Quick Quacks

Two of the last three weeks <i>ESPN's College Game Day Final Edition</i> team has singled Oregon out for their "helmet sticker" award. Kellen Clemens' six touchdown day (three running, three passing) against Washington State two weeks earned the first, and then a team helmet sticker – was given to the defensive unit for their performance (10 sacks and minus 8 rushing yards) in Saturday's game against Stanford.

Host Rece Davis presented the original kudos; analyst Trev Alberts made the recent selection. Trev had it right too… the members of the Oregon offensive team should feel obligated to buy a symbolic pack of Lifesavers for the guys across the line; the defense controlled this ballgame nearly completely, but especially in the fourth quarter. Haloti Ngata and Robby Valenzuela created constant push up the middle, disrupting any semblance of offense the Cardinal hoped to have. The injury to Trent Edwards and the resulting impact on Stanford's chance of being victorious was likely the defining moment in the contest.

Think momentum is a turn it on, turn it off, turn it on again kind of thing? Riddle me this, then… was it coincidental that after the offense came out smoking on their first two drives, their first penalty on the offense took away a first down, a likely early touchdown and a 10-0 lead, leaving them to struggle for the much of the rest of the game? In reality, a few big plays made the difference in this game, and though it is true those big plays came at the appropriate point in time, after that holding call, for the remainder of the contest nothing again was sustained by the offense.

A Language Lesson

Terrence Whitehead has demonstratively proven that before the word "playmaker" can become a noun, it has to be a verb. (How about this for an elevated form of on field trash talk: "He got no verbiage" or maybe "even your mama knows you'll never be a noun"). Others have made plays, sure, but none have done so as consistently as has No. 24. As much as the Ducks have struggled with consistency on offense, it is frightening to ponder what things would be like if Terrence hadn't come to realize how effort equates with reward, and in turn decided he would show the rest of his team as well. He is equally capable of moving the chains by pounding the middle of the line, bouncing outside the corner or as a sure handed receiver.

Total Recall

Collective V-8 slap to the head… Recall the end of last season and the near euphoric expectations everyone had about the offense coming into the most recent spring practice. Having finished the '03 season with strong performances the last four outings, Duck followers were salivating about the possibilities this unit had hinted toward. However, it was the defense that dominated the day… completely… and maybe we all should have paid closer attention.

While the defense is deservedly receiving hurrahs over the Palo Alto showing – it might be wise to keep in mind that better than average defenses make interceptions when given the opportunity and great defenses take those interceptions back for touchdowns… think back to the 2000 team and recall the work of Steve Smith. On Saturday, Oregon's defensive backs missed three opportunities to put a dagger into the heart of the home team and missed them all. Teams better than Stanford will use those extra opportunities to better result.

Dodging bullets

The game that obviously allowed Oregon to think they had turned a corner in their growth as a team was the comeback win against California in Autzen last season. Both Kellen Clemmens and Jason Fife struggled to sustain any offense for most of the game. As the lights went out for 23 minutes early into the fourth quarter, it seemed very likely the same was about to happen to Oregon's season. (Greatest line overheard in section 28: "Well, we've not been playing well in the second half so far this year, so let's have a third half instead." The comeback is easily recalled by most – the catch and rumble by Tim Day for a touchdown and the option pitch to Terrence Whitehead for the winning score with less than a minute left in the game.

On that last drive and with 1:39 left in the game, Oregon faced a third and three from the around Cal 41-yard line. Much discussed after the game was the homerun pass that missed Sammie Parker on a streak down the right sideline. Had it been completed, it was likely a touchdown, but it was over thrown. On fourth-and-three, Clemens hit a quick out pattern to Demetrius Williams for 16 yards and the first down and the drive continued.

Certainly a controversial play call and conversationally the notion was entertained perhaps the long pass was only attempted BECAUSE the defense would be stacked in the three yards between the line of scrimmage and the first down marker, and ONLY because the staff felt the next play – the square out to Demetrius for the first down - was a lock, and that the homerun ball was something this team needed to learn how to accomplish under game situations. I think the investment in that risk returned its dividends on the fourth-and-three play completed to Keith Allen for 26 yards on Saturday. It was the left side instead of the right, but it was the same play. Though this was a fourth down call instead of on third down as it had been the year before, there was sufficient time remaining in the game for the Ducks to make a defensive stop and gain possession of the ball for another drive should the pass have been incomplete. This is exactly why college football is such a cardiac episode every game day.

Mr. Neuheisal and the UDub…

In the end, the Rickster was able to side step the betting pool infraction from the NCAA, clearing his way to be hired by another program. Given the now infamous memo that "authorized" off campus participation in NCAA March Madness bracket pools, it would have been nearly impossible to find him at fault for his participation, no matter the size of the stakes – despite the fact the memo itself appears to have been invoked after the investigation began, not as an immediate response when confronted with the allegation. This is a subtle but crucial point for any prospective employer to consider if entertaining a notion of hiring Mr. Neuheisal.

The official cause of termination was the untruthful response when initially asked about his participation. When issuing an earlier reprimand over an untruthful response about his pursuit of the then vacant San Francisco 49ers head coaching position, the athletic administration had made it clear they would not tolerate another incident. It is my suspicion this is a valid enough, and sufficiently documented, infraction for the University of Washington to be found harmless in Mr. Neuheisal's wrongful termination suit.

More troubling, were I a potential employer, would be the shambles that Colorado and Washington have become after his departure. In both locations, the programs enjoyed an initial period of success, but then rapidly deteriorated into a non-competitive status.

At Colorado, Mr. Neuheisal enjoyed the recruiting spoils of the previous staff and was able to ride the coat tails of an 11-1 team Bill McCartney's last season to a 10-2 record, each of the next two years. In his third season, the team was below .500. After a bounce to 8-4 in a very weakened Big 12 North in '95, the Rickster was on the shores of Lake Washington, leaving recruiting violations and an underclass pool of players who have proven themselves to be incapable of competing in the diminished Big 12 North.

This season has seen the same pattern develop at Washington. After winning initially with recruits brought in by Jim Lambright and worthy of the Huskies' position as a nationally respected program and a Pac-10 power, the failures of the Neuheisal regime are obvious for all to see. It is somewhat a shame he isn't there to have to live through the consequences of his tenure – whatever his punishment, he at the least did not have to subject himself to the particular torture that is being the coach for this year's team.

Finding Reuben

The recent "discovery" of Reuben Droughns by the national media is a bit comical to my eye. With the exception of Joey Harrington, more than any other Oregon player, I thought Droughns would succeed in the NFL. The shoulder injury in his rookie season could have been an epitaph; rookies often don't receive additional opportunities to claim a roster spot. While the injury did slow his ascendancy, Reuben has always had the necessary size and speed to be a quality back in the pro league. While he isn't the lightning fast back that some teams feature, there are few running backs in the league that will hit as hard as he does. While he was at Oregon, I used to relish watching the game tapes, especially his senior season, just to replay the pounding he gave to the defense. Shoulders square, head down and at full speed, he knocked more LB's and DB's ax over teakettle than any running back I recall watching.

Those running backs that followed, Maurice Morris and Onterrio Smith, as well as Terrence Whitehead, are the more traditional "scat-back" variety, utilizing quickness and drive to break through tackles and gain yardage. Reuben just ran over you, left you wondering which way was up and whether or not it was even worth getting up so he could do it to you again… and it was fun to watch.

Perhaps a glimpse into the future? Running back Chris Vincent showed a small taste of that type of running when he lowered his shoulders and completely ran over an Arizona defensive back in one of his two carries against the Wildcats. Only a sophomore, he is a big running back like Droughns, and perhaps also like Reuben, will find his career defined by his junior and senior seasons.

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