Game Day: Somebody Has To Ask

I've always said; never take too much or too little from one game, but always take something. So I have to ask…what has come from last week's trip to Southern Cal?

First and foremost, I'd like everyone to take a deep breath. I myself have taken many since the midway point of the second quarter of last Saturday night's game, along with countless head shakes, immeasurable eye-rolls, and a myriad of four-letter words. While allegedly cathartic during times like these, little has eased the pain which was inflicted by the Trojans and unfortunately the Ducks over that three-plus hour performance. Between offensive inability, defensive ineptitude, and an overall lack of execution in nearly all phases of the game, I'm lost in regards to my thoughts on Oregon and its hopes for the remainder of 2008. Is it as bad as it looked seven days ago? I don't think so. Was it merely an extraordinarily poor performance at a very unfortunate time? Possibly. Or is it a combination of both, with a little more at play?

Regardless of which of the aforementioned you buy into, the following questions need to be asked. Keeping in mind that the majority, a couple, or absolutely none of the answers to the ensuing questions may be the opinion of myself, each and every question had or since has entered my mind.

Has Nick Aliotti and his defense worn out its welcome in Eugene? Certainly this has been a hot topic amongst the fan base and media alike in recent years, but has seemingly reached its crescendo this year. Whether it's been merely time or possibly the hype which surrounded this season's Duck defense, Aliotti's squad has apparently underachieved. With the majority of Oregon's defense returning, including three of the four starting defensive backfield, many would argue the results should be more impressive or at least better than they've been to this point. While USC's offense can and often does make most of its opposition look silly at times, Oregon allowed the Trojans to move the ball at will. Be it through the air or on the ground, USC had their way with the Ducks and made it look easy to say the least. Nearly 600 yards of offense and 28 first downs! To make matters worse, that same offense struggled mightily against that team to the north. The same team whose defense was replacing its entire front seven from the previous season.

Just how important is an experienced quarterback in Chip Kelly's system? I know, you're thinking that an experienced quarterback is important in any system. True, but is its importance magnified in Coach Kelly's form of the spread? Recent history says, yes, but is it possible to keep multiple capable signal-callers on a team at once, or is the experience so valuable that there isn't enough time to be had in-order to maintain more than one able body? While the results with Oregon's back-ups have been mixed at best, this has really been the first year since Kelly's arrival that he's had multiple quarterbacks athletically capable of running his spread. Last season, Dennis Dixon was the only real quarterback athletic enough to fit the offense, after Nathan Costa's knee injury. With the addition of Darron Thomas, Chris Harper and Jeremiah Masoli, Oregon has 3 capable athletes at the position, but all lack the necessary experience to run the offense efficiently. Again, timing is everything, and til now, the Duck's timing has been unfortunate at best. Can Oregon realistically expect to compete with USC on a yearly basis? Without the depth of the Trojans, Oregon and the rest of the Pac-10 Conference will always suffer through an occasional year or two of rebuilding. Something USC seems to do more seamlessly.

If the Ducks continue to unravel like in years past, who's to blame and is Mike Bellotti's job in jeopardy? Interesting question, but one which is hard to answer. He's the head coach, so ultimately he's responsible for all of the success and/or failure of his team, however, the man's record has been impeccable during his tenure in Eugene, so if you're going to judge him on his failures, you have to equally judge him on his success.

Can Oregon recover from this loss? I'd like to think yes, but recent history is against them. In many ways, it isn't the loss itself which is so alarming, but the manner in which it occurred. People are going to lose to USC, people are going to get embarrassed by the Trojans, but it isn't asking a lot to be competitive. Much can be learned from how a team loses a game, and the Ducks loss last Saturday spoke volumes. A strong performance versus the Bruins will erase much of the concern, but another lackluster effort coupled with, dare I say a loss, would be devastating to say the least.

Ask yourself those questions.

What are your answers?

I know that the USC game is behind Oregon and that they need to focus their attention on the Bruins this evening, but lingering effects from last Saturday remain. I have doubts about the Ducks and I can't help but think some of the Ducks have doubts about themselves. They haven't looked sharp offensively, have been exposed defensively, and many are questioning their leaders both on the field and on the sidelines. These aren't things I'd like to see, but things I can't seem to get away from.

I'd love to focus my attention on Rick Neuheisel…for obvious reasons. I'd love to focus my attention on UCLA's woes (BYU ring a bell)…for obvious reasons. And I'd love to focus my attention on personnel, X's and O's, and Southern California's "other college football team"…for obvious reasons. But I can't. I have to focus on the Ducks, their problems, and their chances of righting a ship taking on water.

Here's to a better Oregon performance, a more enjoyable Saturday night, and far fewer questions Sunday morning.

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