College and Pro Football Hall of Famer, Tony Dorsett, once said,
“To succeed, you need to find something to hold on to, something to motivate you, something to inspire you.”
After a dismal 2016 football season for the Oregon Ducks, that something was becoming harder and harder to find.
As the team traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah this past weekend to face (then #11) Utah, Oregon entered the game a clear underdog having just suffered an embarrassing home loss to Stanford the week before. With its first losing season (then 3-7) since 2004 and a bowl game berth no longer promised, many inevitably wondered what, if anything, could revive and motivate this team that seemed so lost from its not-too-distant glory days.
Following the Stanford loss, Oregon true freshman linebacker, Troy Dye, sat visibly frustrated and fielded questions from the media, including the very clear elephant in the room. What would he and his teammates play for now that (almost) everything was lost?
“Just play for each other,” Dye said.
A simple, yet very important, response.
In all the ugly frustration and controversy this season has brought, one important detail has seemingly been missed in the conversation- chemistry.
With so much youth on the field and several coaching/coordinator changes this season, building team chemistry and learning to play for each other, was never going to be easy. You can try to blame any one person for that but at the end of the day it was likely a combination of a lot of things and it was going to take time for things to click. You can have all the talent and coaching in the world but if you don’t have the right chemistry, a team will inevitably struggle.
Throughout most of the season, the Ducks seemed to be living out that struggle as players started calling each other out for not trying hard enough and outright quitting. And although coaches continued to defend the team’s effort, many fans (and media) saw something different. At the very least the team seemed completely undisciplined, demoralized and defeated by an unexpected dose of adversity.
As the season unfolded, it became more and more difficult to watch Oregon’s metaphorical Ferrari lose its wheels one by one. Some blamed the pit crew while others held on to every bit of green and yellow hope they could find.
Then Saturday happened.
As a less-than-optimistic fan base watched, expecting another pounding, Helfrich and Co. did what very few expected them to do and upset one of the top teams in the country. Sure, it came down to an excruciating official review in the last seconds of the game, but it didn’t matter. It was the win this team, its coach and its fans so desperately needed.
But it wasn’t just the “W” that was so important. It was how the team looked getting there.
Penalties were cleaned up, RB Royce Freeman was back to his usual self, the defense made big stops in critical times and the offense, led by an impressive performance by QB Justin Herbert, got the job done. Finally, it seemed things were coming together and if nothing else, the team sent a very clear message they had not given up and were capable playing as a complete team. . . for each other.
“When you have young guys who are out there on the field, it takes a while for all of that (chemistry) to happen,” Oregon wide receiver, Charles Nelson, said yesterday.
“ I feel like as the season went on, we’ve gotten better at that and now we have a whole off season and a whole other year with each other and it should just get better from there.”
Have the Ducks finally found another piece to this season’s very complicated puzzle? And could it be the most important piece they’ve needed all along?
As the team looks ahead to this weekend’s Civil War, they will look to end the season on a positive note. A win will not only give them something to build upon moving into the off season but it could very well save their coach’s job.
Playing for each other, just like they did last week, may be all they need to do to bring home another much-needed win.
Follow Nichole Brown on Twitter @UOgridirongirl