News Lost in the knee-jerk reaction of this weekend’s miscue is the undeniable fact that Oregon’s secondary has turned a corner — no pun intended. Oregon’s youth in the defensive backfield held Michigan State quarterback, Connor Cook, to a meager...
Saturday night stung. A loss by three on the road to a top-5 team shouldn’t eliminate Oregon from the College Football Playoff hunt (though it makes the road significantly more difficult), but it sure feels like this was a missed opportunity.
Duck Sports Authority’s AJ Jacobson wrote a recap of the game published this Sunday detailing exactly how the Spartans felled the Ducks in this early-season marquee matchup.
Oregon struggled through offensive lulls after a quick start. On the game’s opening possession, the Ducks put together an impressively balanced 13-play drive capped by a touchdown run from Royce Freeman. After that, the offense struggled to get going, failing to score until the beginning of the third quarter.
It should be noted that the Ducks were stopped on a 4th-and-goal from the MSU one-yard line in the second quarter, but this offense struggled in ways Duck fans aren’t particularly familiar with.
The player manning the offensive helm, Vernon Adams, showed his promise of future stardom but also showed areas that needed improvement.
Adams’ biggest issue in this game was pressing and trying to do too much. Of course this is understandable given the environment, which was unlike any Adams had ever experienced. But he needs to use this opportunity to learn from his mistakes and show those corrections against Georgia State.
He held onto the ball too long and forced some throws to receivers that simply weren’t open, resulting in two costly interceptions. Adams will need to learn that at this level, defenses like Sparty’s will make you pay more often than not for mental mistakes.
Another example came on the final drive of the game, one play after Adams missed a wide-open Byron Marshall, who would have walked into the end zone had the pass been on target.
After missing this throw on second down, facing a third-and-six on the edge of field goal range, Adams made two crucial mistakes and yet his overall play leaves a lot to both admire and desire.
However, and this is crucial, credit must go to Michigan State’s defense for the aggressive play call on third down, but this was yet another missed opportunity by the Ducks in a game full of plays that were there for the taking.
This is not meant to be a post mortem on the season or the Vernon Adams era of Duck football. I fully expect Adams to recover over the next five weeks, in which Oregon faces favorable matchups.
His issues with pressing should wane going forward as Adams becomes more comfortable with the playbook and his weapons. He will learn to feed Charles Nelson, Bralon Addison, and Freeman (all of whom stood out on Saturday) and to get the ball out of his hands quicker.
As for his ability to stretch the field with the deep ball, Adams will improve in that area as his index finger on his throwing hand heals. As former Ohio State QB and ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit pointed out, the index finger is the “rudder” while throwing the football, as it is the last finger to leave the ball.
If the index finger is injured, velocity, accuracy and spin are all affected. This was evident Saturday, as several of Adams’ passes were wobbly and under thrown.
Moving forward, I expect Adams to improve his accuracy as the finger heels and also improve his comfort level in the pocket. This was by no means a bad performance, but instead something to learn from. His starting spot should not be questioned, especially if he continues to make plays like this.
Oregon faces the Panthers, Sun Belt Conference bottom-feeders, this Saturday in a game that should be little more than a formality for the Ducks.
Look for Adams to return to form (provided the finger does the same), put up a ton of points early, and get some much needed rest prior to the Pac-12 opener against Utah on September 26 in Eugene.
Top Photo by Tom Corno
Can we learn from a tough loss? In the case of last Saturday’s game, absolutely – especially with an opponent as talented as Michigan State. The Oregon game plan featured a new play variation of the new Oregon Power Play featured last week: a Quarterback Power Play.
It sounds odd, considering Oregon QB Vernon Adams is on the smaller side, but let’s look at how the Ducks took on the intense goal line defense of the Spartans and won with this innovative look.
The first example (above) is actually a traditional Power Play, which helps us to understand how the play works. In this case, the Ducks take on nine defenders in the box and score! No. 63 offensive guard Matt Pierson (Dotted yellow line/arrow) will pull on the play and run through the guard/tackle “B” gap on the right side.
Royce Freeman (green dotted line/arrow above) will follow him through the “B” gap.
After pulling, we see Pierson (yellow arrow above) getting snagged by the defensive line push before he turns the corner. Evan Baylis (green arrow above) is fighting like crazy to sustain his block. He wants it more! The red arrow above is the H-Back – Johnny Mundt – who is charging a Spartan inside linebacker with evil intent.
Above we see Freeman (green arrow) following the superb blocking by the offensive line and tight ends. There is a clear path paved for him!
You can clearly see Freeman’s head and ball (above) are just above the goal line, resulting in six points. This is a traditional Power Play where Oregon pulls the guard and has two tight ends at the point of attack to help clear the way. There is really some superb blocking going on to defeat the nine defenders in the box.
So now let’s take a look at the new Quaterback Power Play! This play will begin as the normal Power Play does with the offside guard pulling (yellow dotted line/arrow above) and Freeman following him into the hole (green dotted line/arrow above).
For an old offensive lineman like me, what you see above is football poetry. Mundt (red arrow above) is securing the edge in a savage battle with the MSU defensive end.
Pierson (yellow line/arrow above) is about to have a play-date with a Spartan inside linebacker, while Tyrell Crosby (black arrow above) helps to seal off the right side by blocking down on a Michigan State defensive tackle with Cameron Hunt (No. 78 above).
Royce Freeman (green arrow above) is performing the same function as the second tight end in the original Power Play. He is leading up in the hole to pulverize the Spartan outside linebacker, clearing the way for Adams.
As you can see above, no arrows are needed to see what Adams sees: a wonderful running lane and a clear hole to dash into the end zone!
From all angles above, this play is a wonderful score, made possible by simply incredible blocking by everyone on the offensive unit. The Quaterback Power Play is cool new innovation to help Oregon punch it in inside the Red Zone!
The traditional Power Play allowed the Ducks to overcome a numerical disadvantage at the goal line by attacking one gap with two additional blockers in the pulling guard and the H-Back.
The Quarterback Power Play accomplishes the same thing by substituting the H-back as the lead blocker with the running back, in this case Freeman.
I especially like how the Ducks can run this play anytime without tipping off where they are going to attack. It is a wonderful addition to the deep Oregon playbook!
“Oh how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks (even in a loss)!”
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Oregon Football Analyst for CFF Network/FishDuck.com
Top Photo from Video
In a tale of two games filled with back-and-forth uncertainty, there was one single moment when it appeared the dam holding back the tide of Oregon’s offense would crumble, that despite all the challenges the Ducks faced beforehand, the points and yards were about to flow downhill.
That moment was punctuated by, arguably, the most miraculous plays Oregon made against the Michigan State Spartans in both editions of their 2014-2015 home-and-home-series.
In 2014, it was Marcus Mariota’s shovel pass to Royce Freeman, that led to Oregon scoring 28 unanswered points en route to a 46-27 victory. In 2015, it was Vernon Adams’s left-handed pass to Bralon Addison, that led to an interception the very next play.
It’s a new year with different challenges, and Mariota isn’t here to carry the team until they decide to meet them.
If fans feel like the season is over, blame the BCS. Sure, it’s been gone for two years, and it has served as a punching bag for everything negative in college football, but still.
If Oregon fans feel bad today, they have my permission to blame that anachronistic, title-deciding relic of a system. After 16 years, its presence has conditioned fans into thinking that any single loss is tantamount to a postseason disqualification, and that the only chance of redemption comes by the failures of other schools.
Fortunately, we no longer live under a BCS regime.
In 2015, more teams get a shot at the title, but the increased gauntlet these teams are forced to run in order to impress the BCS’ successor – The Selection Committee – means nearly every team is going to suffer some hiccup along the way. Every team in college football lost a game last season, and guess who won the national championship? The one that lost a game in Week 2.
Sure, there’s a laundry-list of concerns that could be rattled off from Saturday’s game, but, 36 hours later, they have been talked to death.
This is not without merit, however. If these concerns aren’t addressed, there is good reason to suspect that this year’s incarnation of the Ducks won’t meet the same level of achievement as their predecessors did. But if they can right the ship, as they did after the Arizona game last year, there’s no reason to assume anything is lost yet.
They will have some time to solve these problems, too. Their next four games are against Georgia State, Utah, Colorado and Washington State, with the only reasonably formidable opponent, Utah, coming to our home. If they can clear things up before their October 17th game at Washington, they will add Darren Carrington and, potentially, Devon Allen into the offense for the rest of the season.
Although last season was the first time the Ducks played for a national championship after losing a game, early losses in 2001, 2007 and 2011 proved only minor setbacks as they still found a way to climb back into the top four, and their chances at a top-four finish in 2000 and 2013 were hampered only by late-season losses.
Of course, all that was under the BCS, a system that we are, again, blaming for all the current anxiety Oregon fans are experiencing. Point is, this season is far from over, and the Ducks are still very capable of reaching the Playoffs for these reasons:
If You’re Going to Lose, Lose Early
The universal rule for getting to the college football postseason is, if you are going to lose, do it as early as possible. We have to go all the way back to … oh, last season for an example of that, with Oregon losing early in Week 6 before going on to play for the title.
In fact, the final order of playoff teams – Ohio State, Oregon, Alabama, then Florida State, if one considers that the Seminoles finished below the Crimson Tide by virtue of being eliminated sooner, as a result of the Rose Bowl’s earlier start time than the Sugar Bowl’s — coincidentally corresponds to the order in which each team lost during the regular season.
If You’re Going to Lose, Lose to a Good Team — and Preferably on the Road
In a four team playoff, there will be one-loss teams that get selected based on the merit of their schedule. The deciding factors are what team that one loss came against, and the strength of their conference.
Losing on the road to a top-five team, especially one as impressive as Michigan State was last night, is as explainable as a loss gets. Michigan State might not stay in the top-five all season, and they might not even win their division with Ohio State in their way, but they will be a ten-win team unless they somehow manage to lose at Ohio State, at Michigan, and at Nebraska – or some other lesser opponent on their schedule. Based on the team we saw yesterday, that doesn’t appear likely.
Conference strength should help the Ducks here. Despite the early hits to the Pac-12’s reputation, the conference should rally in standing by the end of the season.
It is the only conference with teams that play 10 conference opponents — as both division winners do — and if Oregon finds a way to the conference championship, it will have five games against the Pac-12 South, which is arguably the toughest division in college football, while avoiding Arizona and UCLA. Any team who emerges undefeated from that conference schedule will be a presence on New Year’s Eve.
But Don’t Lose Again
Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the margin for error is gone.
People will point to LSU as a two-loss champ in 2007 as a cause for hope, but A) that came in a year when there were few one-loss teams, B) LSU never dropped out of the top five, C) they are an SEC team, and we all know what that means, and most importantly, D) prior to LSU in 2007, the last national champion with two losses was Minnesota. In 1960.
There just have not been many two-loss teams that end the regular season in the top four, let alone ones who went on to win it all. For the Ducks to make the Playoffs, they have to be done with losing.
Whether or not that happens could come down to the game against USC on November 21st — it’s happened before. In 2011, fresh off a title game appearance, Oregon’s early loss to a top-five LSU sent them tumbling down the rankings to 13th.
No fear, the plucky Ducks won their next nine games, the ninth coming as a 23-point upset on the road over Andrew Luck and third-ranked Stanford.
The following week, the fourth-ranked Ducks played USC at home, only to find themselves in a 38-14-sized hole they weren’t able to climb out of, and so were forced to wave goodbye to their National Title hopes as Matt Barkley sadistically played conductor to the USC marching band. Way to rub salt in the wound there, Matt.
In 2015, after playing for a title last year, Oregon loses a game to a top-five opponent, tumbles down to 12th, plays Stanford on the Farm, and plays USC at home in back-to-back mid-November Saturdays.
It’s a particularly cruel omen, especially after such a crushing loss last night. But the season’s not over, and if the Ducks can run the gauntlet unscathed, they will have truly earned their way into the College Football Playoff.
Top photo from this hilarious video.
Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out
Adversity develops and reveals character much more than pleasant trips to the beach. That’s just one of the inconveniences of living on Planet Earth.
So when your team loses on the road by a field goal to a top five team, what do you do to show the world who you are?
For too many Oregon fans, the answer isn’t pretty. Oregonlive’s John Canzano heaped the blame on quarterback Vernon Adams for not being Marcus Mariota, and his followers towed his party line in the comments section. Even after the Ducks’ victory over Eastern Washington, a certain segment of fans was calling for the heads of defensive coordinator Don Pellum and D-backs coach John Neal.
It’s a sad fact of life that sometimes things just don’t go your way. Finding someone to blame when they don’t is not a high-character response. Unfortunately, it is the response of too many Oregon fans, and the shallowness of this response is the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out.
1. Don’t blame the quarterback. Canzano belabors the point that Vernon Adams is no Marcus Mariota. Maybe, maybe not. No, Adams didn’t just complete his third year starting for the Ducks and he didn’t just win the Heisman.
But let’s be fair. How did Saint Marcus do in his first road game? After having an entire redshirt year to learn the system and four home games to get his footing, Mariota went on the road for the first time and completed 21 of 32 passes for 169 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions — against Washington State. And it wasn’t even a true road game. It was played in Seattle and there were about as many Duck fans there as Cougar fans.
On the other hand, Adams’ first road game — after less than a month in the Oregon program and after only one home game — was a true road test against a top five team that boasts a strong defense. He completed 22 of 39 passes for 309 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions — playing with a dinged index finger on his throwing hand and wearing gloves.
Adams did miss on some throws, and his passing game did look a bit off. Having a messed up index finger on your throwing hand and wearing gloves will tend to do that. Even still, his first road game compares favorably to Mariota’s — and it was against stronger competition in a much more hostile environment to boot.
But for those fans — and columnists — who are determined to live in the past, I have a suggestion. Go be a Huskies fan. You’ll fit right in.
2. Don’t blame the coaches. The Oregon coaching staff is flourishing at the highest level. There is no shame in losing by a field goal to a top five team on the road. No team in the country has had a tougher stretch than Oregon’s last five games: the Pac-12 Championship, the Rose Bowl, the National Championship Game, a game against one of the top FBS teams in the country, and a road game against a top five team.
That’s as high a level of competition as there is, and the Ducks have weathered it well.
Beyond that, the Oregon staff has coached 28 players who are currently on NFL rosters. Only seven programs have more – and those are all programs that get more than their share of the five-star recruits.
The most striking example is USC. There are 32 former Trojans on NFL rosters — four more than Oregon — but considering the ratio of four and five star recruits out of high school vs. the number of players now in the NFL, it’s a safe bet that Oregon’s batting average is closer to a major league hitter’s than USC’s is, and this is a reflection on the quality of the coaching.
But let’s get more specific. Fans who think that the Ducks’ defensive coordinator and defensive backfield coach aren’t getting the job done should maybe consider that the two — Don Pellum and John Neal — have developed a lot of talent that has done just fine at the next level. Duck linebackers and defensive backs recently or currently in the NFL include Patrick Chung, Eddie Pleasant, Casey Matthews, TJ Ward, Walter Thurmond, Jarius Byrd, Terrance Mitchell, Kiko Alonso, John Boyett, and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
Mark Helfrich is off to a 25-5 start as a head coach, and is likely to pick up a nice string of wins before the next loss comes along.
To put it mildly, the Oregon coaching staff’s resume stacks up to be pretty strong as compared to, oh say, the average internet blog commenter who doesn’t have the guts to put his real name behind his work.
3. So, who can we blame? If we must have someone to blame, then people who get worked up over a three-point loss on the road to a top five team — by a team playing with a new quarterback with a dinged up throwing hand — can blame themselves for not taking better care of their emotions. As the old adage goes, you can’t win ’em all.
The 2015 edition of Oregon Ducks football shows all the makings of a promising year — with or without fans who think they know more than one of the top coaching staffs in the country. Michigan State, on the road, the second game of the year, was a tough draw and in spite of everything, the Ducks darn near pulled it out.
The rough schedule that the Ducks have faced over the past five games is about to pay dividends as the schedule lightens up. Now, if a certain segment of the fan base would just lighten up, the world would be a better place.
Top photo by Tom Corno
“Revenge,” “redemption” and “heavyweight fight” were all used to describe Michigan State’s much anticipated top-10 showdown with Oregon on Saturday night.
“We have lost 3 of our last 30, and we know what teams we lost to,” Spartan coach Mark Dantonio stated in an interview with mlive.com earlier in the week.
The 46-27 loss a year ago to the Ducks was still very fresh in the minds of all coaches, players, and fans.
But with another chance at Oregon and what Michigan State fans felt as a game they let slip away last season in Autzen Stadium, the Spartans were ready for the Ducks this time around. Saturday’s game was viewed as a building block not only for improving the Michigan State program this season, but in years to come.
“Our M.O. is to reach higher, and to do that, right now, it runs through Oregon,” Dantonio mentioned in the same interview with mlive.com.
The Spartans were mentally and physically ready. They didn’t commit a penalty until the fourth quarter, two in the entire game, showing that the little things they didn’t pay attention too last season, wasn’t going to hurt them this season.
With 300 recruits on hand, ESPN’s College GameDay and a sellout crowd, Spartan Stadium was the place to be on Saturday night.
“Spartan Stadium is a special place, with special people, at a special time.”
Michigan State used the big spotlight and platform to bolster itself among the top teams in the nation. With all of the attention going to other teams in the B1G, MSU feels as though the spotlight should be on East Lansing.
Dantonio and staff followed up on that thought by inviting what is now known as “The Spartan 300.” Michigan State invited 300 recruits to attend the game on Saturday night. With the notoriety Oregon receives from their flashy uniforms and pace of play, Michigan State used that historical tie-in to its favor.
The game was big, not only in the way of shaping the 2015 college football season but with Dantonio’s strategic move, Saturdays game against Oregon could shape the Michigan State football program for years to come.
The Spartans have wanted this game again since the clock struck zero in Eugene a season ago. From the pre-game feel and vibe around campus to the local newspapers throughout the week, the Spartans were going to be ready.
“We played sound, we knew what we were doing and we played fast.”
When you have the chip on your shoulder like Michigan State did on Saturday night, as well as the mental and physical preparedness, not many, if any teams were going to come into East Lansing and take away a victory from Michigan State.
Even though it was only a home and home series between the two schools, both games lived up to the hype and delivered what was expected when the games were agreed upon.
Games like this don’t come around often, but tonight’s game, as well as last season’s game in Autzen delivered on the hype and answered a lot of questions about each of the two programs and where they stand among college footballs elite.
Top Photo by Tom Corno
Look, for starters, there are hundreds of reasons why it’s OK Oregon lost. There are the “excuse-y” reasons, like how the team was on the road against one of the toughest defenses in the nation — starting a QB who’s been with the offense for roughly a month now.
There are the obvious reasons why it’s OK, like how Oregon lost to a worse team than MSU last year and still made the playoffs. There are the obscure reasons, like how Oregon is now 0-2 in big games against the B1G when wearing white and black jerseys.
But here’s the reason I like the best: Football teams lose. It’s Week 2, and no one’s playoff fate is sealed. Ohio State proved that last year.
What I watched wasn’t perfect. It appeared Vernon Adams struggled to see over his offensive line at times, which forced him to make some bad decisions.
The secondary played better but is still far away from where it needs to be. Oh, and don’t get me started on special teams.
But, it wasn’t bad. Oregon barely won last year against MSU, despite what the 19-point victory might show. It was a tight game for three quarters until Oregon got some momentum and finally put MSU away at home.
So this year, without the best player Oregon football has ever seen, is it terribly surprising the Ducks lost to a football team which has lost only three games in two (plus) years, now — a team that stuck with them until the end just a season ago?
I’m not looking for you all, or anyone for that matter, to embrace losing. As Duck fans we hold our team to a certain standard, a standard that the team has set for itself. But, just maybe, we let this one go. This isn’t the upset at home to Arizona (on my birthday, by the way).
I don’t know about you, but I’m proud to represent the University of Oregon today. The team fought hard against one of the nation’s best, but more importantly, they did it admirably. There was no poor sportsmanship, nor was there a lack of class. Oregon fought til the very end last night, but when it was said and done, they simply lost to the better team, not unlike the National Championship last January.
There were a lot of positives to take away from this game. Bralon Addison got some momentum, proving he still has the same big-play ability he showed before his injury last season.
The defense, namely the linebackers, played with a much higher intensity than what we saw against EWU.
Adams bounced back from a tough first half and protected the ball, making mostly smart decisions (and some very tough throws, might I add).
But, most importantly, Oregon showed flashes of what it could be — of what it wants to be. And let me make this very clear — of what it will be.
Vernon Adams will continue to grow and the offense will mesh more as the season goes on. The young members of the secondary will learn from experience. Everything will get better and faster, and sooner than you know it, this year’s Ducks will closely resemble last year’s team (minus one notable 6-foot-4 Hawaiian).
In short, everything is okay. Don’t let this loss ruin your weekend, or week for that matter. There were a lot of moments to take away from this game that give me hope for the rest of this season, and come playoff time who knows where our Ducks will be.
And, I think more importantly than anything else, please remember it’s just a game. Oregon, in partnership with Nike, released an exceptional video parodying the comedy classic Animal House.
In that video we fans witnessed Marcus Mariota playing John Belushi’s infamous Bluto, Joey Harrington singing the words to Otis Day and the Knight’s beloved “Shout” as Otter, and countless other former athletes and stars reuniting to have fun together as Ducks.
Years from now these players won’t remember this game, just like last year’s team won’t remember the loss to Arizona. These guys remember the emotional wins, the bonding of brothers, and the first time one walks through the tunnel onto the sweet, sweet Autzen turf.
Please, do not let this loss define the Ducks’ season, or how you view them. Instead, rejoice in the fact that you love and support a team that fought one of the best football teams in the nation until the last minute.
Instead of sorrow, rejoice in the fact your beloved team didn’t have to go to overtime to defeat an FCS team (Auburn, anyone?). Sure this loss hurt, but this team will grow from it. Our Ducks will take it in stride.
Oh, and for Spartan fans only, you can bet your ass come playoff time Adams will connect with Byron Marshall on that second down. You got lucky, but we’re coming for you.
Top photo from John Sperry
Bringing you noteworthy news around the nation in college football each week.
Kansas State faced severe backlash this week after a space-themed halftime performance gone wrong resulted in a very public desecration of the rival Kansas Jayhawk mascot. The show was intended to feature the Kansas State marching band in a formation resembling the Kansas Jayhawk in battle with the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek but came out looking like something else.
The band director publicly apologized for the unfortunate mistake but not before images of the formation were spread all over social media. Kansas State paid a self-imposed $5,000 fine, and the band director has been suspended for the Kansas game on November 28.
The concern is whether the real issue is being addressed here. The band director has been in the hot seat over the perceived phallic formation, but might need to expect a protest from animal rights activists after carelessly throwing that poor bird into battle against an intergalactic spaceship. Public sensitivity at its finest, folks.
Brigham Young quarterback Taysom Hill was lost for the season Saturday following a fractured foot received in the fourth quarter against Nebraska. This is Hill’s third season-ending injury sustained in the last four years. He underwent knee surgery in 2012 after an injury in a game against Utah State, and in 2014, his season ended prematurely once again against Utah State — that time suffering a fracture to his left leg.
Enter Tanner Mangum: The BYU freshman and second string quarterback-turned-hero came in for the injured QB and put together a game-winning drive that included a 42-yard Hail Mary TD to hand Nebraska its first 0-1 start since the 1980s.
Drones appear again in college football news as one crashed into Commonwealth Stadium near the suite level before a game between Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafayette this last Saturday — this coming on the heels of the U.S. Open debacle, and after a drone was flown over the Texas Longhorns‘ home opener last year.
No word yet on whether the person responsible just didn’t have a television or a ticket to watch the game like everyone else, although it is quickly becoming apparent that drone safety helmets might be a good investment for fans at the stadium.
The question is whether there should be cause for concern over drones affecting games.
It doesn’t seem too far a stretch to think a foolish college kid or tailgater could steer a drone onto the field of play — or even into a player. Might I suggest enlisting spirit squads with t-shirt cannons as anti-drone defense?
Feature photo from the FishDuck archive
This is the story of how Oregon fan Waylon Coy got the experience of a lifetime with Heisman trophy winner Marcus Mariota.
Mariota had an unforgettable last season with the Ducks, which led him to win myriad awards, including the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award. Marcus was to receive the Golden Arm on Friday in Baltimore, about an hour’s drive from where I live. The media was more focused on the Heisman award which meant less attention on the upcoming Golden Arm ceremony.
When I found out via Twitter that Marcus would be in Baltimore to receive the award, I looked up from my phone toward the wall in my office where my 2012 Rose Bowl helmet was sitting on a shelf. “What if I could get Marcus to sign that helmet?”
With a little research I was able to find out that the ceremony would be held at the Embassy Suites Baltimore Inner Harbor & Grand Historic Venue. The only information that was missing was the time of the event.
With this knowledge I was left with a decision; to go or not to go. I requested the ceremony day off (Friday, Dec. 12, 2014) with the idea that I would go to the hotel and wait all day if necessary to complete my mission. After spending a good portion of the day scouring the internet for information on the time of the event, I decided to just go directly to the source.
The contact information for the event was set up to speak with John Unitas Jr., I crafted a brief but polite email to Mr. Unitas from my work account, thinking it would give me some weight. I was shot down. Mr. Unitas clearly didn’t desire to have any uninvited guests at his ceremony. Undeterred, I called the hotel directly and was told that the ceremony would be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
In rush-hour traffic it should take about 90 minutes to drive to Baltimore. I planned to leave at 4 p.m. in order to scope out the hotel and figure out my next move. The original plan was to wear my bright yellow Oregon hoodie to stand out among the crowd and hopefully flag down Marcus when he arrived at the hotel and get his signature. Plan B was to wait in the lobby for his arrival or departure. Either way, I was getting that signature.
On Friday my wife and I left home at 4:30 p.m., which was later than we intended and led to some heavy traffic. By 6:30 we had made it to the hotel only to see that there were no fans outside. We stepped into the hotel. It had no lobby, just a waiting area which was filled with folks who attended the Army/Navy game that day. There were no signs about the award ceremony so I decided to snoop around the hotel rather than tip off the employees to my plan.
From the corner of my eye I caught sight of an electric sign. The sign read ”Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award Ceremony — Corinthian Room 2nd floor — Program 5:30 to 9:00 p.m.”
After learning we’d arrived an hour late, we hopped in the elevator and headed up to the second floor. I kept the helmet in a messenger bag over my shoulder and my yellow hoodie hidden underneath a light ski jacket.
I poked my head down the hallway and looked both directions. In the distance there was a white sign at the end of the hallway. As I walked toward the sign I saw it in huge letters on the wall: “Corinthian Room,” and an arrow pointing down a hallway. I followed my gut and headed down the hallway.
It was a nice room with vaulted ceilings, crown moldings, chandeliers, and elegant furniture. As I walked into the room I noticed Scott Frost and the other guys walking out of the other side room.
Upon further exploration I noticed a photo shoot station and a photographer sitting down. I knew I was definitely in the right place.
I strolled to the door that Frost went through to check out the scene. Through the door was another little room and another door to a hallway, where about six different guys were lined up to go into yet another room: the ceremony room. I slowly turned and walked back into the photo shoot room.
I took a seat at the opposite end of the room from the photographer, with my back against the wall. I texted my wife to let her know that I had found the location. We had a short conversation before a woman came out and spoke to the photographer and said “we should be done pretty soon.”
Frost walked out a few minutes later along with Andy McNamara and various other people, and trailing them all was Mariota. I felt way out of place. How was I going to pull this off? I acted casual, but I was keeping an eye on the action and snapping a couple pictures of Marcus from afar.
Then came the waiting game. People came in waves to get pictures with Mariota. This went on for about 10 minutes. Then, due to a break, Mariota stood quietly making some small talk with the photographer. As Marcus introduced himself to the photographer I saw my golden opportunity. I stood and walked casually across the room toward the exit like I was going to leave.
I stopped right next to the door, set my bag down and very quickly pulled the helmet out. I made a U-turn, walked right by McNamara and directly up to Marcus. With a huge smile, the helmet in my right hand and a sharpie in my left, I mustered a few words, “Hi Marcus, would you sign my helmet?” He was perplexed. With scrunched eyebrows and a sideways glance, he consented.
“Sure … I have to personalize it.”
“Pardon me?” I say.
“I have to personalize it, is that okay?”
In my mind I was thinking, “Are you freaking kidding me, I’m about to pull this thing off!!”
I responded, “Of course, that would be great. My name is W-A-Y-L-O-N.”
While he was signing the helmet, the photographer was snapping away. Marcus handed back the pen and let go of the helmet. Sure enough, I got the signature: Waylon – Marcus Mariota 8, right across the top part of the silver wings.
I then said to Marcus, “I just want to say that the way this team and you represent the state of Oregon and the University gives me great pride. I’m really happy to be a Duck, thank you.”
Marcus’ face turned into a smile as he realized that I’m a fanatic, not an autograph hack. He very politely said “Thank you,” and extended his hand. I shook his hand and told him, “Thank you.”
My heart was pounding through my chest as I walked down the hall and out the room. A mix of excitement and nervousness flowed through my body. McNamara looked directly at me, and I could tell he was confused about what I was doing there.
I smiled at him. He gave me a crooked nod of the head and a half smile. I walked past him, then by Thomas Boyd (though I didn’t know it was him) and grabbed my bag. Boyd said something to me that I didn’t quite make out, but registered as “Nice score, man!”
“Yeah man, awesome,” I replied. I headed back to greet my wife with a huge smile and a signed helmet.
Top Photo Credit: Kevin Cline
Back before Marcus Mariota, Darron Thomas, and even before Dennis Dixon, Oregon had another famous quarterback or two. Of this lot, only Joey Harrington had Oregon’s interest from birth.
Born to former Oregon quarterback John Harrington, Joey’s potential was recognized immediately by his dad’s old head coach Len Casanova. Casanova sent his congratulations to his former quarterback on becoming a father with a letter that was jokingly written as a letter expressing his interest in signing Joey – 18 years later, Joey accepted a similar offer from coach Mike Bellotti.
In his sophomore season Harrington got his shot to fight for the starting job, replacing Akili Smith who went into the NFL draft. His competition was junior quarterback AJ Feeley, a man who had much more raw arm talent than Harrington and similar accuracy. Despite a close race, Feeley wound up winning the job on the field in a strong performance against Michigan State.
Feeley kept the job through a few more games, blowing out cupcake opponents Texas-El Paso and Nevada and winning a triple overtime game against USC.
The following week Feeley injured his elbow in a loss to Washington. After another close loss to UCLA, in which his injury was likely to blame for an underthrown pass that could have won the game, he lost the starting job to Harrington.
After taking the job, Harrington led the Ducks to five straight wins to close out season, culminating in the team’s first Sun Bowl appearance since 1963. In that game, Harrington ran for two TDs and threw for a third, in what would be the first of three straight bowl victories for Oregon and Harrington.
Oregon started Harrington’s junior season with a win over outmatched Nevada before being brought back down to earth by Wisconsin in a 27-23 loss.
Harrington and the Ducks went on to win their next eight games, including a 56-55 marathon against Arizona State, a game where a few lucky bounces and Harrington’s greatest Captain Comeback magic led them to a double-overtime victory.
Although the Ducks lost the following week to the Oregon State Beavers, in the only Civil War game to feature both teams ranked in the top 10, they still qualified for the Holiday Bowl where they faced the No. 12 ranked Texas Longhorns.
The Holiday Bowl was an unusual game that featured Harrington catching a touchdown on a trick play as well as Oregon deliberately giving the other team a safety to get better field position. Ultimately Oregon prevailed over the Longhorns in a 35-30 nail biter.
While Oregon had done well under Harrington through his sophomore and junior seasons, going into his senior year the expectations were sky high — the athletic department paid for a New York billboard declaring Harrington as “Joey Heisman.”
Oregon began the season by winning 9 of their first 10 games, some in typical Captain Comeback fashion and some in blowouts against cupcake opponents.
Harrington and the Ducks went into the Civil War in the interesting position of being alive for the BCS National Championship game while the Beavers were coming in at 5-5 attempting to salvage a winning record and a bowl berth.
After a first half of trading field goals amid a winter deluge, junior Keenan Howry scored the game’s first TD on a 70-yard punt return.
After trading a few scores, Harrington lost control of the ball on a quarterback keeper play and nearly gave the game to the Beavers. In the end, though, the Duck defense was able to make a play and hold on for the win, although the closeness of the game unfortunately kept Oregon out of the BCS championship game.
And while that game also cost Harrington his Heisman chances, he really doesn’t seem to care, saying today, “The thing that made me the most upset was that stupid computer saying we didn’t beat our in-state rival by enough in a monsoon in December, and because of that we don’t get to go to the national championship game. That was ridiculous.”
While Harrington was not Mariota or Norm Van Brocklin, he was still one of the most impressive quarterbacks in Oregon history. Always exciting to watch, Captain Comeback led Oregon to wins in many games that they really shouldn’t have won.
The fact is, while he might not have been as flashy as other quarterbacks, Harrington elevated the level of play of everyone around him and made Oregon into a much better team than they would have been without him.
With a career record of 25-3 and only one loss in Autzen Stadium, Harrington was a winner, especially in the fourth quarter where he led Oregon back from behind on 10 different occasions.
Top photo by Kevin Cline
Article inspiration from Tales From The Oregon Ducks Sideline by Brian Libby.
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