Oregonian beat writer is wrong: The Ducks are worthy

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Oregon Ducks quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. (3) throws up the O before warming up. The No. 18 Oregon Ducks face the Oregon State Beavers in the Civil War at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. on Nov. 27, 2015. (Adam Eberhardt/Emerald)

The Oregonian’s resident Duck expert Kevin Goe characterizes U of O’s football season as a disappointment with blood on the hands of its porous defense and an offense that uses lots of smoke and mirrors to hide its deficiencies. Statistics reveal a different story about how Oregon closed out its 2015 campaign.

By Andrew Pridgen

Nine wins a failure?

Six straight to end the season, four of them against ranked teams, not satisfying?

“This Oregon team doesn’t belong in a New Year’s Day bowl game,” Oregonian beat writer Ken Goe postulates in his latest column.

But the team that barely squeaks by 3-9 South Carolina is a shoo-in for a number-one ranking? The team who beat the team who beat Notre Dame Saturday should be facing 6-6 Indiana instead of 9-3 Michigan?

The team that walloped the two entrants in the Pac-12 championship game should be watching from home New Year’s Day?

Whate the fucke, Goe?

Goe’s thesis is the Ducks are not worthy to face tier-one bowl competition. I say it’s the opposite: The Ducks are the team nobody wants to face in tier-one bowl competition.

It’s likely Goe, a Ducks’ football and track beat writer, sunk his incisors into the Ducks Saturday to troll for views. Six hundred-plus comments and 900 shares…not to mention this response by Sunday morning = mission accomplished.

Goe’s Kevin Smithing of his latest column (half-assing it and not giving a shit whether he gets called on it) is disturbing not because I expect a home state columnist to be an apologist, but if he is going to argue against the reason he has a job, he should at least base it on what took place on the field—not the fact that he’s got New Year’s Eve Bingo (<–actual thing) booked at Chinook Winds Casino this year.

Whether he’s guilty of Smithing, Goe certainly did not write like someone who covers the Ducks for a living or has watched much college football, especially Oregon’s brand of it, over the last half-decade.

He points out that Oregon State, double-digit losers of Friday’s Civil War game at the hands wings of the Ducks, came into Autzen last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense yet managed to put up 42 points. He goes on to expand this argument to a “what if” Oregon were to get a bid to a January 1 bowl against top programs like Baylor, Notre Dame or Michigan.

“Perish the thought,” he wrote.

Though he didn’t go on to write exactly why said thought should be perished.

So I went ahead and did a little research.

The Ducks right now are the Adele of college football. Nobody is inexplicably hotter. They are also more fun to watch this time of year than Last Christmas (set to surpass 100 million views this holiday season btw).

They finished six games over .500 and one game out of national title contention because they play a brand of football that is predicated on uptempo offense. Just as the Golden State Warriors still draw unbelievers because a jump-shooting team isn’t supposed to be sustainable in the NBA, the Ducks draw ire—even from their own backyard beat writers, apparently—for featuring a style of play predicated on rhythm and movement. And when one key set piece goes down and that beat skips a beat, bad things can happen.

In that respect, Vernon Adams is more jazz drummer than quarterback. When he’s healthy and the offense is clicking they will outscore the opponent, period. When he’s not, the rest of the team seems to be running around off-key unable to find their spacing, pace and tone.

The effects of Adams’ absence were no more apparent than in the Duck’s three losses:

  1. Michigan State 31, Oregon 28: In East Lansing, Oregon lost by a field goal to the current odds-on favorite to win the CFP championship trophy in January. Adams, who was playing with a broken index finger on his right throwing hand, threw two interceptions but still went 22-of-39 passing for 309 yards. Adams missed Byron Marshall on a wide-open route on the team’s last drive and the game was over. Oregon’s defense surrendered fewer than 200 (197) yards on the ground while limiting likely no. 1 overall pick Connor Cook to 20 of 32 passing for 192 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Cook was also three-and-out during Michigan State’s last two possessions.
  2. Utah 62, Oregon 20: The nadir of the alt uniform-era Ducks football program and Oregon’s worst loss in a decade. Adams, who started, was playing with that same broken finger. After a couple series he was pulled and backup Jeff Lockie looked confused about which color jersey to pass to. Combined, they finished just 14 of 30 for just 178 yards. Lockie threw a pair of picks and each quarterback had a touchdown. Oregon’s offense never sparked and because of that the defense’s soft targets were exploited by the Utes, especially in the run game. Utah set the pace with 273 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
  3. Washington State 45, Oregon 38: Oregon suffered a double-overtime loss to Washington State. The Cougs went on to an 8-4 season in spite of a disappointing Apple Cup loss to Washington Friday. Wazzu quarterback Luke Falk threw for season-high 505 yards and five touchdowns as the Cougs vanquished an eight-game losing streak to the Ducks. Adams was out entirely with both Lockie and Eugene native/walk-on Taylor Alie rotating. Lockie looked slightly better than against Utah and threw for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

The next week, Adams got healthy and Oregon pulled out a victory at Washington and the rest…well, you know.

The common denominator here isn’t the defense, it’s having a healthy and athletic play caller under center. Goe addresses this, noting the Ducks are 9-3 thanks to “an escape artist at quarterback who can ad-lib a broken play into a ‘SportsCenter’ highlight, and some lucky bounces.”

This throwaway line is not only disrespectful to Adams’ seamless execution of Scott Frost’s offense, but I’m sort of stuck on the fact that Goe put air quotes around SportsCenter. Is it a euphemism? Like when I’m staying at a Courtyard by Marriott and someone calls me and I say I’m “laying on the bed watching the ‘Golden Girls’.” That’s code for let me call you back in five minutes, I’m about to jerk off before I go down to the lobby and figure out where the nearest PF Changs is.

Goe scribbled this on his Shoebox Christmas Card to Oregon QB Marcus Mariota this time last year: “I believe Mariota is the best college player this season and one of the best I’ve seen in more than three decades in the business. He also is humble, team-oriented, studious and has been a public credit to his university.”

Did Mariota come over and water his plants and pick up his mail while he was on vacation too?

Last year, a healthy Mariota threw for 3,461 yards to Adams’ 2,446 of 2015. That’s about a thousand more. Now consider Mariota had more than 200 more attempts and didn’t nurse a broken hand for seven weeks. Otherwise, the quarterbacks’ stats are strikingly similar: Mariota’s completion rating last year was 68.3 to Adams’ 64.6. Mariota’s rating, touted as among the greats in college football history, was 181.7 to Adams’ 179.6.

Not a very big margin to separate “one of the best in more than three decades” from an “escape artist.”

Look below for a sample of what else the Ducks’ offense, led by a grad transfer Houdini, managed to accomplish this season against a Pac-12 which featured eight ranked teams at one point and five ranked to end the season:

Pac-12 offensive leaders:

Quarterback Rating:

  1. Vernon Adams – 179.6

Rushing Yards:

  1. Royce Freeman – 1,706

Total Offense:

  1. Oregon – 6,578 (548 yards/game)

Rushing:

  1. Oregon – 3,473 (6.1 per carry)

First Downs:

  1. Oregon – 313

“That there are a million things to fix on this defense should be disconcerting for a team with one game left to play,” Goe wrote, building off head coach Mark Helfrich’s comment that there are a “million things” the Ducks can clean up before their late-December appearance, likely to take place in the basement of the Alamo.

But are there? Or was Helfrich overdoing his usual overdone self-deprecation act? A closer look reveals Oregon’s defense was more transitioning and inconsistent than bad enough to pillory. Oregon finished the regular season seventh in the league in solo tackles but first in sacks; near the bottom of the league in passes defended (35) and near the top with interceptions (13). Deforest Buckner was one of the dominant D linemen in the country and a midseason overhaul featuring a quartet of young DBs still learning on the job defined the secondary: Tyree Robinson moved to cornerback after starting the first five games at safety. Charles Nelson moved from wide receiver to safety. And first-year starter sophomores Juwaan Williams and Arrion Springs improved steadily in the season’s second half.

At this point, I agree it does seem like an unfair fight against the Baylors, Michigans and Notre Dames. To paraphrase Rod Tidwell, Oregon smokes all these fools.

If Goe’s column was anything, it was premature anointing those three week 13 losers before their time.

But that’s not where Goe’s position ultimately fails. As the Ducks’ beat writer for the largest publication in the state of Oregon, he has a responsibility to report the truth—or at least base his opinions on it. Nobody in any other part of the world is going to study and critique the Ducks with more veracity. And nobody is better qualified to tout the strengths of a program that overcame early season inconsistency and injuries to finish on such a high note.

Nobody has the kind of platform Goe has.

So to waste it on knee-jerk opinion over fact; to favor hand-wringing over high fives, just doesn’t seem an appropriate way recognize a team that started 3-3 and got better every game from there.

Or to put it another way: Would a SEC, B1G or ACC beat writer critique their representative institutions using the same kind of platitudes? No.

…Maybe that’s why they’ll will be working tier-one bowl games in January.

Image: Oregon Daily Emerald

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  1. Not trying to be “that guy” to you, but Mariota threw for 4454 yards…I get the point, but that’s substantially higher than what VA would of thrown this year. VA would of most likely been in the 3k range though had he been healthy all year.

    • Good catch on the numbers. To clarify, since Mariota had three more games (to date) than VA, I only compared regular season to regular season.