You know what they say about the definition of insanity.
It looks a lot like Oregon trying to win a road game.
The Ducks do the same things every week, and every week yields a similar result. They put on their pads, they stretch, they go through warm-ups. Then the game starts, and Oregon looks like a possum in traffic.
The latest defeat happened Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where Utah beat the Ducks 32-25. It was Oregon’s third straight road loss and the 11th in the Ducks’ last 14 games away from Autzen Stadium.
Lots of directions you can go with this one. Do you blame the offense for digging an early hole? The defense for folding late? The refs for denying Oregon a final shot at the end zone?
How about all of the above?
“I don’t know what’s happening on the road,” nose guard Jordon Scott said. “It’s something coach Cristobal addressed the team about.
“To be the team we want to be, we can’t be having ups and downs and playing better at Autzen. The biggest thing is, we need to start taking that same mentality we take into Autzen on the road.”
For the record, I don’t think we’re talking about a lack of focus or a lack of motivation here. The Ducks have heard so much about their slow starts away from home, it would be impossible for them to be focused on anything else.
Maybe the problem starts long before the Ducks arrive at the stadium. Maybe it starts in the meeting room when they script how the game is supposed to start.
It’s common for teams to script their first 10 or 15 plays. When you’re playing defense, Oregon cornerback Thomas Graham said, those are some of the toughest plays to defend, because you’re trying to adjust on the fly to the other team’s plan of attack.
“A lot of teams come out and basically sketch out their first 15 plays,” Graham said. “They give out the scheme they’re going to do for that game. Our coaches do a good job after those 15 plays where we shut it down.”
Let’s look at the opponent’s first two drives in Oregon’s past three road games.
Washington State: 17 plays, 117 yards, 7 points.
Arizona: 10 plays, 76 yards, 7 points.
Utah: 15 plays, 113 yards, 10 points.
Here are Oregon’s first two drives in those three losses.
6 plays, 19 yards, 0 points.
6 plays, 17 yards, 0 points.
8 plays, 3 yards, 0 points.
No wrinkles, no imagination, no surprises.
“Without a doubt, it’s been a problem,” coach Mario Cristobal said. “By the time the second quarter rolled around, we started to generate some stuff.
“The whole goal was to start fast and get some chunk plays. ... You’ve just got to prevent yourself from getting away from the game plan. If the call is good and the execution failed at one point or another, you’ve got to find a way to get back to it.”
Cristobal pointed out that Oregon’s first series included a dropped pass and a busted pass protection that resulted in a sack and fumble. Against Washington State, penalties and bad snaps derailed the Ducks’ opening drive. So maybe Cristobal is right. Maybe the problem lies with the execution, not the plan.
I don’t know. If Tony Brooks-James was the culprit on those two execution errors, why did he start Oregon's past two road games over CJ Verdell? And why weren’t the Ducks prepared for the crowd noise messing with their snap count at Washington State?
Those seem like unforced errors. The kind you can eliminate by knowing your team, knowing the environment and planning accordingly.
“It’s usually one or two pieces that just didn’t go right on that play,” offensive lineman Calvin Throckmorton said. “It’s about being able to correct those and being able to be focused enough to mitigate those as much as possible.”
Maybe we got spoiled by watching Oregon out-scheme the other team all those years. Mark Helfrich’s teams had their flaws, but they knew how to dial up a big gain when they needed one, how to scheme somebody open and hit a weak spot in the defense.
Unless it involves Justin Herbert throwing to Dillon Mitchell, we haven’t seen enough of those plays from the Ducks this year. I’m still waiting for the Ducks to catch someone flat-footed, to be the team forcing the action instead of the team being acted upon.
For all the talk about playing better away from home, I haven’t seen Oregon do much to change the script. The Ducks look like a team trying to do the same things and expecting a different result.
It’s enough to drive a person crazy.