The words “bounce back” and “Oregon” don’t often share the same sentence -- unless, of course, it’s referring to a team that’s recovering from one of Oregon’s 55-point shellackings.
But rarely are we talking about the Ducks themselves needing to bounce back. Oregon has dropped all of five games in the last four seasons. They haven’t lost back-to-back games since the collapse at the end of the 2007 season. Seldom is there a day they aren’t winning.
And yet here they are, again, on the outside of the BCS standings looking in following a loss to Stanford. Once again, the Cardinal attacked Oregon right at the heart of what it is all about. Stanford stifled the running game, kept the Oregon defense on the field for more than 42 minutes and out-physicaled the Ducks up and down the field.
After watching the game field, there was plenty to lament for coach Mark Helfrich.
“From an offensive side of the ball, schematically, there was a lot of stuff there,” Helfrich said. “In a game when there aren’t many snaps or many possessions and we have three red zone turnovers, miss a couple of throws, drop a couple of balls, slip a couple of times, everything is magnified. Defensively we have to figure out a way to get off the field. They did a good job of running a goal-line, four-minute offense and pounding us.
“From a coaching standpoint, you’re looking at what we coulda, woulda, shoulda done differently from that aspect, win or lose. We’ve done a good job of evaluating what happened and moving on, just as we would after a win.”
The team trying to give the Ducks their second straight loss for the first time in six years is Utah -- the only team to beat Stanford. Since that win, however, the Utes have gone on a three-game slide and have yet to win outside the state of Utah.
Having lost a tight 20-19 game to Arizona State, the team at the top of the South Division, and beating Stanford, the team at the top of the North Division, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said there is a level of discouragement as his team struggles for bowl eligibility.
“Frustrating is a fair word,” Whittingham said. “We have been in several close ball games. I think six have been decided by one touchdown or less. We have to figure out how to pull off more of those tight ones. The positive is we’ve been able to stand toe-to-toe with the best teams in the Pac-12. But nobody cares about being close. You need to get some wins.”
The Utes are continuing to find their footing as a team in a major BCS conference. Case in point, Oregon is the fourth ranked team Utah is facing this season. This is the first time ever Utah has played four ranked teams in a single season. This is also the first time Oregon and Utah meet as conference foes.
“It seems like I say this every week,” Whittingham said. “It’s like a broken record. There is a lot of talent in this league and Oregon is right up there ... bottom line is you are what and who your record says you are and right now we’re not good enough. We’re continuing to try and find answers.”
Oregon looks to answer some questions about the offense -- which rushed for just 62 yards against the Cardinal. Like Stanford, Utah boasts a strong pass rush. The Utes are tops in the nation with an average of 3.67 sacks per game. Schematically, Utah poses a different attack than Stanford, but Helfrich sees the parallels.
“They both wear red and white jerseys and have a block letter logo,” Helfrich joked. “They play hard. Their scheme is different. But they are big, they are physical and they tackle well. So in that regard they are very similar ... we don’t need any other motivation other than those guys beat Stanford.”
Both quarterbacks, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Utah’s Travis Wilson, have sustained some injuries over the last few weeks. Mariota’s reported knee injury was a question in the Stanford game. Wilson returned from a hand injury last week -- though Whittingham said the offensive line protection was so poor that he wasn’t able to get a fair evaluation. He said the Utes might “shuffle the deck” to fix the leaky offensive line.
For the Ducks, it’s a matter of re-focusing. And Helfrich is confident his team will do that.
“I think our leadership showed immediately after our last game in the locker room and has continued through practice,” he said. “Those guys have done a nice job of that and our coaches have done a nice job of turning the page.”