By Sam Finley, EDN
Eddie Pleasant had watched the National Championship game many times as a kid, and had always dreamed of playing in it. When he got his wish last season against Auburn, a very cruel trick soured the experience for the Oregon defensive back.
In the final minutes of the big game, the score was tied at 19-19, and then came the play people are still talking about. Auburn running back Michael Dyer came right at Pleasant, but it seemed like he had been tackled after a six yard gain. Unfortunately, Dyer had merely landed on top of Pleasant, and since neither his hands or knees touched the ground, he was able to roll up and run for another 37 yards, setting up the their eventual game-winning field goal.
Needless to say, Eddie felt responsible for the outcome of what transpired after that moment.
“I took it very personally,” explained the 5’11, 210 pound senior from La Palma, California. “I was the one who was a big part of that play. It was even more unfortunate that it happened in the BCS game.”
At the same time, Pleasant has used that moment this past offseason as a motivating tool to get better for this year.
“It’s something that has been biting at me ever since,” said Pleasant. “I’d like to make up for whatever I did wrong in that game. But there’s nothing I can do but move on.”
Move has been a common word around Eddie Pleasant as a Duck. In his first two seasons at Oregon, he played linebacker. Then last season, he made the switch to the secondary. Although he started all 13 games as a defensive back and was fifth on the team with 65 tackles, Pleasant wasn’t happy with his performance.
“I could’ve done some things better,” he claimed. “I was a little hesitant because I was in a new position, and I was more of an offensive guy when I played in high school. So it was a bit of a challenge, but I’m looking forward to do some great things this year.”
One guy who believes Pleasant could have a big season is Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.
“Eddie’s a competitor and he had a great fall camp,” said Aliotti. “He’s really grown up. I think he’s made a quantum leap from where he was a year ago. He has better speed, quickness, and feels a lot more comfortable with his assignments. I think he’ll go a long way.”
Upperclassmen like Eddie Pleasant and senior cornerback Anthony Gildon are going to have to do a lot, particularly early in the year. With cornerback Cliff Harris suspended for Saturday’s big game against LSU, that leaves only three (when counting junior John Boyett) experienced players in the secondary.
The rest of the defensive backs are very young, while very talented, will not have played a down in an actual college game until the ball is kicked off in Dallas, Texas.
“Freshmen like Terrance Mitchell and Troy Hill have gotten a lot of reps during camp,” explained Aliotti. “I’m pleased with the way they work and what they’re doing, so in that sense, we feel good about them. But they’re not game tested, so we’ll find out.”
It’s not the ideal situation to test the younger players in, even with the recent problems fourth -ranked LSU has faced. Yes, they had to suspend their starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson, but their backup Jarrett Lee is a fifth-year senior who has won some games for the Tigers. Add to that, a very dangerous running back Spencer Ware (among many other offensive weapons) and it would seem the third-ranked Ducks have a very tall order on their hands. But Pleasant thinks they’ll be fine, despite the absence of their top defensive playmaker.
“Mitchell has done a pretty good job so far,” Pleasant stated about his younger teammates. “So has Troy Hill and all the other young corners. We wish we could have Cliff out there, but there’s nothing we can do about that. That said, we have some fiery young guys that are ready to go.”
And though this game is being billed as the toughest challenge the Ducks will face this year, Pleasant said the keys to success are fairly simple.
“Run to the ball and play our game,” he explained. “We need to be aware and stay focused on our assignments.”
He also stated that his team has been prepared to play this game for some time.
“We’re ready,” said Pleasant. “We’ve been preparing all summer. This is one of the biggest games of our season, and we’re ready to go.”
Sam Finley has been the EDN sports editor since June 2011. He welcomes your feedback at [email protected]