It was fourth-and-1 from their own 45-yard line.
Oregon was up 31-17 early in the fourth quarter. The Ducks were using every trick in their bag to move the ball against Colorado. But in a split moment, the Ducks forgot that same old formula that won them Pac-12 titles and Rose Bowls just won’t work for now.
The old Oregon, circa 2014, would have gone for it, got the first down and continued along its merry way into beating the opposition to a pulp.
But this new Oregon team, circa 2015, has to punt in that situation and win the field position battle just as much as the scoreboard battle. The Ducks forgot this fact, went for it and didn’t get it.
Colorado took advantage and drove 45 yards and made it a one-possession game again Saturday night at 31-24 with 13 minutes left. If it was against anyone in the Pac-12 but Colorado, that decision by head coach Mark Helfrich might have and probably would have cost the Ducks the game.
Since the Buffaloes have only won just one of their first 19 conference games since joining the Pac-12, Oregon got away with it and eventually went home to Eugene with a 41-24 win.
It was a decision that Chip Kelly would have made and 99 percent of the time, it would have worked. But these Ducks are wounded and trying to fly with one wing behind their back and that one wing is Vernon Adams.
The transfer from Eastern Washington just has not been himself, and understandably so, since he broke his index finger on his throwing hand. It limited his deep ball throwing capabilities and it showed int eh first quarter of last week’s game against Utah where the Utes pounded the hapless Ducks into submission 62-20.
Oregon has vowed not to play Adams until he is fully healthy. In his place is junior Jeff Lockie and a former walk-on, sophomore Taylor Alie. Neither one has separated himself from the other in practice, so Helfrich is forced to go with the dreaded two-quarterback system.
Oregon might eventually find out that if you have to play two quarterbacks that means you don’t have any quarterbacks. Against Colorado, however, it was just enough.
Like it or not, it’s the situation that has been presented to the Ducks and luckily for Oregon, they do have weapons that they can use. Royce Freeman is one of the best backs in the Pac-12 and freshman Taj Griffin showed that he can be the speed threat in the backfield, a De’Anthony Thomas-type if you will. Griffin averaged over 10 yards per carry against the Buffaloes, including a 62-yard run that set up a touchdown.
The Ducks also have Bralon Addison, who proved to be one of the best wide receivers in the conference two years ago before suffering a knee injury. He also showed that he can be a pass threat in the Wildcat formation or when Oregon decides to use a little trickeration. Addison received the ball on a reverse and then threw a perfect spiral down field for the 33-yard touchdown to Charles Nelson fpr a touchdown.
Oregon’s offensive coordinator Scott Frost doesn’t have Marcus Mariota or anything that resembles him in the backfield, so out comes the imagination. Frost called on several gadget plays to surprise the Buffaloes or to get key first downs here and there.
That’s the kind of attitude Oregon needs to call upon in the upcoming weeks to get the job done. The schedule is kind to the Ducks for the next couple of weeks and if they can survive the Washington schools, which they should, the ESPN national Thursday night game with Arizona State Oct. 29 looks mighty big once again. The Ducks will have 12 days to prepare for an unpredictable Sun Devil team that just upset the No. 7 team on the road in UCLA.
It’s amazing what one win can do to change the outlook of an entire season. As long as Oregon remembers that the old formula needs to be flushed down the drain for the immediate future, the sky won’t fall down on Eugene like the Duck faithful thought after all.