Oregon Football: Picking Pick Up the Pieces

There’s no sugar-coating the Ducks’ dismal performance last weekend against Utah. Sure, some growing pains were expected with the departure of Marcus Mariota but what we all witnessed in Autzen Stadium was more than that. It was more than some missed tackles, more than a couple of costly interceptions and more than a few dropped passes on potentially huge plays. It was a disaster in nearly every phase.  It was as if the walls of Oregon Football completely collapsed, leaving the team and its fans in complete shock, full of confusing emotions.

Sure, it’s just football but for devoted fans, a loss like that always feels like a whole lot more. We’re emotionally (and economically) invested and watching our team take a major beating is well. . . devastating.  I’ll admit it. I didn’t sleep well and I am just now coming out of the fog. If social media is any indicator, I’m not alone.

So now what?

After such a major shake up in Oregon Football, how does the team and its fan base pick up the pieces? Given what we all witnessed on Saturday, it won’t be easy. As the saying goes, the higher the climb, the harder the fall and perhaps now, more than any other time, we all understand that- the players, coaches and fans.

The past few years have been so incredible, wins have been expected and expectations this season were no different. Now, reality has set in and we all must face the possibility that this might very well be a very bleak season aka “a building year.” Then again, things could take a miraculous turn. This is college football after all.

As fans, we have to first and foremost consider why we are fans to begin with and hold on to that. Did we grow up going to games with grandpa? Did we build fond memories taking the walking path from the University dorms to Autzen Stadium with our college buddies? Or did we simply start bleeding green and yellow just because? Whatever it was, hold on to that and stay true. Go ahead and banter back and forth, criticizing all you want, but do it with grace and respect because at the end of the day, it’s the team that has the hard work to do. It’s their dreams on the line, not ours- something I was reminded of directly following Saturday’s loss.

As I sat in the press room, I happened to notice both Jeff Lockie and Vernon Adams Jr. walk into a small conversational area- not their typical post game interview location. It took a couple of  moments for other reporters to notice Adams Jr. so I was forced to get up close and personal with the incredible defeat he felt. Though I mustered up a couple of questions, I was immediately struck by his humility, rather than his actual answers. I could sense his internal struggle to make sense of what had taken place and what effect it could potentially have on his future. For Lockie, the feeling was similar but less descriptive. His head hung and his eyes gazed downward. He politely answered questions, but like Adams Jr., he just seemed stunned in the face of defeat.

In those moments, I realized any emotions I had as a fan paled in comparison and the players and coaches were all that really mattered in this situation. They were the ones that would have to fix it all anyway. The question is, can they fix it in time to save the season?

Only time will tell.

As we look to Oregon’s next Pac 12 match up against Colorado, there are some glimmers of hope that have emerged this week. If nothing else, the horrendous loss has shaken things up and revealed weaknesses that may not have been as clearly seen after a decisive win. It has also shown newer players that putting on the Oregon jersey doesn’t guarantee a win and they must work for it, something Oregon offensive lineman, Tyler Johnstone explained to reporters after the game. Johnstone, a charismatic fifth-year senior made another important observation when he talked about the need for the team to get back to the Oregon culture, indicating they had at least partially departed from it. It will be up to coaches and veteran players, like Johnstone, to lead the way back, something Johnston has already started doing this week. In an effort to rally the team, Johnstone gathered his teammates on the practice field to deliver a pep talk. Senior defensive lineman, Deforest Buckner, reportedly followed suit telling the team,

“Don’t quit on me because I’m not quitting on you.”

One might think the more obvious leaders might be quarterbacks, Jeff Lockie and Vernon Adams jr. Personally, I’m not convinced either of them is filling that role. Obviously, no one outside the team knows that for sure but after the loss, I asked both players leadership related questions. Though both players answered politely, neither seemed assertive or confident as the team’s leader. In short, both seemed just as confused as everyone else about the state of the quarterback position. Until that confusion is addressed, chances are the offense, who will now be without stud receiver, Byron Marshall, for the rest of the season, will struggle.

In addition to the quarterback position being ironed out, Oregon coaches are working to create a sense of “urgency” within the team, something Coach Helfrich says he always pushes, but has put an extra emphasis on this week.

“It’s something you have to create in training to duplicate game time as much as you possibly can,” Helfrich explained, adding that creating that sense of urgency after a win is more of a challenge than after a loss.

“When you lose, it matters, and hopefully that urgency is created. . . After a game like Utah, you have a captive audience, if they’re good guys, and I think our team is full of good guys that want to respond the right way and unfortunately sometimes that’s what it takes. . .taking a shot in the nose and bouncing back.”

Whether it’s leadership, urgency, or good old fashion fundamentals and discipline, chances are those closed practices this week were full of guys trying to bounce back.

As fans, we might as well join them.

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