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Thoughts on a loss, painful and decisive

The Ducks have lost 8 games in five years, 46-7 under Chip Kelly, 8-1 under Mark Helfrich. Over that span they finished 11th, 3rd, 4th and 2nd in the country, reached 2nd this year, and will now fall back to the 9-11 range after a loss to #5 on the road.

They were thoroughly dominated by Stanford, beaten in nearly every phase of the game except blocking field goals. The hosts dominated both lines, rushing for 274 yards while holding the Ducks to 66. Stanford converted 14-21 on 3rd downs, holding the ball for over 42 minutes.

Out of their grasp: Kevin Hogan, wearing a brace on his left knee, eludes the Oregon defense in last night’s 26-20 Cardinal victory. Hogan passed just  13 times for 103 yards and was not sacked, rushing 8 times for 57 yards.

The Cardinal limited the Ducks chances, and the Ducks had critical failures when they had them. Mariota missed a wide-open Josh Huff for td on the opening series. The Ducks started at The Cardinal 28 on the next one after a great punt return by Bralon Addison. They got the ball down to the 7 1st and 10, before running twice for three yards, threw incomplete on 3rd and goal and 4th and goal from the 4. The fourth down pass was a fade route to 5-11 Addison, well-covered and overthrown. Passing up the chip shot field goal might have been a mistake.

In the second quarter Oregon again got close to the goal before De’Anthony was stripped of the ball at the two. Stanford kept the ball for the last 8:26 of the quarter, making a field goal to go ahead 17-0 at the half. They kept it another 2:26 and kicked another field goal to start the third period. Then the Ducks drove to the Stanford 28, Mariota stripped of the ball on 1st and 15.

Mariota is playing hurt. The injury has been discussed only elliptically by the Oregon media, but it’s evident. He’s wearing a brace on his knee. Repeatedly he passed up chances to run in the last two games, and he doesn’t have the burst and explosiveness that made him such a threat earlier in the year. After running for nearly 500 yards and over 10 yards a carry in the first 6 games, he’s kept the ball 13 times in the last two for a net 2 yards. Stanford sacked him 3 times. On his fumble play he had neither the acceleration to outrun the defense, or the presence of mind to throw the ball away and protect himself. He’s playing uncomfortably with an unfamiliar limit to what he can do. In the past, Mariota’s escapability kept Oregon out of bad situations and provided an additional devastating threat defenses had to account for. They don’t have that right now. The quarterback has taken some shots.

Assume Mariota is a pocket passer for the rest of the season. The Oregon offensive line has to commit to protecting him and providing him a running game. Receivers have to come out of their routes crisp and stay on their feet. The coaches have to make some quick and decisive adjustments in what they try to do offensively. The spread attack has to morph, or Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues could wind up finishing the season, a bitter replay of 2007 with vastly descending expectations.

In the last four years, the Ducks have lost five times:  Auburn (22-19), LSU (40-27), USC (38-35), Stanford (17-14) and Stanford (26-20). Each was a matchup with a more physical team that dominated the trenches. The memes are alive and well.

Josh Huff told Dan Wolken of the USA Today, “It hurts just to see everything we worked for go down the drain,” senior receiver Josh Huff said “Our heart is broken right now.”

Oregon can still win the Pac-12 this season, reach a BCS bowl game for a fifth straight year, win 12 games for the fourth straight year and finish ranked in the top five for a fourth time. Those are all impressive and worthy goals, but for the immediate future, whenever this team is brought up by the national media as a contender, it will be with a qualifier and an implied question mark, something like, “Oregon’s been an entertaining team and a successful program out west, but they’ve shown that they can’t really handle a big, physical team with the power to dominate them on the lines. They can win 10,12 games, but they can’t really compete with Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State or Stanford, the top teams from the SEC.”

There isn’t a “blueprint” to beat the Ducks per se. UCLA and Washington tried the same approach to beat Oregon and failed miserably. In the last five years, the Quack Attack has only lost to very good teams. Not many programs can say the same.

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