Tomorrow, the Ducks will face the Arizona State Sun Devils in Autzen Stadium after losing five straight games and having yet to win a conference game this season. It’s a far cry from where the team stood even just a year ago. As a sign of the times, tickets are now going for as low as $15 on Stubhub.com.
Let that sink in.
The 2016 Oregon Football season has been devastating/frustrating/maddening/disappointing/insert-your-own-adjective. The program and its fans are not used to losing in recent years and quite frankly, many are not taking well at all- players and fans alike. Some are calling each other out, fans are seemingly divided on what should happen to Mark Helfrich and some fans have simply given up or jumped off the bandwagon.
That’s fine. The rest of us are still here sticking it out.
It may not be pretty tomorrow and we may even see another loss, but lowered expectations or not, we’ll still be jumping out of bed and putting on our green or yellow. Or grey or blue. We may be frustrated and daydreaming about “the glory days” but at the end of the day, it’s a game and we know those glory days will return. . . eventually. For now, it may just be about enjoying the experience; making memories and watching a very young team develop. Ya know, kickin’ it old school.
A slight detour. . .
Tonight I attended a function at my son’s elementary school where two game tickets were raffled off to tomorrow’s match up. As I manned the table, I couldn’t help but check out how many people chose to put their raffle ticket in the coffee can instead of the neighboring “Pretzel decorating kit” coffee can. After all, I’ve been watching people practically give their tickets away on facebook all week.
At the end of the night, as I sat manning the raffle table, a little girl ran up exclaiming that she won the tickets. I couldn’t help but smile at the out of control excitement on her face. She clearly didn’t know, or care, that the Ducks had lost the past five games, something that hasn’t happened since the 1990’s. She also didn’t care that she could have scored a pair for just $30 bucks on Stubhub. No, what she was excited about was that she’d get to head to Autzen with her dad. After she calmed down, she explained it was a tradition for the two of them to attend one game each season. This year, they hadn’t made it because her dad was working so much. “Now we get to go!” She shouted.
I’m not entirely sure what that has to do with anything except that perhaps it’s a gentle reminder that this is still Oregon Football, win or lose. Tomorrow, Autzen will still open and the Ducks will still run onto the field in front of thousands of screaming fans. Nothing can take that excitement away.
Now back to the game. . .
Despite the feeling of doom the last few losses has left with fans, there is reason to be optimistic about tomorrow’s match up against Arizona State. Hey! At the very least, Oregon is now favored by a touchdown.
Just like Oregon, Arizona State has struggled defensively and will start a freshman tomorrow after losing their top two quarterbacks. Arizona State will also be looking to rebound after losing their past two games against Colorado and Washington State. Unlike Oregon though, Arizona State has managed to snag two conference wins so far this season (Cal and UCLA). Both were at home however and the Sun Devils have lost their last two road contests.
In short, there really are some reasons to hope the Ducks could pull out a win tomorrow.
First of all, Oregon’s freshman quarterback, Justin Herbert, will now have two tough starts under his belt and has likely worked out a lot of those initial jitters. On the road last week, Herbert proved he is likely Oregon’s future, throwing six touchdown passes and rushing for 56 yards. Now back on his home turf, look for Herbert to put on a solid show and lead his team to its first conference win of the season.
Second of all, Oregon’s running game is solid, despite star RB, Royce Freeman, battling injury and having an overall lack of production. In his absence, RB, Tony-Brooks-James, has emerged and kept things going on the ground, last week rushing for a 109 yards and a touchdown. Look for Brooks-James to continue honing his skills tomorrow, even if Freeman gets the start. After all, two star running backs never hurt anybody. Oregon fans know that.
Lastly, despite Oregon’s defense currently ranking at the bottom (literally) of the FBS, they did show some signs of life last week, albeit in the second half. They fought back, got a few stops and allowed the offense an opportunity to tie the game, taking the game into overtime, twice. This week, Defensive Coordinator, Brady Hoke, played hard ball and moved starting defensive back, Arrion Springs, out of that starting role after he missed several key plays which lead to Cal touchdowns. Although I suspect Springs to work hard and win the job back, it was nice to see coaching staff get tough. Watch for the defense to have some setbacks but to also show some improvement.
Improvement. Growth. Improvement. Growth. . . . It’s all a bit of a broken record right now. I get it. The Ducks may or may not get a fairly meaningless win. The hope for many (including me) at this point is simply that they show improvement that can secure a foundation moving into next season. Sure, they are still playing to make it to a bowl game. I guess that’s something to play for but let’s face it, in modern-day Oregon Football, that just won’t cut it.
That’s alright though, champions don’t become champions overnight. For now, I’ll just be here sticking it out. Will you?
Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl