Oregon Ducks

Oregon agony: It’s ugly in Eugene and bound to get worse

Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, left, and Washington State head coach Mike Leach shake hands after an NCAA college football game in Pullman, Wash., Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
AP Photo/Young Kwak

Even with all of the adversity the Oregon program was going to face in the 2016 season, no one could have expected this.

The Ducks are in full red alert status after a 51-33 loss in the Palouse that should have been a lot worse than it was. The defense against Washington State was horrible, the quarterback play wasn’t any good, the halftime adjustments were nonexistent, and the play-calling was something less than desired.

Nothing resembled the version of Oregon football everyone has been used to for the past decade. To make it worse, the voices calling for the head coach’s job are getting louder and louder, to the point that they might be heard by the athletic department. Administrative leaders in Eugene would have to be deaf not to hear the cries from fans, but more importantly, former players who were vital in raising Duck football into the stratosphere. Now they are in free fall, and ex-Ducks such as LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, among many others, are not happy.

Oregon’s defense wasn’t going to be good. Everyone knew it and even the Ducks themselves knew it would take time for new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke to get the young defenders to learn an entirely new scheme. Oregon went from the 3-4 to the 4-3, but against Washington State, it might have had better luck playing blindfolded.

Maybe the Ducks were playing with their eyes closed.

That’s the only explanation for Oregon to allow the Cougars to rush for 280 yards and six touchdowns. WSU averaged 114 yards per game coming in. The Ducks looked overmatched and under-prepared against a team that lost to FCS Eastern Washington to begin the season.

Oregon playing poorly on defense is no surprise, but the poor play of the offense on Saturday night is confusing to everyone who follows the Ducks. If there’s one thing Oregon can hang its hat on, it’s the ability to score with the spread-option. We all learned last season that the offense can come to a screeching halt when a bad quarterback takes the field.

Despite Mark Helfrich’s inability to recruit and develop a quarterback, the position was supposed to be in good hands for one season with Prukop in there. Against Washington State, he looked like an FCS quarterback who was completely out of his league. That doesn’t fall on Prukop, but Helfrich’s (and his assistants’) lack of scouting. The staff should have known Prukop wasn’t going to be effective at this level, but they recruited him anyway because he was the only choice they had.

At 2-3 and soon to be 2-4 with Washington coming into Autzen, Helfrich’s last two so-so recruiting classes are coming home to roost. This is his fourth year, and he has not yet found “his” quarterback. Chip Kelly recruited Marcus Mariota, and the Heisman Trophy winner played two seasons under Helfrich. That gave him at least three classes to find a suitable long-term replacement for Mariota.

No dice.

October 1, 2016: Oregon Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert (10) before the game between Oregon Ducks and the Washington State Cougars at the Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washington. (Photo by Steve Conner/Icon Sportswire)

October 1, 2016: Oregon Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert (10) before the game between Oregon Ducks and the Washington State Cougars at the Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washington. (Photo by Steve Conner/Icon Sportswire)

Local boy Justin Herbert, a 6-6 quarterback from Eugene’s Sheldon High School, might be that guy. We just don’t know yet. He played one possession against the Cougars and the Ducks scored a touchdown, but that was against WSU’s second and third string defense. Facing Washington’s first-string defense will be a whole other deal for the true freshman and it might overwhelm him. So far there’s nothing to suggest the Huskies’ defense won’t overwhelm Prukop either.

The on-field adversity is bad enough, but an off-the-field controversy emerged on Saturday, which doesn’t make Helfrich look good either.

Oregon’s leading defender, true freshman Troy Dye, somehow didn’t make the trip to the Palouse. Duck players said he practiced all week and they were surprised he wasn’t there. Even Hoke was surprised his best defensive player wasn’t available and said it was a head coach decision. This comes a few days after Dye was quoted as saying some of his teammates didn’t want it as badly as others.

Whether it was something undisclosed Dye did to warrant staying home, or something that was just coincidence, it looks like Dye might have been punished for talking out of turn. With a defense that porous and in need of all the help it can get, is this what Helfrich is worried about? We don’t know the full nature of the situation, but without further answers, it’s a bad look. It puts more shade on a program that is reeling with no end in sight.

The Ducks have been used to embarrassing everyone on the field, but now, the only ones they are embarrassing are themselves.

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