It was 2007 and Chip Kelly was implementing a brand new offensive scheme in Eugene in his first season as the Oregon offensive coordinator. The Ducks were rolling with an 8-1 record and making preliminary plans to go back to Pasadena after a 13-year absence.
But then quarterback Dennis Dixon tweaked his knee in a 35-23 win over Arizona State and then his knee finally blew out the very next week. This was when the Ducks quickly discovered that Kelly’s system doesn’t work with just any schmoe taking the snaps.
Brady Leaf, Justin Roper and Cody Kempt all took turns taking the snaps and the result was disastrous. Oregon went from being No. 2 in the polls to losing the Civil War at home and finishing 8-4 in the regular season.
While it’s doubtful the 2015 Ducks will have to resort to their fourth-string quarterback to get the job done, not having a healthy Vernon Adams and playing a backup for a significant amount of time could lead to similar or worse results as eight years ago.
One thing that 2007 team did have that this current flock of Ducks does not is an experienced defense to keep a struggling offense in the game. Players such as Patrick Chung, Jairus Bryd, and Walter Thurmond just do not exist on the current roster. A struggling offense plus a bad and inexperienced defense equals losses such as 62-20 at home to Utah, circa Week 4.
Oregon has gone from a possible national championship contender to actually looking for wins on the schedule and it’s a search that is a daunting one. Since that 2007 season, the Civil War against Oregon State is no longer automatic.
Games such as Washington State, at Washington and even the game coming up, at Colorado, are contests that the Ducks should win. But there are no longer “sure” wins and games on the schedule that one would figure that there’s no way Oregon would allow its opponent to hang around in.
Unfortunately, with the Ducks’ recent success, there’s no where to hide. The Ducks are a popular attraction to national media outlets. Their demise is going to be witnessed by everyone. ESPN has the Colorado game Saturday and the network has already scheduled the date with Arizona State for Thursday night, Oct. 29.
But in another way, Oregon has to hope history does repeat itself.
Although it was down to the fourth-string quarterback in 2007, Oregon used the time off in between the Civil War and the Sun Bowl to groom Roper into a serviceable quarterback for that one game. It worked as Oregon defeated South Florida 56-21. Roper’s numbers weren’t spectacular, but he was good enough to not have the Bulls’ defense key on Jonathan Stewart, who had a monster day of 259 yards.
Royce Freeman is a similar tailback as Stewart. All he needs is a quarterback to be just good enough that opposing defenses have to respect. Right now that’s Jeff Lockie. While not great, he’s better than Adams with a broken index finger.
Lockie was not good in the most recent loss to Utah. But by the time he came in, Oregon was in a 20-6 hole, Utah was exploiting every defensive weakness and the Ducks couldn’t recover. If he starts at Ground Zero, who knows how Lockie will do. One would think that as the season goes along, Lockie will get better and better and will know how to utilize all the talent that surrounds him.
The Ducks better hope that the same rings true for the defense.
Currently last in the Pac-12 in nearly every major category, the Oregon defense has no where to go but up. This conference may be the last one you want to be in to rebuild a secondary. Nearly every team in the Pac-12 has a quarterback who can light a bad defense up through the air.
One thing for sure is that the young Duck secondary will get plenty of experience and a lot of chances to get better. The key to Oregon’s season might be how quickly it improves. Because if it doesn’t improve, Marcus Mariota or Dan Fouts could be the quarterback, and it wouldn’t make a difference.
Losses to Stanford or even Colorado won’t get the true Duck faithful antsy and signify “the end” of Oregon’s run. The Cardinal should win the North and Colorado is on the rise. But if the Ducks lose to Washington, a team they have absolutely dominated over the last decade or to Oregon State, a team they haven’t lost to since that 2007 season, fans will be running through the streets of Eugene as if the sky is falling.
If those defeats do happen, losing 62-20 to a good Utah team will be the least of Oregon’s worries.