Last night, Oregon Head Coach, Mark Helfrich, watched his team lose against Colorado after quarterback, Dakota Prukop, threw an interception (in the end zone) on a potential game-winning drive.
Helfrich, equated the moment to being in a train wreck and he wasn’t alone.
As the Oregon program and its fans watched the Buffs dance on Autzen’s field after winning 41-38, Duck hearts sank to a level not felt in a very long time. After all, this was the first time the Ducks lost two consecutive games since 2007- nearly a decade ago- and the first time they had lost to the Buffaloes since Colorado joined the Pac 12 in 2011.
To be fair, Colorado, who has spent years at the bottom of the Pac 12, showed great improvement, played a good game and ultimately deserved the win. The harder pill to swallow, for Ducks fans however, was, and is, the multitude of problems across the board in addition to the very real possibility the program may be on the decline-at least temporarily.
After Oregon’s exciting run the past few years, no one wants to see things take a down turn and the past two losses have a fan base torn in two. One one had, they want to keep the faith and extend grace, knowing there’s a lot of youth and new leadership. One the other hand, it’s frustrating to watch the sputtering, especially when there’s so much offensive talent on the field to offset the excruciating growing pains on the defense.
Shockingly, Oregon’s stats weren’t terrible on either side of the ball last night.
Oregon penalties were cleaned up, comparatively speaking, the defense had several sacks and 2 game-momentum-changing interceptions, and Prukop went 22-33 with 2 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, the Ducks hit the snooze button a few too many times, failed to make big plays to keep drives alive and didn’t wake up until the third quarter, leaving the team dependent on one final opportunity to tie or win the game. That opportunity was lost when Prukop threw his first interception of the season- a goal line fade pass, intended for Oregon’s clutch wide receiver, Darren Carrington.
Social media criticism of the play call was immediate but as CSNNW’s Aaron Fentress explained after the game, that type of pass is almost always safe and rarely intercepted. It was the same pass Prukop said he’s practiced regularly with Carrington and when the play was called, he believed it would result in a touchdown and a win for the Ducks.
Unfortunately, it came down to execution.
“It was a goal line play. . .Easy jump ball, it’s what he likes,” Prukop said after game, while explaining he didn’t get enough “juice” on the ball, causing the defender to get an easy interception.
“Throwing it like I did. Its too risky. Paid for it.”
With the Ducks now 2-2 and 0-1 in conference play, the team has a lot of work to do to get back in the race for the Pac 12 Championship. Sure, it seems like a far-fetched goal at this point but it’s not out of the question. Colorado is part of the Pac 12 South, which leaves the North still up for grabs, in theory. The road won’t be easy and the Ducks will have to find a way to dig deep- coaches and players alike.
“I haven’t been through something like this before,” Prukop said. “You know it sucks. But just got to eat it. Learn from it. Can’t let it happen again.”
Easier said than done but as Prukop put it,
“It’s a 24 hour rule. Learn from it. Watch film. But by this time tomorrow, we game plan Wazzu.”
That 24 hours is nearly over and the Ducks will have no choice but to turn the page (again). To do so, they will need leaders, many of whom stepped up last night in the Ducks’ locker room. They will need coaches to put on their boot straps and earn their pay. And quite frankly, they will need some grace.
Fans calling for a complete overhaul of the Oregon coaching staff and considering the season lost four games in, may need take a deep breath. This very well could be, and may need to be, a “growing year”. And for the record, I’m not judging. Last night, the fan in me had a post-game temper tantrum and put on my Arizona State T-shirt and cheered as they took down Cal. (Don’t worry, I’m back now and I promise to never do it again.)
Seriously though, that “24 hour rule” got me thinking. If we expect the team to quickly rally back, shouldn’t we do the same?
Go ahead. Analyze, criticize (respectfully), and channel your inner coach-wanna be. That’s what sports are all about aren’t they?
But after 24 hours, let’s all realize our domination of Madden 2014 doesn’t qualify us to put on a headset or hire a bunch of new coaches. Perhaps we should all just focus on channeling our inner fan, taking off the Arizona State shirt and getting back to cheering for our team. Fan bases do it every week. Yes, even in the rebuilding years.
After all, it could be worse. The Pac 12 Championship could be off the table.