Oregon shows courage, but season ends discouragingly

SAN ANTONIO – Champagne wishes and caviar dreams were on the minds of the Oregon Ducks ahead of the season.

OK, maybe Oregon didn’t have exactly those kinds of aspirations to start the season, but the Ducks were hoping the end of the season would end much better than it did.

After the Ducks traveled to Ohio state and knocked out the Buckeyes in Columbus on September 11, many believed Oregon was ready for a college football playoff race. Even with Oregon’s Oct. 2 loss to Stanford, the Ducks still had a shot at playing in one of the college football playoff semifinal games.

On November 16, Oregon was ranked No. 3 in the college football playoffs with a 9-1 record, but it all fell apart days later.

Not only did Utah beat Oregon, it could also have shattered the team in the process with the resounding 38-7 loss on November 20. Two weeks later, after revenge talks, the Utes crushed the Ducks 38-10 in the Pac-12 championship game.

After 30 minutes at the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio against Oklahoma, the mood was similar to the two losses against Utah. But something happened in the second half – Oregon posted a fight it hadn’t shown in a while.

Down 30-3 in the third quarter, the Ducks outscored the Sooners 29-17 in the second period. Given the circumstances surrounding the Oregon program, no one would have blinked if Oklahoma had won by 60 points after the terrible first two quarterbacks.

But the Ducks showed a lot of courage. However, the Ducks still lost 47-32 in the Alamodome as the Sooners rushed for 322 yards.

A loss, but a different feeling

“That feeling after the Pac-12 championship and this one was a little different,” said safety Verone McKinley III. “We fought hard in that second half. We were close, we were close and a lot of people thought we weren’t going to be able to come back and we brought this fight after we left the locker room.

“It’s hard to get in and the coaches leave, but coach BMac (Bryan McClendon) got us right and we didn’t start well. But we keep fighting and fighting, we just needed a little more time. ”

After losing twice to Utah in three weeks, Oregon has seen its coaches go into exile. Among them were coach Mario Cristobal heading to Miami, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead (Akron, head coach) and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter (Texas Tech) also starting while McClendon, the wide receivers coach, has was named interim coach of the Alamo Bowl.

Oregon interim coach Bryan McClendon signals to players in the second half of Wednesday's 47-32 Alamo Bowl loss to Oklahoma in San Antonio.

Then the players quickly followed as Kayvon Thibodeaux, Mykael Wright and Devon Williams pulled out of the Alamo Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft. With injuries, strikeouts and transfers, more than 30 players were unavailable for the game against Oklahoma and it shows.

Oregon has also had to contend with quarterback Anthony Brown’s inconsistent play against Oklahoma and all season. He also suffered a number of injuries and fan criticism on social media after being transferred from Boston College.

Brown never apologized. He could have decided to sit down and not play in some games this season due to his injuries, but the senior quarterback wanted to keep fighting for his teammates.

Brown: The Line Between Injury and Being Injured

“I was tough, but without them (teammates) I wouldn’t have been there,” Brown said. “Just to play through everything I went through. Whether it was the hand, my foot, it didn’t really matter, I didn’t care.

“That was it for them, they are my family and I did it for them. I wouldn’t change a thing because it’s a difference between being hurt and being hurt. Was I playing to that limit? Probably. But for them, I will give up my body. “

Oregon has been a very strong football program for the past two plus decades with 13 conference championships and two national championship games since 2010. But the Ducks are still chasing that elusive first national championship.

Now, Oregon is hoping new coach Dan Lanning is the man who can help the team win the program’s first national title. While many fans were disappointed and upset with the way Cristobal left the program, Lanning offers the program a lot of optimism.

Although Lanning has no experience as a head coach, he has surrounded himself with a lot of coaches with a ton of wisdom. Among them are assistant head coach and offensive line coach Adrian Klemm, and defensive line coach Tony Tuioti, both of whom have college and NFL background.

Offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham and defensive co-coordinator Matt Powledge also provide knowledgeable coaches that Lanning can bounce ideas off of.

As for the players, transfer Bo Nix, who started his career at Auburn, is hoping to stabilize the quarterback position until the Ducks believe Ty Thompson is ready. Plus, the Ducks’ top three receivers in the Alamo Bowl – Kris Hutson, Dont’e Thornton and Troy Franklin – were all freshmen this season. Another year with a veteran quarterback should help immensely.

Oregon wide receiver Troy Franklin (11) landed a 30-yard touchdown in front of Oklahoma cornerback DJ Graham in Wednesday's Alamo Bowl fourth quarter.

Can Lanning take the next step?

After watching the Ducks the last four games, something had to change. Yes, Cristobal guided Oregon to three straight conference championship games and two Pac-12 championships, but this program has gone as far as it was going to take it.

Lanning offers the chance for Oregon to make a name for himself among college football’s mega-powers on a routine basis. There’s no reason Oregon can’t compete in the championships more often.

While there will be plenty of changes to the schedule in the coming weeks and months, fans should be optimistic about the future.

“It’s a special group of guys,” McClendon said of his team. “It’s a special group of men. I love everything about the group we had.

“I said it, and I said to these guys, I said it every time I got up to the mike, that I wouldn’t rather get into another – in this fight with any other group of guys, be it players and coaches and strength staff, everyone is a part of this program. I really appreciate the job they’ve done. “

Contact Register-Guard sports reporter Antwan Staley at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

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