The free ride's over, it's time to earn your money. No more Heisman Trophy candidate, no more national title, and no more Gameday, Jim Rome, or "Herd" to stoke and provoke. Now it's on the players to play, the coaches to coach, and Mike Bellotti to lead. It's time to get to work.
There's a reason Mike Bellotti earns a seven figure income. It's for times like these. Times when hope seems lost, chips seem down, and motivation is hard to find. Its Bellotti's job to prepare his assistants, who will in-turn prepare their players, who in-turn will execute accordingly. While a seemingly simple process, it's not been quite that elementary in years past. We all remember last year's season-ending tailspin, culminating with an embarrassing Las Vegas Bowl shellacking by a "…not Pac-10 worthy" BYU squad. I will personally never forget the 2002 Seattle Bowl fiasco, which sparks vivid memories of a running back-to-be-named-later sitting emotionless on a speaker box while his compatriots failed miserably in an attempt to fend off the mighty Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Both shameful moments in Oregon football history, and both in my opinion, reflections on a coach's ability to prepare his team physically and mentally for a contest or contests.
There's a reason people have come to expect weak finishes from the Ducks. These aren't unwarranted attacks from bitter columnists or rivals; but fact-based arguments stemming from sub par results:
* 2006 Began the season 7-2, finished with four straight losses including a 38-7 defeat to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. Was outscored 140-56 over those final four games.
* 2004 Began the season 5-3, finished the year with three consecutive losses and missed a bowl game for the just the second time in Mike Bellotti's twelve seasons as head coach.
* 2002 Began the season 6-0, finished the year losing six of last seven including the aforementioned Seattle Bowl.
* 1998 Began the season 6-1, finished the year 8-4 including consecutive losses to OSU and Colorado to end the year.
Many would argue that much of the season-ending futility is due to injuries, and in some cases such an argument would hold true. But, while injuries often play a role in a team's level of play, it should never determine the level of effort a team plays with.
And that's where the questions lie.
Sure, this season's been disastrous in regards to injuries. Playmakers across the board have been falling like pins in a PBA event. Receivers Brian Paysinger and Cameron Colvin were struck down early on, running back Jeremiah Johnson went down shortly after, and Oregon's offensive catalyst and sure All-American Dennis Dixon fell at Arizona a week ago, but the season is far from over. Two nights ago the Ducks were given a gift, a second chance, and an opportunity to right the wrongs of years past. At 8-2, Oregon sits with its destiny in its hands. Arizona State's loss to USC set the table for the Ducks to win the Pac-10 Conference, go to the Rose Bowl, and finish a season many have already excused them from. Commentators abound speak of the Ducks as an after-thought. They'd dubbed the USC-ASU match-up as the "race for the roses," declaring the winner to be headed for Pasadena and a battle with previously top-ranked Ohio State, seemingly forgetting a Trojan victory put destiny in Oregon's hands.
Was there a forfeiture or white flag that I missed?
Are UCLA and Oregon State THAT MUCH better than the Ducks minus one highly talented signal caller?
Surely they must be seeing something I don't? The Bruins have lost five games this season, three of which were to teams with losing records. They're playing with a fourth-string-quarterback who until recently, was catching passes from the first three-stringers! Then there's Oregon State, who's played nicely of late, yet "late" includes victories over the ninth and tenth place teams in the Pac-10!
Oregon's back-up's CAN'T beat them?
Don't get me wrong, it's not going to be easy on either front. Dennis Dixon made this offense what it was for nine weeks, exuded leadership, and represented "hope" to each and every player, coach, and fan of that team, but the team he was not. Oregon's offense can still score points, Oregon's defense can still make plays, and Oregon's opponents can still lose games. But none of it will happen on its own.
I'm anxious to see what the coaches have in store. Brady Leaf can't run this offense the way Dennis did. That isn't to say it can't be run differently, it just means they can't stay with the status quo and assume Mr. Leaf and company can produce the same results. They'll have to set up the run with the pass, opposed to setting up the run with the quarterback run. They'll have to use play action, misdirection, and possibly some conventional sets in-order to take advantage of Jonathan Stewart's capabilities. And they'll have to play with fire and a heightened level of intensity to offset the obvious decrease in explosiveness. All of which needs to be kindled by Bellotti, Kelly, and Aliotti, and maintained through team leaders such as Patrick Chung, Jonathan Stewart, and yes…Brady Leaf.
I guess when it comes down to it, I want to believe these coaches have it in them. Much has been said about the team's lack of execution following Dixon's injury, and much of the blame has fallen on the coaches' alleged lack of preparation during the eleven days between the ASU and Arizona games, but allegations and facts are not cut from the same mold. I want to believe they'll have this team prepared, but history points to the contrary. Did they use these last nine days to sulk, or did use them to study, prepare, and motivate a team which still has a tremendous amount to play for.
Let's see what you've got coaches.
Get to work.
Game Day: Time To Make The Donuts
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