The Oregon Ducks will be the first to say the last time they were out on the field playing wasn’t the greatest scene for their program. Oregon had the Alamo Bowl in hand against TCU only to let everything go down the drain in an ugly 47-41 triple overtime loss.
Monday was truly the first time since that disastrous showing that the Ducks can move on and focus on themselves and the next opponent. As with anything, head coach Mark Helfrich hopes his players can learn from what happened in San Antonio to end the 9-4 season.
“I think it’s individualized,” he said on how each player dealt with the loss. “If you can learn from it and if you’re one of those people who needs to put that picture up on your locker or put it in your mirror every day to look at to motivate you to do something, great. If you’re one of those guys that needs to watch the film one time, learn from it and then flush it, great. But it’s (the bowl loss) come up here and there, certainly. Guys have talked about it in the right way.”
With practice upon them and the 2016 season opener against UC Davis right around the corner, the Ducks won’t have time to dwell on TCU even if they wanted to. Helfrich hired two new coordinators on both sides of the ball in Matt Lubick for offense and ex-Michigan coach Brady Hoke for the defense. These next four weeks will be spent learning a brand new defensive scheme as Hoke wants to put in the 4-3 instead of the 3-4. Oregon will also learn who its next quarterback will be as senior transfer Dakota Prukop comes to Eugene via Montana State to battle redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen for that starting gig.
On paper, it seems Prukop has a decided advantage over Jonsen, who spent last season running the scout team. But Jonsen surprised nearly everyone this past spring when he showed that he is very much in the mix to lead the Duck offense now. At this same time last season, Vernon Adams wasn’t in camp yet, but it was a foregone conclusion that as soon as he stepped onto the practice field, he would win the job. Not so this time around.
“Last year was unique in terms of Vernon wasn’t here as of this day. But every year has it’s own way of how it plays out,” Helfrich said on the impending quarterback competition. “That’s why you really can’t predetermine it. But we’re going to tailor the offense to each quarterback’s personality.”
Oregon can’t wait to get on the field for real to remind those who feel like the reign of Duck football has come to an end. That TCU loss has resonated with those in the media as the Ducks were picked third in the Pac-12 North division and they barely cracked the Coaches Poll coming in at No. 22. This is a team that went to the College Football National Championship Game just two seasons ago. The defense was awful last season, but despite the quarterback problems, the Ducks were still able to light up the scoreboard, and that’s not about to change any time soon.
The Ducks can’t wait to remind people of their skill players that are ones of the best in the nation. Tailback Royce Freeman might run his way to a Heisman and the wide receiving corps might be the best group in Oregon football history. Players such as Darren Carrington, Dwayne Stanford and Charles Nelson have all played on the biggest stage college football has to offer.
“Our team psyche is great. Everybody on the team knows our capabilities that we have and the talent that we brought in,” Freeman said. “We just had a tough patch last season and it’s something that we have to build on. Pre-season rankings are there for a reason.”
With all of those weapons to choose from, Helfrich doesn’t want the new quarterback, whomever it may be, to put everything on his shoulders and feel like he has to do it all. Oregon has the skill players to make the plays in space for him. All the new guy needs to do is to get the ball to those skill players.
Although the competition will be tough, Helfrich is glad Prukop came to Eugene in the spring to begin learning the offense. Unlike his predecessor, the former Montana State signal caller has had a lot more time to work with his new teammates and that could only mean good things for the Ducks.
“It’s certainly advantageous for him to be here for a spring and a summer,” said Helfrich. “Even in this first day of camp he looked more comfortable in doing things. We just want him to make lay-ups. We tell that to him all the time. Hand the ball to Royce Freeman or get the ball to Charles Nelson in space. Doing all those things is making a lay-up.”
Oregon found out the hard way that those lay-ups are not as easy as it sounds, but when Sept. 3 rolls around, they’ll have two guys who will make those lay-ups on a consistent basis.