From what I can tell, there’s one thing worse than getting to Sept. 16 and feeling as though your season hasn’t started.
That’s getting to Sept. 16 and feeling like your season is over, which is the plight of a few notable figures from Oregon’s past.
Scott Frost? Chip Kelly? Willie Taggart? Thanks for playing, guys. See you next year.
In lieu of excitement, schadenfreude is the popular vibe this fall in Eugene, where Oregon’s nonconference schedule has caused quite a few eyes to wander. What’s more entertaining, watching the Ducks digest another creampuff or shouting “Karma!” at the TV screen while Florida State faceplants?
Maybe all that scoreboard watching caught up with the Ducks on Saturday. Lacking a nonconference test, Oregon manufactured one by allowing 42-point underdog San Jose State to hang within 35-22 at Autzen Stadium.
“I know a lot of teams out there would take a 35-22 victory,” coach Mario Cristobal said. “Our guys expected more of themselves. We expect more of ourselves as a program.”
It’s hard to blame Oregon for losing focus. You try watching the same re-runs three weeks in a row and see if your eyes start to glaze over.
The Ducks looked like a team watching the clock at the end of a three-hour algebra lecture. They drew six penalties, including one that negated a kickoff return for a touchdown and another that negated an interception. Their running game averaged 2.7 yards per attempt, and Justin Herbert completed 16 of 34 passes with two interceptions.
This was Oregon’s sloppiest game of the season by a wide margin, and it came in the last tuneup before Pac-12 play. The charitable interpretation is that the Ducks got bored. The scarier possibility is that they’re moving in the wrong direction. Either way, it’s time to see how the Ducks stack up against real competition.
We won’t have to wait long for that. Stanford is coming to Eugene in six days. ESPN’s “College GameDay” too. A national audience will see one of two things: Oregon exposed or Oregon validated.
Me, I worry a bit about the Ducks. I would have liked to see that monster offensive line open a few more holes against the likes of San Jose State and Bowling Green.
I would have liked to see Herbert’s receivers pull in a few of those passes that grazed their hands. I’d like better efficiency from Oregon’s passing game — Herbert is completing 57 percent of his passes — and more consistency from the running backs. I’d like to know the Ducks have a kicker they can trust if the Stanford game comes down to a field goal.
I expect the Ducks to raise their game to match the competition. I expect they’ll have to, because the game they played Saturday won’t beat Stanford or many other teams in the Pac-12.
“A lot of people out there wanted to skip this game and go right to conference play,” Cristobal said. “We have to protect this team from thinking that way.”
I’ll put myself in that category. Covering these past three games has been like watching an NFL preseason schedule. Three intrasquad scrimmages would have been more revealing, because at least the Ducks would have been lining up against players of equal talent.
Nobody wins when you’re scheduling the likes of Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State. It’s tempting to say Oregon got nothing from the $3 million or so it paid in guarantees, but then you look around the country and realize it could be worse.
Nebraska paid $1.15 million for the privilege of losing at home to Troy on Saturday. Florida State paid $500,000 so Taggart’s Seminoles could trail Samford in the fourth quarter. Think they’re feeling some buyer’s remorse in Tallahassee right now?
I don’t know if the Ducks are a good team. Honestly, I don’t. I don’t how they’ll respond to the pressure of playing on the big stage, or how Cristobal will scheme against a coach of David Shaw’s caliber.
If nothing else, their nonconference schedule bought them the privilege of not knowing. That’s better than being exposed, but at some point we’ll know the truth.
At some point, we’ll know if the Ducks have what it takes to hang with the Pac-12’s best.
“I think it’s time to go find out,” Cristobal said.
Feels like they’re just getting started.