Last Thursday was a defining moment in the world of Duck Football.
As fans watched in agony as the Arizona Wildcats slapped the Oregon Ducks in the face for the second consecutive year, they were forced to dig deep and really evaluate their devotion to the team. Were they going to be die hard fans win or lose or were they going to hop off the bandwagon until the next perfect season?
The past several years of success has truly spoiled Ducks fans. With incredible final scores and countless victories, fans have not only come to expect a win at every turn, but a BIG win. If the game was too close, the most opinionated critics were calling for heads to roll. If more than ten seconds passed between plays, beer cans were hitting TV’s. Things have changed a bit and maybe, just maybe, that’s not such a bad thing. . .as long as the Ducks win the rest of this season’s games of course.
Unfortunately, this year cannot be a re-building year. There is too much on the line.
So, as much as fans have started to come to grips with some likely growing pains, most are not willing to concede this season just yet. Yes, there are lots of worries and what ifs. Yes, there’s a deep down lack of confidence that the woes fans have seen the last couple of games will be immediately corrected. But overall, the Oregon fan base still believes. So much in fact that many have rested their current faith in one player, Jake Fisher, being the deciding factor in tomorrow’s match up with the UCLA Bruins. After watching the offensive line struggle for the past several games as several key players were sidelined due to injury, the potential return of Fisher has Duck Fans believing a miraculous offensive line turn around is possible and just maybe, the Ducks can soar again. As a praying person, I’ll happily join them.
Turning the Page
Again ladies and gentlemen, the sting of defeat should be long gone and all eyes should be on tomorrow. After an unlikely set of losses in the top 10, the page is now turned and if they win, the Ducks could find their way back to this year’s path to the play-offs. After a tough loss last week to Utah, UCLA’s path is the same. A win for each of these teams immediately provides redemption and a whole lot of hope. A loss? Well, let’s not go there unless we have to.
Because we’ve all likely analyzed this game to death, I’ll keep things simple. Here are the top 5 things this gridirongirl will be keeping her eye on tomorrow:
1. Offensive Line/ Sacks
Each team’s O-line is struggling. UCLA quarterback, Brett Hundley, has already been sacked 25 times this season alone and Oregon’s numbers aren’t too far behind that. With Mariota and Hundley both being part of the Heisman discussion, their offensive lines have quickly made it center stage with more pressure than ever. Which line will step up tomorrow and give its leader a chance to put on a Heisman- worthy show?
2. Quarterback Battle
Both Mariota and Hundley returned to their respective team this year undoubtedly ready to settle for nothing less than a shot at a national title. With a field of talent around them, each is poised to lead their team all the way (again thanks to a handful of top 10 losses last week) and themselves all the way to New York. A second loss will certainly put a very tall hurdle in their path while tomorrow’s winner will again claim college football’s very fickle spotlight.
This year, my personal thorn-in-the-side has been the defensive backs. Aside from a couple of SportsCenter highlight-worthy plays, this crew seems to all too often be outplayed and outmatched. Defensive Coordinator, Don Pellum, stated this week much of their struggles centered around miscommunication. He stressed they had worked extensively this week on non-verbal communication, in particular, to improve in this area. With All- American, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu setting the tone, there is hope this crew can make the adjustments they need to. Against a top-notch quarterback like Brett Hundely, they’ll have to.
The elephant in the room might quite possibly be what seems to be a slowed down Oregon team this year. The Chip Kelly- inspired offense that thrived on its lightening speed tiring out opponents seems to be running just a bit slower this season. Perhaps the pieced together O-line is a big factor in the slow down, but absent are the days where defenses had their hands are their hips by the end of the third quarter, opening the door for Oregon’s blur offense to kick it into full-gear. There is no doubt Coach Helfrich strives to keep the tempo up and should Fisher be that miracle O-line addition, Ducks fans might just see the Duck tempo getting back to its roots.
5. Bralon Addison Return
As far as I know, there is no word on when Addison will return to game day, but I couldn’t help but notice a spring in his step and a “just worked out” look after practice, sporting cleats and all. He has also made the trip to LA with the team, leaving some to wonder if a surprise return is in the works. One can hope right?
Go ahead, turn the page and brace yourselves, it’s going to be a wild ride. . .for better or for worse.
As always, Go Ducks!
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