On the end of Oregon's playoff run, the future at quarterback and a big ol' game against the Beavers
How did Oregon lose to Stanford? Saturday showed that the better question is this: How did the Ducks beat Ohio State?
(Photo courtesy of GoDucks.com)
Oregon’s former peers spent Saturday trying to outdo each other.
No. 6 Michigan scored 59 points against Georgia Tech. Even better, No. 4 Ohio State was up 49-0 against No. 7 Michigan State — at the half. Sure, there’s been too much talk about style points recently, but aren’t those just a byproduct of good football anyway?
No. 3 Oregon had the stage set for its own resume padding. Utah did its part by climbing into the top 25, making this an attractive matchup, in a reasonable time slot, on national television in a not-taken-for-granted 1080p.
And Oregon couldn’t take advantage. The Ducks lost, and that happens. But it’s the familiarity of this one that is beginning to feel a bit maddening.
This season already had Stanford, a shocking result on par with Oregon’s 2018 loss at Washington State a week after taking down No. 7 Washington. And now it carries a similar soul-crusher to 2019, when the No. 6 Ducks’ Playoff hopes were doused in Week 11 by a freshman quarterback from Arizona State.
“Credit to the other team,” Cristobal said after that 31-28 loss two years ago. “We certainly have to get better.”
At least that Oregon team’s bid came crashing down in a barn burner. The blow to Oregon’s resume here in 2021 came from a game where style points turned into a desperate need for any points.
The Ducks lost 38-7. They missed two field goals and gifted Utah the opportunity for a back-breaking touchdown on special teams to end the first half. They were depleted at receiver, with Mycah Pittman no longer on the roster and seniors Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd out for the year. Free safety Verone McKinley III left with an injury, the Ducks rushed for 63 yards and the receivers Oregon did have were left visibly frustrated with Anthony Brown Jr. 's throws.
“Obviously a disappointing loss for us,” Cristobal said this time. “The responsibility is completely mine, every coach should always do that. And there’s still a lot to play for. A lot.”
Cristobal emphasized that aspect numerous times throughout a pained press conference. Oregon can clinch the Pac-12 North next week with a win against Oregon State. It can three-peat as Pac-12 champions and reach the Rose Bowl for the second time in three years.
When you watch this team, doesn’t that seem like a solid outcome? Because forget wondering how Oregon lost to Stanford, I’ve spent much of this year wondering how Oregon beat Ohio State.
Oregon fought tooth and nail to reach No. 3 in the Playoff ranking and it deserved to be there, just as it deserved a loss that highlighted every glaring deficiency the Ducks exhibited along the way.
Oregon doesn’t have a passing game, its defense is too depleted by injuries to stop physical teams on the ground and the Ducks shoot themselves in the foot with penalties far more than a good team should.
It’s hard to be critical of Cristobal’s tenure at Oregon. He’s won 34 games in four years and annually has Oregon in the discussion. But Saturday’s loss left me realizing how hard his task of winning a national title at Oregon really is.
The logic may be that this 2021 Oregon team wasn’t ready to contend anyway, that 2022 or 2023 with Ty Thompson is the real window for playoff contention. But that’s putting faith in an unknown, while considering the Ducks will be losing a well-known like Kayvon Thibodeaux, just as they lost a generational talent in Justin Herbert after 2019. Noah Sewell’s only an offseason away from seeing his name on draft charts, too.
Cristobal knows better than any coach the power of momentum. He’s harnessed it in putting together the best four-year stretch of recruiting Oregon’s ever seen. I thought a little bit about that while waiting for Oregon’s press conference to begin. It was just as Cristobal was taking the podium that Oregon State went up 10-0 on Arizona State in Corvallis. It was an upper-cut of a drive, too. The Beavers had the ball for nearly eight minutes and used 14 plays to cover 80 yards. The score came from Tre’Shaun Harrison, who caught a pass from Chance Nolan, made a play in space and found his way to the pylon. The Beavers had clinched bowl eligibility for the first time in eight years a week ago, and would go on to beat a formidable Sun Devils team 24-10. And while it’s not new around these parts to see a coach’s name from Oregon tossed around for bigger jobs, usually that coach’s hat has no orange.
Oregon’s still the big dog in this conference and the Ducks will reload again with another top 10 recruiting class this offseason. But I don’t think the coach on the sideline next week is going to be scared of them.
With that, welcome to rivalry week.
And now a few thoughts to wrap up the weekend.