Dan Lanning and Ducks bit by Dawgs he once knew
The first-year head coach's debut ended in a 49-3 drubbing against his former team.
ATLANTA — Imagine if Oregon would have released the two-deep.
Remember, that was one of the biggest talking points coming into this game here at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Who would be starting at quarterback?
What’s the running back rotation?
Who exactly is going to be playing where?
Dan Lanning wouldn’t have any of that, even as we learned so much about Oregon’s new coach this week. The Athletic did a deep dive about the goals on Lanning’s bathroom mirror. The Oregonian went to North Kansas City and walked the streets where the former Georgia defensive coordinator grew up. His face was all over College GameDay Saturday morning.
But as the first game of his head coaching career approached, Lanning kept all information about his actual football team hidden inside the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex.
“If I felt like it was an advantage I would tell you guys” Lanning said last week. “I don’t.”
Georgia won 49-3 anyway — a win so dominant that all the game records the defending national champions set took up a third of the notes page put out by the Chick-fil-A Game staff.
Largest margin of victory: 46.
Most points scored: 49.
Most first downs passing: 20
Most net passing yards: 439
And no kicker in game history has converted on more than the seven extra points Jack Podlensy laced through the uprights. To be fair, Oregon did tie a record: No team in this game’s history has scored fewer points than the Ducks’ three.
“The locker room is hurting a little bit,” Lanning said. “…[Georgia] has good guys and you can’t afford to play poorly against a good team.”
To be clear, Oregon didn’t need to win this game. This has been a turbulent period for the program since Mario Cristobal hightailed out of Eugene back in December. The entire coaching staff changed over. Some players left. A letter was signed. Realignment came. Tragedy struck.
Then, in Lanning’s first career game, he had to face No. 3 Georgia. He had to face the coach in Kirby Smart who gave him the biggest opportunity of his life and a roster more talented than Oregon has ever seen.
Georgia had 15 players taken in this summer’s NFL Draft and still has a roster that harbors 15 5-star players. The only time one of Oregon’s five 5-stars did anything notable Saturday came in the second quarter when Justin Flowe nearly landed in the locker room after a late hit on Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett.
“They’re obviously a really, really great team,” Oregon center Alex Forsyth said. “Really talented. Played hard. I don’t know what their penalties were, but I don’t think they had a whole lot.”
The only time the sliver of green among a sea of red in the Northeast endzone stands had a reason to cheer came in the fourth quarter when, facing Georgia’s backups, the Ducks got their first third-down stop of the game. It was Georgia’s only possession that didn’t result in a touchdown.
Oregon had no possessions that resulted in a touchdown.
Aside from a few drives that ate up some yards before stalling at midfield, the long-awaited quarterback reveal turned into a dud. Bo Nix threw two interceptions — one bad, the other egregious — and played the entire game. Oregon’s final drive stalled on the 2-yard line after a first-and-goal turned into a first-and-long after a delay of game penalty.
Nix tapped his chest and said “My bad” to his line after that one.
“It’s just tough to move the ball against those guys,” Nix said.
Nix finished 21-of-37 for 173 yards. He also led the Ducks on the ground with 37 yards.
“We have other quarterbacks on our team that obviously can compete, but Bo is our quarterback,” Lanning said. “But he’s also got to figure out how he can improve, just like we can as a staff.”
Lanning hosted a meeting with his staff Saturday morning to make sure one thing was clear: No matter what happened in the game — win or lose — it wouldn’t change any of Oregon’s goals for the season. The Ducks can still win a Pac-12 title and, on paper, the College Football Playoff isn’t technically out of reach.
At least something’s on paper.
— Tyson Alger
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