Amid the Bustle, Ducks Have to Keep Hustle

What a game, what a season and what a way to end it all. Granted, I am one that likes to see a game end with those that got it to the current situation rather than have a kicker decide it. I understand why it happened the way it did, don’t give me flack on that, I just wish Auburn had the brass balls and audacity to run it in with the most devastating QB draw player since (his old teammate) Tim Tebow. It would have felt more vindicating to lose by way of a 1 yard draw play, than by some guy that had been milling around on the sideline for the better half of 4 hours. That’s just me though, that is just me. I digress to the main point: this was by far the best national championship I have watched since the 2005 USC-Texas thriller. I really don’t remember that Florida-Oklahoma game because the incessantly chatter about Tim Tebow was verbal tryptophan and I fell asleep during the second half. I mostly blame Joe Buck for doing everything short of blowing Tim Tebow and ifhiuhiughvijfr f oifr [r pokfn…. Sorry, see, Tim Tebow talk = instant snooze-fest!

Obviously anyone expecting a shootout was gravely disappointed as the first few drives were highlighted by bad execution, turnovers and at times sheer ineptitude. Neither team imposed their will like they had demonstratively shown throughout the regular season. The game did have its spurts where you could point out and declare, “THIS IS _____ FOOTBALL!” For Auburn, it was the two deep passing touchdowns: one to Kodi Burns for 35 yards and the other to Emory Blake for 30 yards. For Oregon, it was Cliff Harris picking off Newton (as well as recovering a fabulously stripped fumble), a few long receptions by Tuinei and Maehl, and quick hitting catches from Davis and Paulson. But nobody, not even the BCS committee, would have guessed that the two defenses and a heralded 5-star true freshman would steal and lead the show. No players were bigger than Nick Fairley and Michael Dyer throughout the game. Sure, Cam Newton was there. Sure, LaMichael James took part. But, these two marquee names were overshadowed by two more important X-factors.

In the little blurb I wrote prior to kick-off, I mentioned I had watched many of Auburn’s games and also rattled off a few of their main cogs. The names I rattled off impacted the game, but in a way that I had not envisioned if Auburn was to win. I really thought it would be Cam Newton to start and Cam Newton to finish, with the others dashed in like paprika. It ended up being Nick Fairley enacting his will to begin the game, continuously stopping the repeated rushing attack by being the first guy to meet Thomas and James. And it finished with Dyer scampering, with each fluid step of his jaunt trampling an entire state, to the Oregon 23. Sure, Cam Newton was in the middle of that sandwich flicking touchdowns. Yeah, McCalebb was James Rodgers-ing the jet sweep to the outside; Adams and Zachary being Newton’s safety nets.  It really wasn’t about those four (especially Newton, as much as ESPN wants the entire world to believe) at all though, at least in my opinion. Editor’s note: I also cannot forget the entire Auburn offensive line, as well as the other three defensive linemen that helped Fairley, as well as Lutzenkirchen’s uncanny ability to have big plays in his back pocket. They stole the show from the Newton Circus and it was good to see that this team was more than #2. The game was won at the line of scrimmage on defense, feasting on the sudden greenness of Darron Thomas and making the Ducks look rather ordinary in the most extraordinary game of the University’s history. Props to the War Eagle for flying high and letting its piercing cry be heard in Glendale.

As for the Oregon Ducks, this isn’t a game to hang your head. It was a valiant effort, though at times I questioned a few offensive possessions (but what person doesn’t do that?), it is something to proud of as a two-time PAC-10 champion, Rose Bowl and now national championship participant. As a friend of mine texted me, “[M]ore than anything, this game will teach thousands how to properly pronounce “Oregon,” this game was about more than football. It was about Northwest pride, pride of one’s state, and pride for one’s conference that is usually thrown in just behind the SEC and Baker’s Ten, er, Big Ten. This game, if anything, showed that the PAC-10 does play a little thing called defense and can play it with the rough-and-tough SEC hosses.

There were points in this game, going off of my couch-coaching/couch-quaterbacking (I had made several references to wanting to just tag myself in and make this an NCAA ’11, Heisman-level, fatigue on, the entire shebangabang) comment, where I would have thought of calling the game different. The continuous calling for zone read options after they were obviously being disrupted by Nick Fairley and the hogmollies breaking the O-line was my main sticking point. Definitely would have liked to see the slot worked a bit more, nickel and diming the defense as best you can. Auburn’s secondary is the weakest point of the entire team and that was on display on the open spots that Tuinei and Maehl were able to find, exploit and chug along for big gains (even Davis and Paulson, and the many screens thrown to a smaller extent showed susceptibility). Utilizing the slot, in say a quick hitting slant, may have allowed for the Ducks to avoid that safety. Maybe it would have even helped them break into the end zone for a touchdown in the 3rd quarter. Who knows?

Which leads me to another sticking point: why not go for a field goal on 4th and 1 with time sloughing away in a game where points were as scarce as water in the Sahara desert? I do understand the situation, but I want to also voice displeasure in not taking an opportunity to push a 3 across the board. It was painstakingly clear running was going to be a struggle, and hoping that it would finally gift you a break seemed greedy. Afterwards, the saying, “never look a gift horse in the mouth” resonated in my head (especially when looking back the Tigers let a GIMME TD drop to the grass, which if completed would have made the game at least 21-11, worsening the deficit). If the field goal was successful, 19-14, and the game played out the way it did, this may have been even better than the ’05 game. Auburn, its fans, and to the chagrin of Oregon, would have been overjoyed by Dyer’s headiness on that 37 yard matriculation. Oregon would have only had to keep Dyer from repeating that a play later setting up that tying Byrum field goal. From there, it’s OT, 25 yards and whose defense could step up just one more time. It’s a shame to play the “woulda” game, but hopefully that moment reminds Chip to score when he can and leave the gambling to lesser important situations.

And finally, one would hope that this loss would help Chip recognize weaknesses in his personnel and further help his recruiting in years to come. Recruiting like-sized, athletic linemen would be one thing that most, if not all, Duck fans would clamor for in the coming years. But, this is not meant to dog Chip Kelly, “not at all,” to quote Carmelo Anthony. This is to encourage him and uplift him to continue his hustle in building and bringing the Ducks and the PAC-10 another national championship. This is also meant to uplift Oregon Duck fans, the team and the University: don’t stop the hustle that you have set up. It works (not in Bowl games, though… yet), but there have to be more wrinkles added into the offense that makes 3rd and 1 on the 1 more effective. Here is to hoping that 2011 is just as kind on the Ducks’ hustle and allows for growth from Thomas to James to Aliotti (and the defense) to Chip. Valiant effort Oregon, you made this Pacific Northwesterner supremely proud.

Building blocks for next year.

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