A New Challenge Looms For The Ducks

LaMichael James established himself as Oregon's all-time leading rusher during the loss against LSU. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans)

By Sam Finley, EDN

The number four can represent many things.  In a positive light, it cen be seen as the insignia on the Fantastic Four’s costumes.  But if you’re a Duck fan, then you’re not even thinking about it in comic book terms.

No, in this case, it is the number of turnovers committed by Oregon in their 40-27 loss against LSU this past weekend.  It is one of many reasons why the Ducks fell face first on a national stage in Dallas, Texas.

Against anyone, sloppy ball handling will hurt your team’s chances of winning.  Against an SEC team like LSU, you will seal your team’s fate, particularly when you give them the ball on your 20 yard line.

Take away the turnovers, and Oregon could’ve won.  Yes, LSU’s larger offensive and defensive lines played a role in the outcome. So did their running back Spencer Ware.

And yes, I’m being mindful of the fact that the Ducks were playing a lot of younger guys for the first time.  Guys, like De’Anthony Thomas (who fumbled twice) who will learn from their trial by fire and become Oregon players you will remember for years to come.  They also could have used Cliff Harris in the secondary on Saturday.

That being said, this team has plenty to play for.  I still think they’ll win their third consecutive conference title, and will play in a BCS bowl game. (Though going back to the National Championship Game is going to be a reach, so you’re likely going to have to “settle” for Pasadena this time).

But, as Ross Perot used to say, here’s the deal:  While there is no question that the Ducks have established themselves as the college football power in the Northwest, as well as one of the top three teams in the Pac-12, there is a new challenge facing Chip Kelly & Company.  Specifically, Oregon must win a game against a ranked non-conference opponent and it must be away from Autzen Stadium.

We know what the Ducks can do there, and would probably win against any national power handily with LaMichael James running for well over 150 yards (instead of the meager 54 he got on Saturday).

However, if you want Oregon to be truly recognized as one of the nation’s elite teams, then they have to go to a neutral site or a highly-ranked opponent’s venue and come out on top.  That, with all they’ve accomplished in recent years, is something they have yet to do.

If you don’t think it’s that big of a deal, consider that this is the fourth time in the past three seasons where they’ve failed to defeat a top opponent outside of Eugene.  They didn’t do it in Boise two years ago.  They also stumbled in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State in 2010, and came up painfully short against Auburn in the BCS title match in January.  The setback against LSU has effectively established a trend.

Until the Ducks can win a game like the ones mentioned above, then Oregon will be known as merely a very good team that is worthy of being ranked in the top ten every year.  They won’t, however, be seriously considered as one you can talk about as one of the great programs on the national landscape.

If they can win their conference as predicted, they’ll have their shot at national redemption come January in the Rose Bowl.  In the meantime, let’s briefly talk about some other items.

As stated earlier, Oregon does have plenty to play for, and beating Nevada this weekend would be a great start for them to make a quick turnaround.  The Wolf Pack may have lost a lot of starters from last year’s 13-1 team to the NFL, but you can’t overlook them.  

Somehow I don’t think, especially after the LSU debacle, that the Ducks will take anyone for granted. Nevada picked the wrong week to come to Autzen, and it could be a long day for them.  Here’s my guess on this one:  Oregon 42, Nevada 17.

Now then, some people have said that LaMichael’s performance in the first week cost him any shot at the Heisman Trophy this year.  Let’s put it this way:  He’s definitely not one of the top five guys you’d consider for the award at this moment.  But, despite his very average-looking perfomance against the Tigers,  he still became Oregon’s all-time leading rusher.

LaMichael James established himself as Oregon's all-time leading rusher during the loss against LSU. (Photo Credit: Eric Evans)

If he can run off a string of games of 100 yards or more and has a huge game against Stanford late in the year, then you can’t pound the nails in the Heisman coffin just yet.  On the flip side, I wouldn’t be planning a trip to New York for the awards presentation, either.

I would, however, plan on letting you all know what’s on tap for the upcoming months.  We will be expanding this sports page into a bunch of areas, and it will become something people in Eugene haven’t seen before.  You’ll start seeing some of new features within the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime, look for a wrap-up on the Ems’ first round NWL playoff series this week.  And on Friday, there will be a piece about Oregon’s receivers you might want to check out.  I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the game previews that will be coming on a weekly basis, too.

Until then, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

Sam Finley has been the EDN sports editor since June 2011.  He welcomes your feedback at [email protected]


Sam Finley is a local sports writer and enthusiast. He is a feature writer for Eugene Magazine and a for hire freelance writer. Sam can be reached at [email protected]

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