It’s now been over 24 hours since the devastating Oregon loss against the Arizona Wildcats, now an established conference foe. The dust is finally settling (sort of) and it is almost time for productive reflecting and regrouping. Until then, emotions are high (rightly so) and there is plenty of blame to go around. Every coach, player and fan has their own opinion about what went wrong, who could have done better and what this loss will mean moving forward.
Yes, the pieced-together offensive line yet again failed many times to protect the team’s best asset and the nation’s most respected quarterback. Yes, the defense seemed to almost lay down the red carpet for the Arizona offense. Yes, there were very controversial calls by the Pac-12 referees that could have positively changed the course of the game for the Ducks. Perhaps what is most concerning however is the apparent missteps by the Oregon coaching staff.
Both during the game and after the loss, several people reached out asking for my typical “rainbows and sunshine” and pep-talk approach to Duck Football reporting. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t deliver. Not this time. See, this game was personal. I know, I know. I’m supposed to be a non-biased journalist (I think). I’m supposed to at least try to be neutral. At times, that is difficult. This is one of those times.
In case you haven’t read many of my previous articles, here is the quick version: I haven’t had the best of experiences at the Wildcat’s Stadium in Tucson, Arizona. As a fan, I nearly suffered bodily harm in that crazy over time shootout a few years back and as a writer covering the game last year, I was broken-hearted following the devastated ducks out of the stadium as the obnoxious Zona Zoo chanted demeaning words I’d never care to repeat. To make things worse, it was the first loss Mariota had faced as a Duck and his somber demeanor and the devastated look on his face was something the fan, and mother, in me never wanted to see again. Last night, that look returned.
After undoubtedly enduring one of the most difficult moments of his life and then taking time to greet admiring young fans visiting from a children’s hospital, the Marcus Mariota I’ve grown to appreciate and respect both as a player and person had to face the cameras. With his head lowered, a clearly upset Mariota did his best to answer questions from a few brave reporters. In typical Mariota fashion, he humbly gave credit to the other team and sincerely blamed much of team’s failures on himself. After reflecting for the past 24 hours, it is perhaps that detail that hurts the most and has many Oregon faithful feeling even more frustrated. Seeing Mariota so dejected and accepting unneccessary blame might be the toughest part of it all.
Last night’s loss was not Mariota’s fault. Of course, he doesn’t always play perfectly. No one does. But what Mariota does is play with consistency, determination and creativity. He puts everything on the line for his team and he does it well. If anyone did their job last night, he did. When Mariota is done on the gridiron, he gives his time to the community and does nothing but give every Duck fan a reason to be proud. When Mariota opted to return to Oregon this year, foregoing a likely first round pick in the NFL draft, the team and its fans knew the magnitude of that sacrifice. They wanted nothing more than a picture perfect season and that coveted Heisman Trophy for a guy who absolutely deserves it.
So yes, last night’s loss was just a loss. But with so much on the line, it was a tough pill to swallow and it is absolutely fair for the media and fans to be upset and ask the tough questions- questions the coaches didn’t seem to have a whole lot of answers to. And that may be where much of the contention is coming from.
Sure, there are the fair weather fans who just want bragging rights but overall most fans (at least those I talk to) want the players, especially Mariota, to be successful and get what they deserve. They don’t want Mariota to have “that look” and they certainly don’t want him to shoulder a burden he absolutely shouldn’t. Chances are, fans simply want some sincere answers from a coaching staff worth millions. They want to at least know that the coaches can make the needed adjustments. Though many fans think they could do a better coaching job, the reality is, very few could. That being said, these coaches, in my very humble opinion, could do a better job providing some basic answers about what the problems are and what they intend to do moving forward. Do they have to? No. Should they? I think so.
Fans don’t take the field and put in the work that the players and coaches do but they do support the program year after year. They invest time and LOTS of money, all of which helps the program succeed. The coaches certainly don’t have to share the playbook and internal hoopla, but they could at least stop using the same excuses (ie: “lack of communication” and “missed assignments” ), all of which suggest that perhaps improvement isn’t being made, starting from the top down.
The reality is, most people can accept a non-perfect season (not happily) but what they cannot accept is a lack of answers and possible solutions by those in charge. Not right now anyway with so much talent on the field and one of Oregon’s most-admired quarterbacks’ future success on the line.