Currently, there appears to be two different perceptions of OSU football that on the surface appear to be mutually exclusive, but really are not. The game against Boise State is, in my mind, the perfect indicator of the reality of OSU Football.
The First Half/This Season
The first half of the game was an unmitigated disaster. It was marked with horrible blocking, tackling and basically an example of one team pushing another team around in almost every aspect of the game. Except Special Teams, which I will talk about later. Boise State was able to run at will and pass at will and in most cases, never really felt any kind of struggle put forth by the Beavers. Oregon State looked like a team that was undermanned and out coached for 2 quarters.
This team might have to deal with that again, every game, the rest of the season. Perennial door mats like Colorado are showing that they are much improved. Team that looked like they might be in rebuild mode like Cal are showing they are far tougher than they were given credit. At least on offense. Most of the conference has an identity of who they are now. At least the teams outside the state of Oregon.
When the final snap of the first half ended, i saw no reason to hope that OSU would win again this year. I am not trying to be negative, but I am trying to be realistic as I have been the last year or two. When people talk about a rebuild they give it lip service. I think most people talk rebuilds but just assume that it is like rebuilding a fence where you can see progress board by board as the season goes on until at the end you are amazing. That 18 months should be long enough to see more improvement, or at least steady gains. Others will look at 18 months and say “18 months is nothing, it took Colorado 4 years to make noise under McIntyre!”.
I don’t think that football works that way. Bring on the second half.
The Second Half/The Future
What changed? What flip was switched? Did we call better plays or just execute the plays we called better? Did the line start blocking better or did we just call plays that minimized their impact? Did our defense all the sudden become stout or did BSU let off the gas a bit? Probably all of the above. We replaced a QB with another one and we saw some good and some bad, but what happened was players started making some plays, coaches started calling plays that highlighted these guys that were making plays, the staff found new trust in a new arm to make the plays and Boise State played like a team that was up by 24 points at half and had a 400 yard advantage in yards.
We saw Blount, Collins, Bolden, Jr., Ugwoebgu, Decoud and many more step up their games and make plays, we saw the defense call more aggressive blitzes, we saw our QB complete some passes and our receivers make some amazing catches. Same team’s, same coaches, same game even, different results. That is the future. It is not always incremental in nature. OSU will fit the vision of this staff when they have coaches calling plays that work because players can make those plays. That could be next game, next year or three years from now. You can make some predictions based on recruiting as to when OSU will be in the best position to make these gains, but ultimately it will happen when coaches call plays and players execute them. Victor Bolden, Jr. has answered the call, so has Seth Collins and Treston Decoud. We have legit players on the team right now that are showing what they can do.
But much like this game, some of our future is not just about us. That is a popular sentiment, but if it was just about us Coach Anderson wouldn’t care about BSU or Ohio State being on our schedule. What we are seeing is a team that is, by choice, rebuilding to the highest degree and that means we have no guarantees so we need to schedule recruiting wins because the teams around us are not getting worse. Except for the ducks. We need to recruit and develop and coach better than all of our opponents. People may point to Gary Andersen’s past and say he can do that here, but lets look at his time here. What he has been doing hasn’t worked yet. Every year the magic he had at Utah State and the great management of an already good team he did in Wisconsin is getting in the rear view mirror.
We don’t know when or if the switch will turn on like the second half of the BSU game. Will it be in Colorado on Saturday? Will it be against the ducks in the Civil War (I hope so!) or will it be two years from now when the first full class under Andersen is at its statistical peak? We don’t know and we may never know. The comparison to Colorado is not a good one because they didn’t just flip a switch this year. Last year they had injuries decimate their team and played with a few players that had no business being on the field because of injuries. The step this year from last year was not a huge one, but it started with that first class of McIntyre’s getting time to build up.
So lets not be shocked that people are critical of the program. It hasn’t done well. Lets not be shocked that even in being critical there is a lot of hope in a coaching staff that has proven they can win in other places. Those are not mutually exclusive concepts. Lets also not be overly critical of the people that don’t see a Rose-y future for this program because there are not a lot of positives to pull right now from Andersen’s work here.
Ultimately, just like this last game, we have not seen Andersen’s best foot forward, but we have seen some glimmers here and there that point to something happening. This year could end up 1-11, we are not guaranteed anything. It could also turn into a 5 win season. Who knows? But we are not going to get a stair step improvement, at least not likely to. Most likely we are going to see a big jump and then a bigger jump after that if that class stays in tact. So we need to be prepared for that. I never saw the second half of the BSU game coming from that team. I don’t think I can accurately predict the next two seasons either.
THE HALLOWEEN SPICE DROP AWARD OF AMAZINGNESS:
I don’t like to do repeat weeks for awards, but this week I have to go with Victor Bolden, Jr once again. I have a pretty hard and fast rule that anyone who is a part of a play over 90 yards makes the cut. Anyone that is responsible for for 160 yards or more in special teams is also considered a big winner. Mostly, I just feel like Victor has been the player that best exemplifies the vision of what this program wants to be the most. He is playing at a high level, making the most of his opportunities and starting to show the confidence to score at any time on any place on the field. Any play that doesn’t at least give a nod to Victor in some way feels like a waste. There are other players out there that are playing well, but Victor is special and for the first time in his career, i feel like he has the confidence to match his results with his potential.
If he wins it next week, it will be because he elevated his game to a whole new level, but when he is directly or indirectly responsible for over half our points, I have to give him props!
JUJIFRUIT AWARD OF PROGRESS:
I have really been impressed with the progress of Seth Collins. Before this blog becomes a wide receiver love fest, I think that we need to point out progress where it lies. I would like to see him be more consistent on his blocking, but that huge catch in the second half was a thing of beauty. He caught it at its peak while falling down and honestly, was covered very well. Had that ball been an inch lower or had his jump been a little late, it would have probably been intercepted or dropped. Instead it was a huge play to keep building confidence in their young first time starter at QB.
He has been catching everything thrown his way and has really been one of the few consistent contributors on offense. So this week I give Seth an award for improvement because he definitely has taken to his new role and improved each and every week.
GOOD N PLENTY AWARD OF SHAME:
After last week’s great perfect weekend, this week had a lot to live up to. Unfortunately, there was one really glaring hole in the world of College Football this week, and that is duck fans. Living in Eugene, I have had the privilege of meeting some very cool and classy duck fans and members of the duck athletic department. I also have had the miss fortune of meeting everyone else. What is happening at oregon is something that can seep over to other programs and is killing the sport a bit.
And it is lack of context.
I have been getting backlash for predicting the demise of the ducks the last two years. While I have been fairly clear that I think they have the talent to win 7 games every year, I have seen the signs of rebuilding for a few years now. I believe a certain visor wearing ex-coach saw this as well and couldn’t wait to leave, with NCAA sanctions in tow. Imagine last year’s team without Vernon Adams. That team loses to ASU, Cal, USC and probably to us. And it then robs us of watching the amazing Alamo Bowl. This year, we are seeing more patch work trying to hide the reality.
The ducks are rebuilding and they have been since 2013. The problem is that with the success and marketing around the program, they attracted a lot of talented players, but not all of them fit the mold of what they wanted. In an era aided by USC sanctions and terrible coaching in the conference (Wulff, Willingham, Neuheisel, Stoops, etc…) the best show in town was the ducks and they took full advantage of it. But along the way they cut corners in recruiting and masked deficiencies with a trendy offense. As the USC came off sanctions and other teams upgraded their own coaching situations, the ducks found that they not only had to cut ties with some talented players who had the Lyles taint to them, but they also lost some players who came there looking to start and found a poor fit. So from 2012 – 2015, they basically lost a good chunk of their talent through attrition, graduation, early declaring and injury. Last year they had two one and done transfer in Adams and their center. This slightly covered up the fact that they only had 7 offensive linemen recruited in the previous four years and a few of them moved to defense.
So this has been coming. Marcus Mariotta extended their reign at the top a bit because he was so dang good, but this duck team, and much of last season, is not a surprise to me. Nor is it I would imagine for the duck coaches. You can tell by their recruiting (Helfritch’s first full year recruiting drew 5 offensive linemen alone.) The problem is the duck machine, the marketing out of Nike and the whole culture here in Eugene cannot handle that. They cannot be told that they need to reset a bit and to be patient. They are too busy making a spectacle of themselves. Note how Brady Hoke quickly backpedaled on his assessment of the defense after their final scrimmage, only to now look like he was lying based on how they are playing. He was right in what the said and saw in the scrimmage, but the duck machine couldn’t allow that. Or how new sports reporters finding their way on local TV shows that say the ducks might not win another home game are met with shocked and appalled expressions by their co-hosts.
I don’t know how this season will turn out for them, but right now it looks bad. And had Oregon allowed itself to be more than a marketing slogan, they would have been prepared. Now they are in a place where they may fire good coaches, who are doing exactly what they have done for a decade, because the perception is wrong. The narrative is false and the duck media is lying.