Sometimes, listening to Coach Kelly and the Oregon players answer interview questions is like a scene from “Bull Durham:”
One day a time, faceless opponent, win the day. Got it, coach. You can almost envision Kelly going over this in Crash Davis fashion on the ride home, except the Ducks don’t ride decrepit buses the way they do down in the low minors.
But in the case of this week’s rivalry showdown with the Washington Huskies, Chip is making a egregious mistake in downplaying the significance of the game and its history. Oh, you get what he’s saying about preparing for every opponent in the same way, but this really is different, for a couple of reasons.
One, when you’re in a streak, you have to respect the integrity of the streak. The Ducks have beaten the Huskies 8 straight times, after losing to them in the 70′s and 80′s 15 times out of 16.
Two, even if the rivalry doesn’t matter to California-born players who have a better understanding of Sponge Bob Squarepants, it matters to the Huskies. You’d better believe they are burning, seething, to beat the Ducks. Oregon looked a little surprised at how intense and fired up Washington State was in the first half last week. The Ducks looked a little flat by comparison, and for much of the first half, they were beaten at the line of scrimmage. They didn’t seem prepared for the emotion of the opponent. WSU’s defensive line was getting more fired up with every disrupted play.
Like it or not, football IS an emotional game. Upsets happen when you underestimate an opponent’s motivation, and their motivation is a hot enough fire to overcome a disparity in talent.
Washington shouldn’t be able to hang with the Ducks, at least on paper. Their offensive line is patchwork unit with four new starters, allowing 3.2 sacks a game. Hard to think the Huskies will protect Keith Price well enough for him to establish enough rhythm. Outside of a 50-point shellacking of Portland State, the UW offense hasn’t scored more than 21 against anybody. The big win over Stanford was a 17-13 final, with the Dawgs getting two big plays, a 39-yard catch and run by Kasen Williams and a 61-yard burst by tailback Bishop Sankey. Justin Wilcox’s defense might slow Oregon down a little, but so far their offense hasn’t looked Autzen-worthy.
Even so, by dismissing the rivalry Kelly sends the wrong message to his players. The rivalry matters because it matters to Washington. They’ll be amped for Autzen and the Ducks, and by acting as if that doesn’t enter into it, they run the risk of overlooking a jacked-up rival that feels disrespected.
After all, the Ducks don’t want to look like lollygaggers.