It's good to be back! After a three-month hiatus, I'm once again writing quality articles...or opinionated tripe, whichever. It depends on the reader.
Just because I've taken a break from writing, commenting, and generally putting my thoughts out there doesn't mean I haven't noticed all that's been going on with the Oregon football program lately. That Boise State game was the most horrendous display of offensive ineptitude I've ever seen from the Ducks, and to cap the whole fiasco...well, you all know what happened next.
Being a half-full kind of guy, I won't expound on the troubles that have beset the program in relation to LeGarrette Blount. As far as I'm concerned, Chip Kelly's boys don't need that big baby.They've done just fine without him.
After the trip to Boise, the Ducks have enjoyed an unprecedented run of four straight home games. Oregon struggled to beat Purdue, but win they did thanks to Walter Thurmond. They had batter luck with Utah, thanks to a stifling defense led by Thurmond and a sterling linebacker corps. The offense also showed signs of life...or rather, the run game did.
Jeremiah Masoli, hero of last year's Holiday Bowl beat-down of Oklahoma State, spent his first three games of the 2009 campaign laying eggs. And not just regular eggs, mind you. These were of the rotten, messy, stinky variety. He hit rock bottom against the Utes, to the tune of four-for-16 passing. A 25 percent completion percentage from your quarterback usually means one of two things: you lose horribly because you're one dimensional, or your defense grows some serious stones and saves your quarterback's hinder.
Masoli spent the week leading up to the game with sixth-ranked California hearing all sorts of scuttlebutt from the press, the students and (forgive me) the bleachers, saying that Nate Costa should start, that Masoli couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, that whatever magic he had last season had dissipated.
And then...the Cal game. Need I say more?
After pounding on a hapless Washington State team that would be middling in the Big Sky Conference, Oregon faced another big test—their first road game in over a month, against a UCLA team with defensive talent all over the place. There is enough NFL-caliber talent on that side of the ball to make pro scouts drool themselves dry.
UCLA held Oregon down throughout the first half, utilizing that great defense to full effect. But I wasn't worried. Watching that game, in between cursing Oregon's dumb penalties, I had a big smile on my face. Wanna know why?
Oregon's defense is awesome. I realize that awesome is the most over-used adjective in the English language, but I just have to say awesome because it's the only thing I can think of whenever I see Kenny Rowe and Casey Matthews rip away footballs and absolutely destroy quarterbacks and halfbacks. Awesome.
The Bruins don't have a great offense, but you don't have to have a great offense in order to get in the end-zone when you have it at the 1-yard-line. Twice. You don't have to have a great offense in order to produce more than a 52-yard field goal on a drive that lasts nearly eight friggin' minutes...an eternity in football. Hell, I've seen some teams put up 21 points in eight minutes!
That was a product of Oregon's newfound defensive dominance. A defense that has a great linebacking corps, a secondary that seamlessly replaces its injured stars, and an underrated defensive line that's excellent in eating up blocks, allowing the likes of Rowe and Matthews to...er...introduce themselves to the guy holding the ball.
However, I'm not sure if this mojo will last. Oregon still has to travel to Stanford's Farm to take on the Mammoth Man-Mountain, Toby Gerhart, and his five enormous friends. They still have the Civil War, and the Rodgers brothers, to go through. And who could forget that Halloween date with USC coming up?
Even their very next game will pose serious problems. The Washington Huskies, principle rivals of the Ducks (sorry, Beaver believers), have already proved that they're back on the rise. Jake Locker is the most dangerous dual threat quarterback this side of Tim Tebow, the Husky running game is solid in a conference chock-full of solid running games, and their own defense knows how to milk a home-field advantage.
If you don't believe that last point, just ask Southern Cal and Arizona.
Oregon is unlikely to go through all four of those quality opponents undefeated. If they did, they'd not only be in line for the first undefeated Pac-10 season since the round-robin format was introduced (unbelievable that USC hasn't done that yet), they'd be in the discussion for the national title game (!!!).
Okay, it won't happen, but if they can get three of those four games and sweep the Arizona schools, the Ducks might have a shot at the BCS. I'm just not sure if they could get an at-large berth with two losses. Oregon will need to win the Pac-10 to get into a BCS bowl, I think.
They need to beat the Trojans. And they can't overlook the Huskies.
If Oregon can get to the Farm still undefeated in conference play, it would be a good start...and a cue for more nervous finger-biting.