Oregon Vs. Washington: The Duck’s Most Important Game Of 2015


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As Mark Helfrich fiddled with his water bottle, slouched over in his custom leather seat complimentary of Phil Knight, the interrogation from the media — albeit a tame one — commenced. Helfrich perked up and put aside the water bottle to deliver the generic answers expected from him. He looked neither perturbed or disheartened, but rather indifferent.

“That part is extremely disappointing,” Helfrich replied when asked about his team blowing a ten-point lead late in the fourth quarter. A ten-point lead blown to Washington State — a team who fell to FCS Portland State in Pullman earlier this season.

“That’s very frustrating when you’re extremely close to finishing it,” Helfrich added. Oregon, the national brand and powerhouse shouldn’t need a nail-biter in overtime to finish off the Cougars; a perennial Pac-12 doormat, known most notably for their tradition of comical errors in sports.

Tonight, it was the Ducks who “Coug’d it,” which just about sums up their entire 2015 season. Just when you thought the 62-20 beatdown from Utah was rock bottom, Washington State sunk the Oregon program to even further depths.

The X’s and O’s from the game are tiny matters in the grand scheme of Oregon’s woes. Without watching a second of action, you could have guessed the factors that led to the humiliating result.

Oregon once again trotted out two incompetent quarterbacks. The offense was sluggish, out-of-sync, and void of throwing downfield. As expected, the Cougars stacked the box and forced Oregon to beat them with the run. As spectacular as Royce Freeman was last night, the lack of a passing threat kept the offense predictable and one-dimensional.

Defensively, the Ducks played above their limited abilities. With standout play from freshly anointed safety Charles Nelson, Oregon hindered the “Air Raid” for much of the game. However, their incurable flaws were still on display. The three-man pass rush allowed the Luke Falk to operate with ease within the pocket. The linebackers were slow and ineffective, and the secondary was undisciplined and overall sub-par. An overtime penalty by safety Tyree Robinson could arguably be pinpointed as the key play that lost the game for Oregon.

Or maybe it was the Duck’s conservative and highly questionable play calling in the fourth quarter while they possessed a ten-point lead. Oregon repeatedly ran up the gut in fear of placing the game’s fate in the hands of its quarterback. Mike Leach knew how little faith Helfrich had in Jeff Lockie and Taylor Alie and reacted accordingly. As Mark Helfrich put it, “We win as a team and lose as a team, it’s not one guy, one position.”

While there’s plenty of blame warranted for every player, it’s the quarterback position that’s largely responsible for Oregon’s 3-3 record.

After the final seconds ticked away at the Autzen Stadium scoreboard, Washington State players openly taunted the Oregon sideline. Why wouldn’t they? It’s not like Oregon is a team to fear anymore. The Ducks enjoyed supremacy over the Pac-12 for so long. Retribution from the conference’s longtime have-nots is now in place.

“The character of this team will be tested, and I anticipate a great response,” Helfrich replied when asked about which players he expects to step up and take leadership.

One should hope. Next Saturday, the Ducks take on their biggest rival on the road in Seattle. The Huskies are fresh off a statement road win over USC and former head coach Steve Sarkisian. Take to Twitter if you don’t believe in the excessive amount of confidence Washington fans have in their team to finally end the long-standing win streak Oregon has over their Dawgs in football. If little brother Wazzu could do it, so can we.

For this season at least, Oregon fans have placed their National Championship aspirations on hold. Even a bowl game bid isn’t viewed as the top priority. No, next Saturday is practically the National Championship for Oregon fans. The only thing that matters now is a win over Washington. Only a win over the hated Huskies can save the Duck’s 2015 season. If you thought Utah and Washington State were rock bottom, you don’t want to see what a loss to Washington would bring.

“The naysayers will come back out again, and the doom and gloom, and that’s where you have to get back to fix-it mode,” Helfrich said. The Oregon Ducks have been broken since last season officially ended. The time for fixing is over.

But Oregon fans are just asking for a band-aid, Mark. Just beat Washington.