Monday, October 3, 2016

Time for Some Changes in Eugene

I'm not in a good mood today. Computer problems at work have relegated me to a temporary cubicle that makes me feel as if I'm in prison, the weather in Reno is nasty and miserable, and the Oregon Ducks are 2-3 so far this season. I suppose things could certainly be worse, but they could also be better. This will be the most scathing and straightforward criticism that I've leveled against my beloved Ducks, at least publicly. For the sake of holding reader interest, it will be a series of quick hitters as I work on trying to be a little less long-winded in my writing. I'm also hoping to get a sports blog up and running, so this will be a temporary placeholder for my sporting analysis. If you are one of those Duck fans that have only been watching this team since around 2010, then you may not enjoy what I'm about to say. However, I feel that it needs to said even though I recognize that it's merely my opinions.

  • Mark Helfrich is a smart guy who expects his players to carry themselves with dignity on and off the field. However, his leadership style (or lack thereof) is having adverse affects on the team as a whole. Players aren't being held accountable for on-field mistakes, and that discipline starts with the head coach. If all these mental lapses are allowed to continue unchecked, then players will get it into their heads that it's okay, and it will affect other parts of their game and bring the whole team down. Helfrich doesn't need to be like Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, but he needs to expect more out of his players or they won't respect him. It might be too late with the way things are going. 
  • Changes need to be made to the staff, specifically the defensive side, but if Oregon plays even worse this Saturday against UW than they did against Wazzu, Helfrich may very well be on his way out the door also. If the AD is having serious doubts about the football program, and has the backing of Phil Knight, then he can start putting out feelers to see who might be interested in taking over the program once the season ends. I believe that would be the best approach if pursued in order to retain most of the recruits who are currently committed.
  • Ron Aiken and Don Pellum need to be let go. The defensive line and linebackers have been largely bad these past few years, but their jobs were probably saved by a few guys named Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Michael Clay, and Kiko Alonso. Nobody in the current wave of players at those positions comes close to those guys, with the possible exception of Troy Dye, who is already the leader of the defense as a true freshman. That says a lot.
  • Brady Hoke deserves another year or two as the defensive coordinator, simply because he inherited an already bad defense with limited depth and had to implement a new scheme. Give him a chance to recruit some players before you think of firing him. Defensive recruits should be salivating at the prospect of coming here and playing early. It's a very real possibility, especially in the front 7. If things get REALLY bad before this year is over, then maybe you move on from Hoke or demote him to defensive line coach, where he has experience with proven results.
  • John Neal has a pretty solid group of players in the secondary who only look worse than they actually are because of the front 7's inability to get consistent pressure and stop the run. He has proven track record of putting guys in the NFL, so he's the lone defensive position coach that I would retain.
  • Since it's looking more and more like Helfrich may not be the answer at head coach, my question for Duck fans is, Who is going to replace him? I phrased it that way specifically, as we all want a Tom Herman or Les Miles, but I don't know that either of those guys are realistic candidates. I'd be happy to be wrong, but I'm curious who Duck fans believe would have legitimate interest in coming to Eugene, and if the AD is willing to pony up the money that may be required to hire them. I would also prefer that whomever that candidate is decides to keep most, if not all, of the offensive staff. Our recruiting on that side has been pretty good for a while now.
  • Justin Herbert looked good in the closing minutes against Wazzu, orchestrating a scoring drive with relative ease. I realize it's a small sample size in garbage time, but he showed poise, quick feet in the pocket and on the run, decision making, precise throws, ability to maintain fast tempo, and knowledge of the playbook. Even though we have a hungry UW coming to town on Saturday looking to end the streak, I think Herbert should be given every opportunity to win the job during practice this week. If he shows all those same traits consistently, just as he did in fall camp, and the coaches smartly believe he gives us the best chance to win, then you start him. The opponent shouldn't matter. We can build towards the future while still trying to win. Prukop isn't the answer at quarterback, now or down the road.
  • We're at a point in the season where we need to start leaning on our younger defensive guys more, assuming they have a legitimate future here. The offensive line has 4 redshirt freshmen starting, and although they looked shaky at times against Wazzu, they have a tremendous future ahead of them and will only get better with experience. That's not to say we don't have good veteran players, but give the young guys more chances to show what they can do.
  • Speaking of vets, I feel bad for guys like Royce Freeman, Pharaoh Brown, Dwayne Stanford, Charles Nelson, and Darren Carrington. It must be eye-opening for them to see how quickly this program has fallen from being a title contender. They were all integral to the success of the 2014 bunch, and to go from winning the first ever playoff game to not knowing if they will make a bowl game just 2 years later is a tough pill to swallow. These guys and a few others need to be the leaders for the rest of this season. Expect better of yourselves and your teammates, and don't allow anyone to take plays off or expect their natural talent to just take over.
  • I do think that there is a sense of entitlement among some of the players. They get drawn in by the flashy uniforms and A-list facilities and feel extra special. Those things aren't bad, and Oregon needs those to offset other recruiting challenges, but when players are caught up in the style instead of the substance, then ego starts to take over and performance suffers.
  • Oregon needs to get back to the philosophy of the Chip Kelly days, when the "Win The Day" mantra was infused into every facet of the program. Granted, Chip was something of a control freak, but the results speak for themselves. We've tasted almost every level of success in the last decade or so, and as such, I think it's okay for myself and other fans to expect better than what we're getting right now. It's true that each coach should create his own identity, but that's exactly the problem with this current crop of Ducks: They don't have one. They talked all week before Wazzu about getting back to basics and playing with an edge, and then did exactly the opposite out on the field in Pullman. Actions speak louder than words. I don't like how the players talk to the media now. It's way more self-centered and showy than it used to be.

To conclude, it was inevitable that we were going to have something of a rebuilding year at some point, but I didn't picture it like this. You could see it in their eyes on Saturday that they didn't want to win. There was no fire, no passion. Poor body language, and that included the coaches. Seeing as nobody expects us to extend the winning streak against Washington, what do we have to lose by playing our hardest and taking some chances? Oregon has a lot of talent, but their effort level hasn't matched it yet this year. No better time than a rivalry game to prove everyone wrong. It would certainly be the sweetest victory of the streak thus far to bring UW's undefeated season crashing down on them in Autzen. I'm behind this team no matter what, win or lose. I just want them to get back to playing like the hard-nosed, take no prisoners Duck teams that I grew up cheering for. And I want the fans in Autzen to match that intensity all game long. PUT YOUR PHONES AWAY AND SCREAM YOUR LUNGS OUT! I'm sure there's plenty of other Duck fans that would love to be in your shoes if they could, so don't squander the joy of a home football game, especially against a hated rival, by staring at your phone the whole time. You have a right to be upset at how the team is playing, but if you aren't doing your part to encourage them, then give your seats to someone who will. That's part of being a fan, through good times and bad. Yes, it is time for some changes to be made, and I hope that we as Oregon Ducks faithful will support them no matter where the road leads. I for one still believe that our best days are ahead. GO DUCKS!!