fishwrap - Page 200

FishDuck: Oregon’s Bitter Rival Delivers Another Blow

///

One of the complaints of the modern shift in college football, with conference realignment and the addition of a playoff amongst other changes, is the end of annual matchups in many historical rivalries.  Yet it is Oregon’s biggest rival in recent years, the BCS, that the Ducks will happily say goodbye to as this era ends.  After four years of success in the rivalry, the BCS fired a parting shot on its way out the door.

The Pac-12 and SEC were nation’s two most competitive conferences this season.   On Sunday, they shared a distinction, the only two conferences in the country with a top ten team that was left out of the BCS.  But while these SEC’s schools (Missouri & South Carolina) were left out because the conference had reached its cap on teams that could be selected, the Pac-12, the most competitive conference in the nation this year, failed to put two teams in the BCS for the first time since 2009.

Why?  While I can offer my thoughts, Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples explained what happened with the Sugar Bowl far more succinctly in 140 characters than I ever could:

[tweet_embed id=146363598019637248]

It is understandable that everyone wants to get on their ragey high-horse, but before we do that, it is important to remember that Oregon didn’t get screwed by being left out of the BCS.  Chosen over?  Sure.  A victim of the process?  No doubt.  But this wasn’t a team that had any business complaining about where they landed.  In fact, this wouldn’t even qualify as a top-three BCS game screwjob against the Ducks in the last fifteen years.  That list being:

3) 2001 Rose Bowl

Despite beating eventual Rose Bowl representative Washington head-to-head and having identical 7-1 conference records, Oregon is the first team eliminated in the three-way tiebreaker between Washington, Oregon State and Oregon, based on its week two loss to Wisconsin, a game that should have had no bearing on the Pac-10 race whatsoever.  (Is it any wonder why programs are historically gun-shy about scheduling difficult games?)

Oregon's only loss in 2005 came to #1 USC.

Oregon’s only loss in 2005 came to No. 1 USC.

2) 2006 Fiesta Bowl

10-1 Oregon, whose sole loss was to No. 1 USC, is left out of the BCS, while two-loss Notre Dame, because they were Notre Dame, was selected as the final at-large spot.  The Irish would go on to lose to their eighth consecutive bowl game, falling 34-20 to Ohio State.

1) 2002 BCS Championship Game

This is where we remind everyone of a by-gone time where computers played such heavy role in determining the national championship participants that the system decided that the 10-1 Ducks should be ranked below a two-loss Colorado team and a Nebraska team that didn’t even win its own conference.  Both of those teams lost as Oregon finished the season ranked second in the nation.

Against Arizona

Against Arizona

Oregon’s second loss ushered its exodus out of the BCS lineup; not specifically because of its record, but because that loss put their fate in subjective hands.  When Ohio State’s loss took away the possible Orange Bowl spot that Oregon had politicked for all week, only the Sugar Bowl remained, a game with a poor recent history of choosing its participants based on bad intelligence gathering.

In 2011, the Sugar Bowl controversially picked Virginia Tech over highly-ranked teams Kansas State and Boise State for an at-large bid.  The Sugar Bowl used the argument that it chose Virginia Tech because of the Hokies reputation for travelling, only to be served the kind of karmic justice deserved of those who make decisions purely on greed when Virginia Tech only sold half of its initial allotment of tickets, while Kansas State’s pre-sale of tickets prior to season’s end exceeded Virginia Tech’s purchases.

Because the BCS uses computers and formulas to create the rankings, there is a false assumption amongst the public that there is any logic to the way decisions are made with regards to bowl games that decides matchups by quality rather than quantity ($).  While the title game pairing may be determined that way, when left to their own devices, the individual bowls are still going to choose their participants based on the most fallible of criteria: the antiquated knowledge of the executives running the game.  They used the “ticket sales” assumption with Virginia Tech, and they used it again yesterday with Oklahoma.

To them, Oregon is the same as Kansas State or even Boise State.  It is important to point out that the Sugar Bowl has never selected a team from the Pac-12 (Utah is the only current conference member to have ever played in the game, when they were forced upon the Sugar Bowl while a member of the Mountain West), and wasn’t going to make its first ever selection of a Pac-12 team over a little thing like ratings.  Besides, they already sold those games to ESPN, what do they care about ratings?

The main reason for the Sugar Bowl’s decision is they have a relationship with the Big 12 beginning next season, and as covered above, it’s all about protecting the relationships.  And while unfortunate as this may be, this is the ugly game Oregon became entangled in following its loss to Arizona.

The only way to guarantee a spot in the BCS is to get there on the field

The only way to guarantee a spot in the BCS is to get there on the field.

So what can be done?  First off, the Pac-12 has to start arranging better bowl matchups.  Not only did Oregon get left out of a BCS bowl because of politics, but there was a lot of work that went into securing spots for all the conference’s bowl-eligible teams.  This is a conference that has insisted in recent years that it is the most formidable challenger to the SEC for the best conference in college football.  Yet, while the SEC has no problem finding a place for its teams in the postseason, the Pac-12 needs to work to make sure its teams aren’t sweating out the final Sunday waiting to see if they will play in a bowl game.  Last but not least, would it kill the Pac-12 and the SEC to set up just one bowl game against each other?

Meanwhile, coaches always say that winning a bowl game is the best way to end a season.  In that regard, playing a mediocre Texas team rather than an Alabama buzzsaw that was the best team in the nation for its first 11 games could be the best thing for this team heading into 2014.  Beat Texas, a team that beat Oklahoma, the school that was picked over Oregon, and prove the Sugar Bowl wrong.

Duck fans may be disappointed that the BCS bowl streak has ended, but the BCS streaks are ending for everyone after this season, and not a moment too soon.  While the era itself was good to Oregon, the process was not, leaving the Ducks outside looking in on a BCS contest it had a case for four times in the 16 years of the system.

As the program that elevated itself the most during the BCS era, it really should make Oregon its best representation, as well.  That, no matter how much success a team tries to carve out for itself, the antiquated ugliness of the college football’s postseason structure still throws its weight around.  They chose bowl matchups like this, and then wonder why fans clamor for a playoff.

Big game matchups should be decided by the best teams, not the best relationships.  They are modern-day despots, denying people what they want for the interest of their pockets.  The sooner that ugliness can end, the better.

FishDuck: Ducks put the O in Oregon in OT Win

//

OXFORD, Miss.-  Oregon came into Ole Miss on Sunday afternoon with an incredible record of 7-0 (first time since their 2006-07 season) and were looking to capture another win, making them one of only two teams in the PAC-12 still undefeated.  But, with this being the Ducks’ first matchup in history against the Rebels, both teams knew this one would come down to who wanted it more.  With the 6.5 inch blizzard that attacked Eugene, 36 degrees and a little rain sounded like a paradise vacation for the red hot Ducks in Oxford.  Unfortunately, with the “vacation-like” weather Oregon was “enjoying,” also came a vacation-like mindset to start off the game.

With very little known about Ole Miss as a unit, the Ducks were only aware of their explosive scorer Marshall Henderson, who led Ole Miss seemingly by himself to the NCAA tournament last year.  Although he hasn’t been as explosive this year, the Ducks had their eyes on him in their periphery.

Young for 3!

Young for 3! | image from video

Both teams started off the game shooting fairly poor and not executing as well as they may have hoped.  They both consistently changed from man-to-man, to a zone defense throughout the whole game, trying to confuse the opposing offense on almost every possession.  Oregon’s zone defense proved to make Ole Miss’ offensive plan ( have Marshall shoot ridiculously difficult shots) hard to execute, while the Rebels’ zone combination of man-to-man and zone threw the Ducks off a bit leading to some turnovers.  At the beginning, the Ducks were struggling to find their identity, as they have been throughout the season with all of their new pieces.  There wasn’t one person that truly dominated this game at halftime for either team, which only led us to believe that at some point SOMEONE had to pick up the slack in the second half.

At the end of the first half, the Ducks were down, 38-37, as Oregon shot 49% to Ole Miss’ 45%, but at the same time, Oregon shot 33% from three going 3-9, while the Rebels shot 41% on 5-12.  Plus, both teams shot an atrocious 50% from the line.  The Ducks continued to struggle in the areas that they hoped to improve in by the time their conference games came around, as their free-throw shooting wasn’t close to being up to par, and they were again outrebounded at the half, 20-16, allowing Ole Miss seven offensive rebounds to their four.  If Oregon wants to make a statement that they’re to be taken serious, they will have to build a presence in the paint that will be actually feared across the nation.  They might not have incredible size inside, but they do have athletes with heart that can make up for it, and will need to start boxing out better under the basket, not allowing second chance points.

Cook weaves among the bigs

Cook weaves among the bigs.

With all of that said, the Ducks played an incredible second half, proving they DO have the ability to succeed in the previously stated areas of weakness.  Coach Dana Altman decided to go with a fairly small lineup regardless of the fact that they were getting outrebounded, because he believes in his players’ abilities and continued hard work.  The Ducks started off the second half continuing to go back and forth against Ole Miss with both running and gunning.  Thankfully, run and gun is what Oregon is all about, and this style of play favored our Mighty Ducks, as they began to build more and more confidence in the hostile environment.

To be fair, this was the Ducks’ biggest test of the year by far, and they played the most beautiful basketball I’ve seen them play all year in the second half.  Mike Moser and Elgin Cook looked like Lamarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum in a beautiful offensive display, led by Johnathan “Damian Lillard” Loyd.  It really was like watching the Portland Trailblazers in college form.  Moser began by extending his range on two pick-and-pops to start off his offensive tear, while Cook was swiftly driving to the basket and finishing with the touch, all led by Loyd’s incredible 15 assists!

Henderson took crazy shots

Henderson took crazy shots.

On the other side of the floor was the erratic shooter Marshall Anderson picking up the load for the Rebels, as he finished the game with a career-high 39 points.  As time began to wind down in the second half the Ducks had a three-point lead with just less than ten seconds remaining.  The Rebel’s Jarvis Summers, who had been struggling the whole game, caught the ball and took matters into his own hands by popping the game-tying 3 with .8 seconds left.  Oregon foolishly threw the ball away giving Ole Miss one last chance at winning the game before overtime and put the ball in Marshall Anderson’s hands as he shot the fade-away three that looked oh-so-good, but luckily was slightly off.

Perhaps this was a late wakeup call for the Ducks, but they absolutely destroyed Ole Miss in overtime.  They were led by none other than Joseph Young who was able to score 19 points in the game by shooting 4-5 from three-point range.  As Young and Loyd proved to be a dynamic duo in overtime, the Ducks came out victorious with a staggering win, 115-105.

Moser is hot

Moser is hot.

The Ducks had six players score in double digits, as the player of the game had to be Loyd with his 23 points and 15 assists, followed by Moser’s 24 points and 10 rebounds.  With Coach Atlman, he never settled on one line-up during the game, he still was able to utilize his bench to the maximum of their abilities as Cook, Amardi and Calliste were all huge factors in Sunday’s win.  Oregon finished the game shooting an incredible 59% total, and and unheard of 50% from three, while coming up with a solid 80% from the line.  There’s no doubt that the second half of this game was a shootout, but Oregon simply had the hotter hand.

The Ducks are now 8-0, and will head back to play in the snow with their heads high after such an impressive win.

Make sure to tune in on December 14th on ESPN2 as Oregon faces Illinois at 6pm Pacific time.

College Football Nation: Buckeyes crushed and WAR DAMN EAGLE

 

 

You’ve just got to love college football.  Just when you think you know who is going to play for it all…TODAY HAPPENS.  You have FSU fans looking for flights to Pasadena after they put Duke football in place.  Stanford did what they did best and ran all over Arizona State.  Auburn and Missouri were scoring points like it was a basketball game.  Then the grand daddy of them all…Michigan State ends Ohio State’s 24-game winning streak and books a trip to the Rose Bowl. What an exciting day of football unless you’re a Buckeye fan!

Let’s get into more news and thoughts from today’s games.

1. Auburn 59 Missouri 42. Auburn is a team of destiny.  How can you argue that?  You have the miracle win over Georgia on 4th down, the field goal returned 100 yards to win the Iron Bowl, and then you score almost 60 points on an “SEC” defense.  There was so many back and forth plays, it makes it hard to just pick one that was the game changer.  I think the best stat to show the power of Auburn’s run game today is that Auburn ran for 545 yards while Missouri was only allowing 119 yards a game all season.  Once Auburn took care of business in Atlanta they turned their attention to the ACC and B1G title games.

2. FSU 45 Duke 7.  It looked like we had a ball game when Duke held FSU scoreless in the 1st quarter for the first time all season.  Of course everyone knew that would not last.  Jameis Winston was able to stay focused (despite everything that went on this past week).  Jameis Winston set an FBS Freshmen Record for TD passes and yards in a season while playing Duke today.  Despite the beatdown, Duke still has a lot to be proud of this season, but probably does not think so after losing by 38 points.  FSU now turns their attention to the Auburn Tigers out in Pasadena.

3. UPSET SPECIAL – Michigan State 34 Ohio State 24.  Out of all the teams Ohio State could face for the B1G title game, I am sure Sparty was not the one Urban Meyer wanted. Michigan State’s defense stood tall all year and made play after play to pull off the upset. Michigan State led 17-0 at one point thanks to their offense getting the job done and showing that their team is not all defense.  With Michigan State leading 27-24 late in the game, Sparty defense stood strong and held Braxton Miller on 4th down.  From there, Sparty scored to put the game out of reach.  Thanks to the upset, Auburn is able to play for the national title and the rest of the country will have to tolerate “SEC, SEC, SEC” cheers for just a little while longer.

4. Stanford 38 Arizona State 14.  Stanford did what it does best and ran all over Arizona State.  It was 28-7 before Arizona State knew what hit them.  The powerful running game that Stanford has can demoralize any defense they go up against.  Heck, it was over when it was 2nd and 17, and then Stanford breaks off a 70 yard touchdown to go up 7-0.  Every time it looked like Arizona State was going to stop Stanford, Stanford would then break off a 30-yard run to keep the drive alive.  It just demoralizes a defense when you cannot get a stop on 3rd down.  Stanford’s run game vs. Michigan State’s defense is going to be a good one out at the Rose Bowl.

5. Oklahoma 33 Oklahoma State 24.  Bedlam occurred once again in this series.  With Oklahoma State leading 24-20, Oklahoma put a drive together and scored on a fade pass in the end zone to go up 27-24 with less than 20 seconds to go.  Oklahoma then put up a “nothing” touchdown as time expired thanks to an Oklahoma State fumble.  This win for Oklahoma could put them in an At-Large BCS game while it sends their rivals packing.  This win for the Sooners also made the BIG-12 title up for grabs when Texas faced Baylor today.

6. Baylor 30 Texas 10. Baylor heard the results of the Oklahoma State/Oklahoma game and knew the BIG-12 title was theirs for the taking.  Baylor’s Bryce Petty and the offense started slow but did just enough to pull the win out and secure the BIG-12 title.  It is Baylor’s first conference title since 1980 and they will play in their first BCS bowl game.  Winning at Baylor seemed impossible when Art Briles showed up 6 years ago, but look at them now.  Congrats to the Baylor Bears!

7. Bowling Green 47 Northern Illinois 27. Another upset in the making.  Bowling Green came right out and smacked Heisman hopeful Jordan Lynch and the Huskies right in the mouth and never looked back.  The real “Heisman” candidate that night was Bowling Green’s quarterback Matt Jackson who threw for almost 400 yards and 5 touchdowns.  This ruined the BCS hopes of Northern Illinois and robbed the MAC conference of some big BCS cash.  Good win for Bowling Green’s coach Dave Clawson.  I expect him to be the next MAC coach to get the call up to the BIG LEAGUES.

8. A smaller story that I am sure you all saw clips of today.  Rice 41 Marshall 24.  Rice ended their 56-year conference title drought today with a win over Marshall in the C-USA game.  Rice shot out to a 14-0 lead and even led 21-3 before Marshall could really get anything going.  If you can win at Rice, then you can win anywhere.  Expect Rice coach, Dave Bailiff, to get a few looks from some bigger programs looking for a new coach.

BEST OF THE REST: Louisville won the bucket of nails over Cincinnati 31-24 in overtime. This win allowed UCF to win the American Conference BCS big outright in their first year of the conference.  UCF did not let this distract them and took care of SMU 17-13.  Look for UCF to enjoy this moment, until they find out they get a team like Alabama in their BCS bowl game.

Great day of college football.  College football fans are probably tired of the SEC, but thanks to Michigan State, they will have to hear those chants for another month or two.  We also can all assume that Jameis Winston will win the Heisman despite his character issues.  It will be very interesting to see where teams get placed for their BCS bowl games after the upsets today.  That of course is all the “on-field” news.  What about all the new hires going on?  USC picked their man Steve Sarkisian.  Good move?  Time will tell.  This of course created a domino effect as Boise State’s Chris Peterson finally bolted Boise State for the opening at Washington.  Who will be the next coach at Boise to continue their “dynasty” of underdogs?  Now with the season over, we have bowl games, firing, and new hires to look forward to.

NATIONAL NEWS:

1. UCF not sure where to go

2. Chris Peterson makes a move

3. College football mailbag

4. Jimbo Fisher not going anywhere

 

 

Top 5 Games of the 2013 season

//

With the 2013 football season officially behind us, I thought that I would take this time to reflect back over the season at some of the great games.  These games could be great as a whole, or it could be one performance that made the game great.  The following are my top 5 games of the year:

Stanford was just a little too much

Stanford was just a little too much.

5. Stanford

While I know a lot of you will turn up your nose at this pick, I have a reason why this game is in my top five.  Obviously the game itself was not great, and was one of the worst games I have ever had to sit through — the first three quarters were nearly unbearable to watch.  While the Ducks made a great attempt at a comeback in the fourth, it was too little, too late for Oregon.  However, I think this was a big wake-up call losing to Stanford two years in a row.  I think this game will give the players enough of a dirty taste in their mouths to not let it happen again next year.  Also, I think Mariota will have some unfinished business next time around.

Dior Mathis

Dior Mathis

4. Utah

This game was great for one simple reason.  We could forget about Stanford – at least for a while.  For me personally, this also meant that I could commence reading sports articles without having to hear about how Oregon can’t play against a physical team.  Too bad Utah didn’t get to experience Mariota at 100%.  Also, the Utes were able to avoid Oregon for their first two years in the Pac-12.  They were due for a beat down.

DAT speeds to the end zone

DAT speeds to the end zone.

3. Tennessee

This game is number three on my list, and I bet you can guess why.  Any time Oregon gets the chance to play an SEC team, no matter how good the team, it is always great to smear their faces into the turf.  I give Tennessee credit for being one of the few SEC teams to actually schedule some quality nonconference road games.  Unfortunately for them, it’s Oregon that took their anger out on the Vols.

2. Washington

This one should be pretty obvious – going into Washington’s house and stomping them once again.  For an Oregon fan, it doesn’t get much better than that.  Add to the fact that this was supposed to be Oregon’s first “big” test, just made it that much sweeter.  This was also one of Mariota’s best games of the season.  He went 24/31 for 366 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Mariota also added 88 yards and a touchdown on the ground, proving his Heisman candidacy was legitimate.

Great way for Huff to go out

Great way for Josh Huff to go out!

1. Oregon State

The Civil War ranks as number one on my list for various reasons.  The first is beating the Beavers – that is always first and foremost.  It was nice for the Ducks to end the season on a high note heading into bowl season.  It was also nice to have a win get my mind off of the abomination that was the Arizona game.  The biggest reason why this game is number one for me is Josh Huff – what an excellent way to end a career at Oregon.  Huff had career highs in receptions (nine) and yards (186) while adding three touchdowns.  This game also pushed Huff over the 1,000 yard mark for the year, which is royalty for an Oregon receiver.  Hopefully this performance will lure more NFL teams into taking a longer look at him.

With this off my chest, I can now look forward to whatever bowl matchup Oregon gets.  What were some of your favorite games, or better yet, performances?  Example: Johnny Mundt introducing himself to the nation.

Chip Kelly Update: A Defensive Mastermind

from Video

Chip Kelly seems to spend half his life fighting shallow stereotypes about his teams.  He’s a passing demon!  No, wait — he’s obsessed with running.  Well, he demands running quarterbacks, right?  In any case, he has a huge book of tricky plays.  Or is it a small book of flexible plays?  They all come fast . . . except when he slows it down for long clock-killing drives.  You get the idea.

The one impression Chip watchers have consistently held is that his is an offensive genius who doesn’t care much about defense.  His teams give up a lot of yards and points, and he just counts on outscoring them.  After all, he was a former offensive coordinator, while Oregon’s defense — such as it was — was spearheaded by Nick Aliotti, who had been the defensive coordinator since 1998.  And the Eagles have had an explosive offense and terrible D, right?

I will tell you right now: this stereotype is the most wrong of them all.  Chip Kelly coaches a complete program whose offense is built on its defense, and vice versa.  He has definite ideas about defense that kick ass, which he imposed on Aliotti at Oregon, and the Eagles are more impressive in stopping opponents than in scoring.

We'll let you score about this much

We’ll let you score about this much.

Put it this way: can you tell me in a few words what Chip’s offensive strategy is?  At best, you’ll probably mumble something about blur . . . spread . . . balanced . . . packaged . . . you know, that Chip thang. But if you’ve been following the Eagles at all, you know exactly what their base defense is: a two gap 3-4, with mixed and disguised pass coverages (based on a zone blitz concept).

That was the Ducks’ scheme too, though they showed more one-gap than two-gap due to their speed and small size.  Do you know how far back that scheme dates?  To the spring of 2010, after Chip had been head coach for a full year and 12 years into Aliotti’s reign, when Charles Fischer (the founder of this website) found out about it from Clay Matthews Sr., the Pro-Bowler and father of two NFL linebackers.  Fischer wrote about it that summer on various blogs, a good year before FishDuck.com was created, and it was big news at the time.

In other words, that bend-but-don’t break, takeaway-mongering defense that was the dark side of the moon to the big run and pass plays — that was Chip’s doing.  Oregon led the nation in net takeaways during Chip’s college coaching years, and that was no accident.  When he got to Philadelphia, he immediately went about building a similar system.

A tough -- and young - front line

A tough — and young – front line.

The three phases of Chip’s program interlock.  His biggest changes, to the naked eye, were on special teams, which immediately got a lot more focus in practice, new players (including controversial roster slots for ex-Ducks such as Casey Matthews and Jeff Maehl) and a training camp competition between two explosive punters, Brad Wing and Donnie Jones.  Free agent tight end James Casey is considered a bust by many because he doesn’t play much on offense, but he’s another versatile player who is a ST stalwart.

The change from the doomed Wide-9 defense to a two-gap 3-4 was drastic, and many considered it a mistake better tempered by finding some sort of middle ground until Kelly and Howie Roseman had time to assemble a drastically different set of players.  Kelly stuck to his guns and pushed ahead, even through a disastrous first quarter of the season, during which the Birds surrendered 36 points a game.

Now tough in the middle, too

Now tough in the middle, too.

Since their low point (a 52-20 loss at Denver), the Eagles have not allowed more than 21 points by any opponent, which is better than Carolina, Kansas City and every other team in the NFL.  The very young front line has solidified, especially since the team traded away veteran Isaac Sopoaga, Mychal Kendricks stopped over-pursuing plays, rookie Earl Wolff worked into a starting safety job and much-mocked Nate Allen has quietly become very, very good.  For all the years Eagles fans have hated him, he’s still only 26, and Kelly and his coaches have quickly turned him from a liability into a weapon.

Coaches skilled at teaching fundamentals are a major, but unheralded, part of Chip Kelly’s programs.  The effect is very noticeable with this defense.  Defensive line coach (and assistant head coach) Jerry Azzinaro followed Kelly out from Oregon and is the heart of this defense (where Billy Davis is the head).  Casey Matthews told Tim McManus how Coach Azz not only preaches that all defenders should run toward the ball on every play, he does it himself — charging down the sideline, not in a Tomlinish way.  “If you watch Azz out there, as soon as they hand the ball off or the quarterback throws it, he runs in the general direction [of the ball] just telling us to go,” Matthews told McManus.

Coaches have specific drills to teach key skills, as McManus details: a strip-sack routine where defenders push through trash cans to knock the ball out of the hands of a “quarterback” holding the ball over his head, and a “deep-ball drill” where DBs run toward random passes and practice sure-footed jumps to catch them in mid-air.  Davis has been criticized for having a spotty record of success in the NFL, but his teams have always been great at takeaways; his two Arizona teams were both sixth in the league.

As I said, all of these pieces interlock, which is why the defense was so bad at first. When parts of your defense reinforce each other, then a failure in any of them undermines each of the others, and the results can be very ugly.  The reverse is also true; once they start coming together, they tighten like a noose.

The 3/4, two-gap alignment frees up safeties to focus on the pass and make plays, even as the Eagles have become a very good team against the run, and shifts your roster’s focus to linebackers and safeties, who are better on special teams as well.  A stronger pass rush and tough run D force teams to pass, which leads to more interceptions, sacks and strip-sack fumbles.  And the pressure from all of this unnerves quarterbacks and makes them less effective and accurate.

The cherry on top is takeaways, which not only stop scoring drives but shift morale dramatically, as any Duck fan can tell you.  Last year, the Eagles were not only last in the league in takeways, they had the 2nd-lowest total in NFL history.  This year, they already have 22, only six behind the league-leading Chiefs, Seahawks and Panthers.  On the other side of the ball, they’ve coughed the ball up only 15 times, vs. 28 at this point last year.

Better yet, they are picking up steam.  Nick Foles only has a single turnover all year, a fumble.  In the current four win streak, the Eagles have nine takeaways and only one turnover.

Oh, did I mention?  The Eagles beat a very tough Arizona team 24-21 Sunday to improve to 7-5, in large part due to two interceptions and a strip-sack fumble recovery.  They sacked Carson Palmer five times, and neutralized stud receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who has absolutely destroyed the Eagles in recent years.  Fitzgerald got one touchdown when safety Patrick Chung, who had a terrible game, knocked the cornerback out of the play and let the huge receiver run into the end zone untouched.  Even so the Eagles limited him to 72 total yards.

Call the

Call the “waah-mbulance,” Arians is sad.

Arizona coach Bruce Arians, who had chortled about Kelly’s “college offense,” was reduced to blaming the referees for his loss (even though they called back a touchdown punt return by DeSean Jackson and a long LeSean McCoy run on shaky penalties).  The Eagles are riding so high that Riley Cooper and Brent Celek low-fived each other in the middle of a red zone play — right before Celek scored a touchdown.

The Eagles led 24-7 in the third quarter before their offense stalled, allowing Arizona back into the game.  Eagles fans and writers, always pessimistic, focused on the woes of Chip Kelly’s fourth quarter clock-killing drives, and floated all sorts of crazy solutions for fixing them (including bringing Michael Vick in as a Mariano Rivera-type closer just for those long, run-focused drives).

But the bottom line is that the Eagles are improving every week and crushing teams with a combination of explosive offense and an increasingly tough D.  Their odds of making the playoffs have increased to 60%, and people are openly talking about making a real playoff run.  It’s a good time to be Chip.  And it’s all based on his defense.

The Year of the Transfers — A Critical Test Sunday

Craig Strobeck

I don’t know how he does it, but Dana Altman has done it again.  After losing three of five starters to graduation, this pragmatic coach has somehow found a way to piece together a team.  A team which is off to one of the best starts in Oregon basketball history.  The Ducks have set a torrid pace, winning their first seven games in impressive fashion, all without their leader and star point guard Dominic Artis.  The unavailability of Artis is the result of a nine-game suspension that followed when the University’s self-reported NCAA violation of selling team issued shoes.  Two more games and Artis, along with teammate Ben Carter, should be able to return.

Why the success after losing glue guys E.J. Singler and Arsalan Kazemi?  The answer: transfers.

Lead by Mike Moser and Joseph Young, the newly added Oregon transfers have not only sparked this early season success, but have taken the reigns.  It seems as if the Ducks have not lost a beat since last year’s Sweet 16 appearance.

Their first task of the season?  A primetime game in South Korea against Big East powerhouse Georgetown, who just last season was a No. 2 seed in the tournament.  This seemed like a daunting task without Artis, what with eight newcomers who had yet to play a game together.  Altman however, had his team ready to play as the Ducks pulled out an impressive opening win – led by who else but transfers, including Moser, Young and Jason Calliste.  This opening game showed the depth of the Ducks’ roster, as Altman sent waves of players into game.  From then on, the Ducks seemed to find their identity and continued rolling through their schedule.

Joseph Young is off to a hot start for the Ducks

Joseph Young is off to a hot start for the Ducks

Paced by Young’s 20.3 points per game average, he and three other transfers (Moser, Caliste, Elgin Cook) lead the Ducks in scoring.  All four average double-digit points per game and all are shooting above 50% from the field.  This type of production has mitigated the loss of last year’s top scorers E.J Singler and Carlos Emory. Additionally, having multiple players in double-digits has given the Ducks several ways to attack the rim, making them difficult to defend.

While the transfers are rising, returning players are still adjusting to the new team.  Damyean Dotson, who last year exploded onto the scene as a freshman, seems to have taken a back seat in the offense. Others such as Waverly Austin and Johnathan Loyd have had a nice start to the season but also seem to be playing second fiddle to transfers in their respective positions.

The early success of the transfers is encouraging, as one would expect the returners with experience to lead the way.  It is only a matter of time until Dotson, who was named to the PAC-12 all-freshman team last year, breaks out of his slump and returns to form.  As for even more depth, Artis and Carter should be eligible to play December 17th against UC Irvine.

Transfer Jason Calliste helps open up the Oregon offense with his shooting ability

Transfer Jason Calliste helps open up the Oregon offense with his shooting ability.

Coach Altman has his team running like a well-oiled machine.  Young has been touted as one of the best pure scorers in the country while Moser and Calliste provide much need experience and leadership. Combine this with Dotson’s potential and Artis’ pending return, and the Ducks look in good shape to make a deep run in the PAC-12 and NCAA tournaments.  Based on the way they’ve been playing, this team has a chance to go even deeper into the tourney than last year.

They will be tested their next two games by undefeated Ole Miss and once-beaten Illinois.  The Rebels will provide a special challenge on defense for the Ducks with sharp-shooter Marshall Henderson, while the Illini are led be Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice.

The next two games will tell us a lot.  Win them, and it will tell the country a lot.

Recruiting Update: The Week After the War

/

photos by Craig Strobeck

Visits

OL Haniteli Lousi (4-Star/San Mateo, CA) (Left) and LB Jimmie Swain (4-Star/Olathe, KS) (Middle) pose with Oregon commit DL Jalen Jelks (3-Star/Phoenix, AZ) (Right) and "The Duck" following Oregon's Civil War win.

OL Haniteli Lousi (4-Star/San Mateo, CA) (Left) and LB Jimmie Swain (4-Star/Olathe, KS) (Middle) pose with Oregon commit DL Jalen Jelks (3-Star/Phoenix, AZ) (Right) and “The Duck” following Oregon’s Civil War win.

Oregon may have won more than a football game this past Friday.  On the recruiting trail, linebacker Jimmie Swain (4-Star/Olathe, KS) is committed elsewhere (TCU) but his time amid the Autzen Zoo may have shifted his future plans.

“I really loved seeing the team and the coaches interact together and how close they are,” said Swain.  “That was something that made a big impression on me.”

At 6-foot-3, 219 lbs., Swain is an athletic second-level defender with excellent anticipatory instincts.  Capable of lining up against stretched players, Swain would be quick to find a niche in Oregon’s linebacking corps.

Coach (Don) Pellum told me again I’m his No. 1 guy.  He’s told me that before, but he really let me know I’d have a chance to come in and compete early.  [The Ducks] like my versatility and the fact that I can play inside or outside linebacker.”

Like on the field, Swain also brings a strong work ethic into the classroom.

“I’m very confident in the academics . . . at Oregon.  I just felt very comfortable there, and that’s something you can’t force.  It was a great feeling.”

Expect Swain to flip his commitment in the very near future, as his weekend at Oregon had him closely examining his options.  Stay tuned!

To view Swain highlights, please click here.

Joining Swain on the Oregon sidelines, JUCO offensive lineman Haniteli Lousi (4-Star/San Mateo, CA), is a late but quality prospect on O-Line guru Steve Greatwood’s big board.

“My visit went really well,” said Losui.  “I like how they do things at Oregon.  I love how close the players were; there weren’t any real clicks or groups like you see at a lot of D-1 schools.”

Standing an imposing 6-foot-5, 295 lbs., Losui’s trip was highlighted by an invitation to don Lightning Yellow and Thunder Green.

(Oregon) offered me on the trip and now they are waiting on me to make a decision.  After coming here, my mind is clearing up on where I want to go . . . they had me visit now because I’m one of their top guys.  I really like how the coaches handled things and kept things real with me.”

And as always, the deafening roar of Autzen Stadium had its own impact.

“That was a crazy game atmosphere.  There were rows full of people and it was insane.  They were all screaming and yelling.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to play in front of all of them.”

Josh Huff on Brink of Making History After Heroic Civil War Performance

///

photos by Kevin Cline

It feels like Josh Huff has been a Duck for much longer than four years.

Since the beginning of his true freshman season in 2010, Huff has been an exceptional playmaker.  In his four seasons as a lethal offensive weapon, he has done as much for Oregon Duck football as anyone.  Capping Oregon’s meteoric rise to the top of the national standings, his career culminated in his heroic performance last weekend against Oregon State.

The senior from Houston has done it all during his career wearing the Green and Yellow.  He has caught, carried, returned, overcome injuries and, perhaps most effectively, blocked.  In fact, as many Oregon fans will tell you, Huff is arguably the best blocking receiver in the country.

Huff has developed into an exceptional blocker throughout his career.

Huff has developed into an exceptional blocker throughout his career.

During all of the huge runs by LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, De’Anthony Thomas and Marcus Mariota over the past four seasons, Huff is on the outside (often off screen) drive-blocking his man away from the play.  His exceptional athleticism makes him dangerous with the ball in his hands, but his stunning strength allows him to help the offense dominate in the run game.

Now Huff is on the brink of making history — After hauling in an incredible nine passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns in the Civil War, he also has a total of 1,036 receiving yards on the season.

Believe it or not, that makes Huff only the second Oregon receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards since Chip Kelly brought his offensive game plan to Eugene in 2007, the other being Jeff Maehl in 2010 with 1,076 yards.

In fact, Huff and Maehl are now the only Oregon wideouts to record at least 850 yards in a season over that same span (though Bralon Addison, who currently has 842 receiving yards himself, will likely achieve that milestone in whatever Bowl game Oregon plays in).

Huff’s 2013 numbers are among the best ever recorded by an Oregon receiver in a single season.  Bob Newland currently holds the single-season yardage record for the Ducks with 1,123 yards, back in 1970.  Huff’s average of 86 yards per game this season puts him almost exactly at that mark if extrapolated through Oregon’s remaining game.

Even if he does not reach Newland’s mark, Huff’s 2013 campaign has been exceptional in other ways as well.

Josh Huff has been making spectacular catches throughout his career.

Josh Huff has been making spectacular catches throughout his career.

His 11 touchdowns put him tied at No. 10 in the nation, joining Maehl again as the only other Oregon receiver to record more than 10 receiving scores in a season in school history.

Cristen McLemore, Tony Hartley, Demetrius Williams, and Lavasier Tuinei each recorded 10 TD receptions in a single season, but only Maehl (12) and Huff (11) have surpassed that number in a single year.

This number feels less surprising when one stops and thinks about just how many huge plays Huff has made during his time at Oregon.  As a tribute to Huff, who has only one game left in a Ducks uniform, let’s take a look back at some of the career highlights of the man who has done so much for Oregon football.

In 2010, the Ducks were off to a 10-0 start and had their eyes on the national title game.  However, they still needed to get through Oregon State and a ranked Arizona team.  Oregon started slowly against the Wildcats, and was down 14-19, at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

That is, until Darron Thomas ran a wide option with Josh Huff out of the backfield.  Though the pitch was behind Huff, he hauled it in with ease and demonstrated tremendous vision, gashing the defense with an 85-yard touchdown run.  The Ducks never looked back and made it to that national title game.

Huff had his best game this past weekend when he scored three touchdowns to help beat OSU.

Huff had his best game this past weekend when he scored three touchdowns to help beat OSU.

Huff struggled with injuries early on in the 2011 season, but came on in a big way against Stanford.  Up only six points in the third quarter, Oregon needed to make a play to extend its lead.  Huff ran a beautiful route and Thomas found him wide open around midfield.

The electrifying wide receiver proceeded to shake two defenders in the open field and take the ball in for a 59-yard score.

Huff has twice recorded three touchdowns in a single game.  The first came in 2012 when he did it against California.  Oregon was struggling to get the offense going in Berkeley until a third-quarter Boseko Lokombo interception gave the Ducks great field position.

From there, Marcus Mariota hit Huff, who made a beautiful move on the safety to cruise into the end zone and give the Ducks a 31-17 lead that they continued to extend for the rest of the game.

The second time Huff reached the three-score mark came this past weekend in the Civil War.  After two tough losses in the past three weeks, many questioned Oregon’s motivation in this game.

Huff's steady contributions to the Oregon football program over the past four years have been matched by few.

Huff’s steady contributions to the Oregon football program over the past four years have been matched by few.

However, on his senior night, the Houston native came through yet again, posting three touchdowns, the most significant of which came on a slant to take the lead in the game’s final minute.  This performance gave Oregon its sixth straight win in the Civil War, a huge accomplishment for the program.

It will be extremely hard to see Huff go.  As a staple of the Oregon offense for the past four years, the athletic playmaker has changed countless games in the Ducks’ favor.  As talented of a blocker as he is a receiver, Huff’s talent will be missed more than many realize.

Now he sits on the brink of making history yet again, should he have another great performance in the team’s bowl game.  Regardless of whether or not he can accomplish this feat, Duck fans will miss him dearly.  We thank him for his countless contributions to the team we love so much, and wish him the best of luck in the NFL.

BCS Bowl Hopes for Oregon Still Well Alive

///

The Oregon Ducks concluded the regular season this past weekend with a dramatic 36-35 victory over the Oregon State Beavers.

The win gives the Ducks six straight victories over OSU and in that same span, they have now finished each of the past six seasons with at least 10 wins — tying Alabama for the longest current streak in college football.  After the devastating loss to Arizona, all hope seemed to be lost but after taking care of business this past week, Oregon still has a strong chance of earning a BCS bowl bid.

There are 10 BCS spots to be filled; six by conference champions and presumably the seventh being an at-large bid for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

With some help around the nation last weekend — defeats to Wisconsin and Fresno State — Oregon is now in the mix for the final three spots, alongside teams such as Baylor, Oklahoma, Northern Illinois, South Carolina and Clemson.

Now lets take a brief look at how this whole bowl selection could play out for the Ducks.

Photo: Kevin Cline Huff had a phenomenal game against OSU with 9 catches for 186 yards and 3 tds.

Photo: Kevin Cline Huff had a phenomenal game against OSU with 9 catches for 186 yards and 3 tds.

If it stands, No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Ohio State will play in the BCS championship game Jan. 6th, as long as the Buckeyes defeat No. 10 Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and the committee doesn’t favor a one-loss SEC champion over a team that holds the nation’s longest current win streak of 24 games.

In that case, Michigan State will likely grab an at-large bid to face off against the Pac-12 champion, either Arizona State or Stanford, in the Rose Bowl.

 

Next, lets look at the Orange Bowl.  They would likely select the highest ranked at-large bid in Alabama with the first choice, because the winner of the SEC matchup between Auburn and Mizzou will headline the Sugar Bowl.  Then, they will select one more at-large candidate, which opens the door to make this arguably the best bowl game of the season, aside from the national championship.

Why is this the case?

Well some, including Jerry Palm of CBS Sports and Stewart Mandel of SI.com, believe the Bowl game’s close ties with the ACC will migrate towards giving No. 13 Clemson the nod.  However, Bleacher Report columnists Scott Polacek and Pedersen believe that the Oregon and Alabama matchup everyone has been clamoring for the past few years, will be too enticing to pass up.

Though both the Ducks and Tigers are even at 10-2 – Florida State dismantled Clemson earlier in the year and the Tigers have not looked like an elite team since — also suffering a definitive loss to South Carolina in their season finale this past weekend.

If the Tigers were to be selected over Oregon, the Ducks have also been projected to play Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl, as they get second pick from the Pac-12.

Also something to pay attention to are the conference championship games this weekend, which could have a big impact on the bowl selections.

Photo Credit: Kevin Cline Defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu concluded his 1st-team all-conference campaign with 12 tackles, 3 pass deflections and an interception.

Photo Credit: Kevin Cline Defensive back Ifo Ekpre-Olomu concluded his 1st-team all-conference campaign with 12 tackles, 3 pass deflections and an interception.

 

Baylor hosts a tough Texas team, while Northern Illinois faces a Bowling Green defense that ranks 5th in the nation in points allowed, and the Michigan State Spartans get their chance to ruin the Ohio State Buckeyes’ winning streak and title hopes.

Both matchups, whether it is Oklahoma or Alabama, would be good games for Oregon fans to watch.  But lets face it, the whole country wants to see Oregon and Alabama lineup against one another, even if it isn’t in the national title game.

 

Is Helfrich Establishing a New Identity for the Ducks?

Kevin Cline

Is Mark Helfrich’s team taking on a new identity?  Did anyone see that ending coming?  What about Oregon’s other senior receiver?  Following the closest Civil War in more than 30 years that was part of the craziest weekend in college football in recent memory, some thoughts:

Mark Helfrich is Beginning to Establish His Own Identity as Head Coach

Remember The Chip Kelly Show ?  It seems incomprehensible now, given what we’ve learned about his personality over the past four years, but Chip Kelly actually once had a weekly coach’s show on KEZI where he talked about the previous Saturday’s game; a role he assumed from his predecessor Mike Bellotti (who picked it up from his predecessor Rich Brooks).  I bet he hated every minute of it.

Mark Helfrich is establishing his identity

Mark Helfrich is establishing his identity.

He did the show because that is what first-time head coaches in their first seasons, as Kelly was, and Mark Helfrich is, do: They replicate what the previous coach did until they establish their own identity.  Both Kelly and Helfrich had the unenviable task of following the most successful coach in school history.  Trying to follow that often means doing something a coach knows they may not enjoy but that there is a public expectation for them to do.  For Chip Kelly, that was doing a TV show.

Yet on Friday we saw the first signs of Helfrich establishing his own identity as head coach.  We had already seen inklings of it over the season – punting instead of going for it on midfield fourth downs, a greater reliance on the pass – but the loss to Arizona may have provided him his first full immersion into expectations that come with being a head coach.  Previously, he had understood the roles and responsibilities.  Losing gives the coach the perspective that he is the bus driver, and when the bus goes off the road, they blame the driver, not the bus.

Losing to Arizona likely gave him the realization, “If I lose, they blame me.”  It is one thing to know that, it is another to understand it.  Once someone understands that, the most common response is “if I’m going down, I’m going down my way.”  That is when an identity is established.

Look for the Ducks to continue to further shift their style to make Helfrich’s identity for them beginning with their bowl game, and don’t be surprised if the team has a much different look to it in 2014.

No One Knew What to Expect Friday, Meaning That Crazy Ending Makes Sense

Matt Wogan kicks the difference in a one-point win over the Beavers

Matt Wogan kicks the difference in a one-point win over the Beavers.

One of the critical moments for the establishment of Mark Helfrich’s identity came midway through the second quarter, when up 14-7, Helfrich elected to kick a field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-goal from the two yard line, a decision his predecessor likely never would have made.

In fact we know what Kelly would have done.  Last year, Kelly did go for it on a similar red zone fourth-and-two against Stanford, and the three points Oregon could have gotten would have been the difference between a win and an overtime loss.

While Helfrich’s decision ended up raising a lot of eyebrows at the time, it turned out to be the correct call in a one-point game.  Had Oregon not kicked a field goal and not converted on that fourth down, it not only changes the score, but changes the entire complexion of the game.

Mike Riley

Mike Riley

Oregon State wouldn’t have gone for two on either of its fourth quarter touchdowns; the addition of those two points would have meant Oregon would have been trailing by two scores for most of the fourth quarter.

By contrast, Oregon State went for it on fourth-and-one from the Oregon four-yard line in the third quarter, only to fail to score on the possession.  When asked about the decision after the game, Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said, “Yeah, I wish I had the field goal now.”

Riley’s decision wasn’t the wrong one, just one ill-suited for that game.  Historically, opponents have had to keep pace with Oregon, match them touchdown for touchdown, which motivated Riley’s choice.  Meanwhile Helfrich, leader of the team that “always goes for it on fourth down,” changed things up by taking the kick (3 points).  It was the difference in the game.

While Kelly’s style often made for exciting moments, many on fourth down, that style rarely made for exciting games.  While Oregon has lost six games since the start of the 2010 season, they had won only four by fewer than two touchdowns.  Oregon had lost its last four games decided by less than a touchdown, and hadn’t won by less than a touchdown since 2010.  The last time Oregon won a game by a single point?  34-33 over Oklahoma in 2006, the year before Chip Kelly arrived in Eugene.

This made the reporting that the team was celebrating like crazy in the locker room following Friday’s win all the more significant.  Teams need close wins to find out what they are made of; to find the confidence necessary for future contests.  Having a win like that for the first time in three seasons will be critical in their attempts to get back to the top of the conference next season.

Oregon’s Senior Receivers – Yes, Plural – Shine on Senior Day

It was great to see a terrific final game from the only two seniors amongst the wide receiving regulars: Josh Huff and Daryle Hawkins. While Huff got the lion’s share of attention, and deservedly so, Hawkins played well in Friday’s game, and while he had only two catches, both receptions came at critical times in the game, showing what a reliable player Hawkins has developed into by the end of his career.

While it is an era of upheaval for the definition of a “college athlete,” it is still important to remember that all these players are still college students.  Ideally, college is a place to foster the development of an individual to prepare them for the world.  Few college students have flawless developments.  For the majority of students, college is a series of fluctuating periods of success and failure, with the hope that it all comes together for them in the end.

Both Huff and Hawkins have had similar arcs to many of their college peers, not just those on the field: flashes of promise early, challenges and adversity in the middle, with everything coming together in the final stages where things finally “click” for them.

For Huff, it was about becoming the star player he was meant to be for the Ducks.  After being used largely as a luxury weapon during Oregon’s 2010 title run, Huff struggled to become the consistent star so many expected of him over the next two seasons.  To see him emerge as Mariota’s go-to weapon in Friday’s game was fulfilling, to say the least.

Hawkins didn’t have the scrutiny that is reserved for not-yet-stars that Huff experienced, but he had his less-than-shining moments in big games in previous seasons amplified, leading to some public questioning of his reliability as a receiver.

Seeing Hawkins make those two catches in big situations yesterday to demonstrate his reliability as a receiver was special.  It showed the best of player development in college football; potential realized in the beginning, being fulfilled in the end.