end of this video, Washington is 1st and goal to take the lead with just over a minute to go. Oregon calls timeout to take a breath.
 
 
Patient, planned, successful. Washinton's drive had all the feel of "The Empire Strikes Back". During that timeout, I saw something I would never forget.  I was watching the Husky man in front of me to whom I had made the "Holding a Duck" joke. He made a strange motion I had seen in only one other place a hundred times. During this timeout, he clapped his hands together and rubbed them in gleeful anticipation.
 
Where had I seen that before? It was where we all had seen it before.
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Remember? The ending of every Flintstones episode where Fred orders one family-sized serving of Brontosaurus Ribs. Then he rubs his hands together in anticipation. I watched this Husky guy do just that as the teams came out of the timeout.  

 
I saw the Huskies line up. I watched Damon Huard drop back and look to his left. He threw. I looked over at his target. And in slow motion, I watched Kenny see that ball leave Huard's hand and run to it like it was his all along. He said afterward that he had seen that play on film and watched it all day. He was willing to bet the receiver wasn't going to hook and go. He knew if the ball came his way, he would at least be able to knock it down. He was just waiting for it. . . .
 
 
After Kenny Wheaton scored, I remember something happening to me that I had later heard other men in the stands had experienced. I remember my wife wiping tears out of my eyes. You see, that play wasn't just a last-minute game changer. It was a decades long chain breaker.

Kenny could've just knocked it down. He could've picked it and run out of bounds to let Oregon run out the clock. But his run back, his direction shift, his blowing past Washington's great QB to score the out-of-reach touchdown -- all of that was the haymaker punch to our tormentors that served as an announcement that the Duck/Husky relationship had hereby changed. Kenny didn't know it at the time. None of us did. But looking back at it now, that WAS the moment when the Dark Days of the Purple Haze had ended.
 
And as for Fred Flintstone Husky? This time he did something totally different with his hand. He reached out to me, shook mine and said, "Good game." And he quietly left.
 
One other thing, when the Oregon players piled on Kenny in that endzone and the refs announced the penalty against them for excessive celebrating, I stood up and shouted for all the purple people around me to hear. . . .
"WE WILL TAKE THAT PENALTY WITH PLEASURE."
 
Here we are 20 years later. Throw the flag, ref. We're still celebrating.

 
 
BUT WAIT, WHAT ABOUT . . . . .
Now I know what you're thinking, and you're right. "Nice videos KB; but it's just not the same without Jerry Allen shouting the play".
 
Well luckily I found this gem on Youtube. It is exactly how I had always imagined it.


11, because it's one better than 10
So today, Oregon marches on to keep this a Husky-free Northwest. It these last 20 years, Oregon had beaten the Dawgs an incredible 15 times. As for this present win streak,  we beat Washinton's longest win streaks over Oregon at seven. At eight, we reached the mark where two whole generations of 4-year Husky students had never seen their team beat the Ducks. Last year, we reached an even 'Duckade' at 10. To win an even dozen next year would mean we would blank three whole generations of Husky students.

So what is the significance of 11? Let me offer you the one person who is an expert on 11. That's right. I give you Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap:


Go Ducks. Crank it to 11.
-KB

 

Making the football gods proud.



 
Well if that wasn't a case of separating the wheat from the chaff . . . . This win had as much to do with UCLA showing their true selves as Oregon finding theirs.

The Oregonian's Ken Goe said so much when he commented in his video blog:
-- For most of Oregon's 42-30 victory over UCLA on Saturday in the Rose Bowl, the Ducks looked like they did during their 2010 run to the BCS Championship Game.
They had UCLA's defense on its heels. They ran the ball with authority and passed on their terms.
The opportunistic UO defense bent a little, but compensated with big plays.
If the Ducks keep playing like that, they have the inside track to the Pac-12 title. Win that, and they have a shot to make it into the first College Football Playoff.
Hundley lays ball on the carpet.
-- UCLA didn't look like a contender, leaving me to believe the Bruins have been severely overrated.
I don't think UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley bears much resemblance to a first-round draft choice either.
He is a big guy with some sizzle as a runner. But when he looked to pass, I thought it was advantage defense. If I were advising Hundley, I would suggest another year at the college level.

No doubt the Ducks played better this week than last week against Arizona. The running backs ran with purpose. Mariota ran more (Was he healthier? Did UCLA's defense allow him more running opportunities than 'Zona's? Hard to say.).


Whenever Pharaoh Brown is
in the picture, others are sent flying.
But one thing behind this sudden turn around was that the offensive line got back a key injured starter in Jake Fisher. And they doubled down on their training to improve as a unit, albeit a patchworked injured one. The offensive line played better, and magically that makes everything better.

To prove that point further, one only had to watch USC at Arizona later that evening. USC, without any special tricks or gimmicks, went to Arizona and flat out-footballed them. And probably the biggest difference for the Wildcats between that game and their victory in Eugene was that USC's offensive line was quite healthy, deep and sizeable.

The Trojans have probably two of the biggest offensive tackles in the league. All night they were blowing 'Cats off the line. Arizona played about as well as they did in Eugene, but they couldn't stop USC's running game. They couldn't touch USC's quarterback. Are USC's running backs and QB's any better than than Oregon's?

HELL NO!

But they certainly performed better behind that solid offensive line.

The same could be said for Oregon's performance at UCLA. You can say that Mariota and the RB's performed better. But that wouldn't have been possible had the offensive line not significantly improved.

It's looking at games like these that make me realize coaches like Vince Lombardi and Knute Rockne are still right all these years later. It begins and ends with your linemen.
They would've been proud of Oregon last Saturday.




What is it?



"Some kind of probe.
They definitely know we're here."

Wonderful, Joyful, Lovely Hate Week
This is the week when we gather our children and loved ones together to share stories of our hatred and laughter of our dominance of the Huskies.Ten years in a row, we have kicked their asses.

Of the ten, which victory was my favorite? Oh such a question. That's like asking which is your favorite child. To me, they're all very special in their own way.

We'll celebrate the hate more later in the week. But for now here's a photo album of each of those precious wins.

More later.
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OUT TAKE
Ken Goe doesn't do his video blogs from his back deck too often
because he has a weird neighbor (He calls himself Iron Duck) who
constantly photobombs the shot.
--KB

System (Temporarily?) Offline



As I was watching Arizona control the game, I was expecting a window to pop up at the bottom of my screen saying,

"The Oregon offense has unexpectedly quit. The program will close now."

Quick, somebody hit 'Restart'!

The next day when we all gathered around the water cooler to ask "What happened?", our autopsies revealed several things.

THE OFFENSIVE LINE IS IN SHAMBLES.
This was the most glaring of problems. For whatever reason -- injuries, inexperience, betting against the spread -- the offensive line no longer functioned properly. Mariota had been sacked seven times at Pullman, and five times against the Cats. The running game had stalled to average only 3.5 yards per carry.

THE DUCKS OFFENSE HAS BECOME UNRECOGNIZABLE.
The defense was now carrying the load against very prolific teams.

MARIOTA WAS HURT AGAIN.
 Where? How bad? No one was saying. He was asked about it on Tuesday and brushed it off as "typical football stuff". "You kind of get banged up through the years and you just have to fight through it," he said. For all we know he could be paraplegic and they wouldn't tell us.

THE COACHES WERE OUTCOACHED.
 Mark Helfrich said several elements of the offense, namely the offensive line and receivers, were miscommunicating and not on the same page. 

"That's on me," he said. Darn right that's on you, Coach. The worst indictment you can say against any coach in any sport is if his or her team comes out unprepared. Even with a few extra days practice, they looked woefully unprepared for this matchup.
 
THE DEFENSE WAS QUESTIONABLE AT BEST.
 Some have said that Don Pellum doesn't know what he's doing, never mind that he was a genius against Michigan State. Holding Arizona to 31 points is actually pretty good. And they wouldn't have scored that last touchdown had it not been for . . . . .

TONY WASHINGTON, who may only be less of a bonehead than the ref who flagged him.
Take a bow, Tony.
On second thought, don't.
Oregon stopped Arizona's drive in the fourth quarter. Lineman Tony Washington took a bow, just like he had done the week before in Pullman and nothing happened. This time the ref penalized him for unsportsmanlike conduct, gave the Cats the ball back with first and goal and they scored the winning touchdown.

If you're upset with him, you need to know he was upset at himself. From Oregon's practice report on Monday:
Oregon’s loss can’t be chalked up to any one play; the team has acknowledged as much, and Washington did so as well. Still, he told his teammates, “what hurts me the most is, I feel like I put myself ahead of the team.” In an interview with media afterward, Washington again took ownership for his mistake. “Celebrate with your teammates, and I didn’t do that,” he said.

But Washington’s message to the team went beyond that. He spoke of not letting the loss to Arizona define Oregon’s season.

The loss was surprising enough. But even more surprising was the Ducks' immediate reaction to it. To a man, they were all like, "We lost. It's a shame. But we got to move on."

Mariota repeatedly said, "We're not in panic mode." That task was left to the fans who called radio shows and demanded Helfrich be fired.

But really it is the best and only reaction. Fans of the Wildcats -- the only original Pac-10 team to have never gone to the Rose Bowl -- are absolutely giddy about this win. They'll be talking about it for months.

But Oregon will forget about this loss as quickly as they forgot about the previous wins. "We lost one. Who did we lose to? Don't remember. Who's next? UCLA."

That's all that matters.
This matchup against the Bruins was slated to be a match between the two top teams in the Pac-12 -- perhaps even a preview of the Pac-12 Championship. But with Oregon's stumble and UCLA's stunning loss to Utah, it is now a fight for survival. Loser gets voted off the island.

FOX Sports announcer Charles Davis was in the booth calling Oregon's game against Michigan State. He'll be in the booth again at UCLA. In this interview with The Oregonian's Andrew Greif, he said that Oregon played like they really had something to prove against Michigan State. That's why they came out in the second half and played like heroes. One must remember they were also far less injured in that game.

When Greif asked Davis his thoughts on the keys to Oregon's and UCLA's offense, he said this:
Do you have an under-the-radar key for the game, offensively on Saturday?
To me it's patience. The word patience, which isn't generally associated with either one of them because they both try to move it pretty quickly, you know, with the no-huddle, it's really weird to see that Oregon doesn't run as many plays in a game as UCLA does. You know they're going to want to go real uptempo and do that. But when I say patience I mean in the running game. They both have to take pressure  off their offensive lines to avoid getting their quarterbacks hit. So the first thing for me is it's not just your standard, I turn around and turn the ball off to Royce Freeman or Thomas Tyner. How else do I manufacture offense? Am I doing jet sweeps and things with Byron Marshall? Am I doing that new shovel pass down the line with him? Am I running more quarterback run game with Marcus? Am I doing option stuff, quarterback draw?
I'm trying to figure a way to manufacture offense and keep the running game going and tamp down the pressure coming at him. When I flip it over to UCLA, Brett Hundley has to figure out how to exit the pocket and take the pressure off. I thought he stayed in there against Utah almost like he had to prove something, "I'm a pocket quarterback." They ran him six times, and probably should have thought about running him 26 times. I think when that gut pressure comes at you up the middle if you make the first guy miss like a punt return and go back in the same spot where they came from guess what they've vacated the area haven't they. That's what'll be the thing, is patience to stay with the running games to take the pressure off the quarterbacks. They have to, but it has to be creative pressure, it can't just be turn around and hand it off.

Others have said the same thing. The first team to reestablish it's running game will win.

Davis also said that Oregon's defense will have to steal more turnovers to stop UCLA.
Why should Oregon win all their remaining games?
Because immediately after this game, Mariota
walked over to some sick kids from a children's
hospital and signed autographs for them.
THAT'S WHY!

So what about us, the fans?
What are we supposed to do? We've all gone through the four stages of loss: Disbelief, Anger, Grief, and finally Acceptance. That's why it was so hard for some of us to see the players go straight to acceptance right after they showered. But how are we supposed to approach this game?

My plan is to make my Saturday morning as calm as possible. Take a walk. Catch up on some DVR recordings. Plan for a nice lunch with a special beverage. Do NOT think, read or talk about football at all.

Then just before the game comes on, I'll get into my routine of putting on my most potent combo of lucky duck clothes. Sing the fight song before the kickoff. Give my stuffed Puddles mascot the best seat in the house. And then I'll just relax into the game like I'm preparing to sit back and enjoy Citizen Kane.

The Ducks know what they have to do. They know the injuries they have to compensate for. Each player knows how he needs to step up. And the coaches know that they have to do much better than last week.

And it's really simple. Win, and the Ducks are right back in the fight and can still reach all their goals. Lose, it's all over.

That is why I'm forcing myself to be calm when they kick off Saturday 12:30 PT on your local FOX station.
KB

Come Out and Play



THANKS COUGS. WE NEEDED THAT.
The Ducks' tight 38-31 victory over WSU was good for them. The Cougs passing through Oregon's porous defense. The seven sacks on Mariota. Oregon's struggle to get the running game going. . . .

They escaped with a win and a ton of film to watch. The coaches are confident that all the mistakes and failures in that game are reviewable and correctable.
Despite being sacked seven times,
Mariota threw 21 out of 25 for 329 yards
and five touchdowns.
One area that obviously needs to get better is the offensive line. Injuries to three linemen resulted in the coaches emergency hole-plugging by freshmen, walk-ons, ball boys, a drunk guy throwing pretzels at the TV insisting he could do better . . .  but enough about me.
Hamani Stevens, Oregon's veteran right guard, was personally embarrassed by the line's performance at the Palouse. But it didn't shake his confidence. Said Stevens in this Oregonian article.

"They think the offensive line can't bounce back and be as productive as we were, but I think we have the capability and ability to be that high-producing offense and give it all our best," Stevens said.
For Stevens, encouragement came in the form of Oregon's bye week practices where he said the line made "strides and great improvements" behind closed doors.
"We've just been practicing our tails off," he said. "It was embarrassing for us to give up that many sacks in the Washington State game and we took that with a grain of salt and we have to work on it. We worked on it, and worked on it in the bye week."

What's this? It has to be none other than what
happens when this Cougar dude was the first one to pass out
at a Friday night kegger in Pullman. I'm guessing his bro's 
delivered him at least 10 miles from campus.
Oregon as a team came away from that game very unsatisfied and wanting to get better. The offensive line, the defensive secondary, even Thomas Tyner. The sophomore running back has yet to have "his kind of game". Thursday night would be a great time to start.

WHEN DUCKS AND 'CATS MEET
Oregon - Arizona games are always brutal. Winning and losing is far less predictable than other matchups. Hard hits and injuries are not uncommon. Mix in the fans, and it becomes clear that these two team don't really like each other.

When these two teams meet, they're like two brawlers standing toe-to-toe tied to each other's shoe laces. And then each guy takes a turn throwing a haymaker into the other guy's jaw.

Two years ago Oregon blanked the Cats 49-0 in AZ Coach Rich Rodriguez's rookie season. Last year Arizona came back with a vengeance, literally. It was Coach Helfrich's rookie year, Mariota was a little hobbled, and 'Zona swallowed the Ducks whole, 42-16.

Last year.
All of Oregon's major bowl hopes were dashed that night. And they were left all this time to wonder what happened. Helfrich has said the team's preparation for the Wildcats started with reviewing the depressing films of that awful night. What they came back with was confidence. When asked in the Oregonian about whether last year's game motivated the veteran players, Helfrich played it cool:

 Well, I think again, anytime you don't give somebody your best shot, that should leave a bad taste in your mouth. And I think there were some guys that felt that way and certainly looked that way on film. So again, hopefully that contributes to fuel the engine of your process. It doesn't mean like we don't try to kill the Arizona game this year, it means we work that much harder in the offseason to never let off the gas, to never let that even enter our mindset for anybody. And so as you prepare for Game 1, and then Game 2, and so forth, it just reinforces everything that we stand for. Again, when we watch this film, do we feel good about it? No, we don't. And if that contributed to our guys lifting more weights last spring, then great.

Reading between the lines, I think what Helfrich is saying is that the whole team is mad as hell and wants to KILL Arizona. But it goes the other way too.

Coach Rich Rod's team was glad to put the great cover boy Marcus Mariota on the turf last year. Just yesterday, RR had this to say about MM:

 "There are no negatives, I'm talking about none. And everything is not just a positive but it's a high positive. That's why I think he's the Heisman front-runner and maybe the first pick in the draft." -- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez on Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Reading between the lines, I think what Rich Rod is saying is that his whole team is mad as hell and wants to KILL Marcus Mariota.

Here's what Arizona did last week against Cal to preserve their perfect record. Down by 2, the last play of the game. Their only hope was a hail mary . . .



Here's how the scouting report looks:
UO offense vs. Arizona defense: The Ducks' offense isn't expected to be troubled by Arizona's unconventional 3-3-5 stack defense, which is one of the nation's worst in the passing game and has just one defensive lineman with a sack this year. With just one turnover this season, Oregon has been superb at limiting its own mistakes, which will be a key factor -- UO had five turnovers last year against Arizona -- in stopping a second-straight Wildcat upset. Watch for whether a Duck can gain 100 yards on the ground, too, and snap UO's four-game streak without a century-mark rusher.

UO defense vs. Arizona offense: A Ducks defense that limited top-10 Michigan State to just three second-half points has come under fire after allowing 31 points to Washington State thanks to missed tackles and breakdowns. The good news for Oregon is that even though it'll face a Rodriguez-designed offense -- he's a pioneer of the spread-option -- the key players tasked with executing it amid a hostile Autzen crowd are freshmen. Quarterback Anu Solomon has 13 touchdown passes and three interceptions. The offense is balanced by running back Nick Wilson, who averages 120.5 yards per game.

That was a good shot in the jaw last year, 'Zona. Now come to Autzen and do it again. Let's go. Come out and play . . . .


Gametime 7:30 Pacific on ESPN.

--KB

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.


SPEAKING OF MEMORY
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 ESPN.com 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.

--KB



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?
\/
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I'll be on the search.

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

--KB

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 | JohnCanzano@iCloud.com 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?
Puh-leeze.
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.


FALLING DOWN
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.

ALLTHAT FOR A #2?
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.



 
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