Last season, the Oregon Ducks were flying high going into Tempe to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in a football game. Although Oregon had the ball on the last possession with an opportunity to score and win, it was turned away by a tough ASU defense at midfield.
Key penalties hurt the Ducks last year, but the real cause of Oregon’s demise was the failure to stop the three big guns of Arizona State’s offense. Those guns are still loaded. Quarterback Manny Wilkins is 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, but plays heavier and is difficult to tackle. N’Keal Harry poses a real threat to a height-deficit UO secondary at 6-4, 213. Brace for the same kind of toss-up passes Stanford killed the Ducks with in Eugene.
ASU’s top running back is sophomore Eno Benjamin, 5-10 and 201, who is not a big guy but a fast and tough runner, inside and outside. He, like Harry and Wilkins, have set offensive records as new coach Herm Edwards has morphed his inconsistent group into a smoothly functioning football machine.
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal faces challenges going into this contest — an offense that suffers from constipation in the first half, a defense that has collapsed as a run stopper and a slew of injuries that has stretched a thin offense and defense to the breaking point.
Truth is, at this stage of the season, the issues Oregon faces are much the same as for a large number of teams. Gone are the sunny days of September when everybody was happy, healthy and undefeated. Now are the dog days of which character is built and tested.
It is simply a “gut check,” defined in the dictionary as a “test or assessment of courage, character, or determination.” Every team and player has faced a gut check and the results are not always pretty.
If the athlete is determined and does not get down on himself when things go bad, he has a chance to pass the gut check. If he is not focused, confident in himself and his team, and does not have a belief in his quest, he will fail in a way that is depressing and embarrassing.
Such is the position the Ducks find themselves in Saturday. They have injuries, have lost three of their last four games and their dreams of contending in the North Division are dead.
Facing a gut check means, get ready to find out what you are truly made of. It’s about finding the fire that burns in each player. A gut check isn’t scary, it’s basically being the best you can possibly be.
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years, including as an assistant at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State.