White Cover Magazine
It can be an excruciating thing, being an Oregon fan. It’s an excruciating thing being a fan of any team that plays like Oregon, actually.
You know the type. They live at 100 miles an hour. It works out most of the time, but there’s always a crash. And there might only be one a year, but it’s a write-off.
Oregon was fortunate in 2014, with college football implementing a play-off, that their early loss to a pretty talented Arizona Wildcats club was tossed aside as soon as Marcus Mariota returned to Heisman form, as soon as the Ducks responded with a from-there-on-out undefeated regular season, and certainly in the PAC-12 final, when Oregon blitzkrieg’d the Wildcats 51-13 in Eugene.
But every year brings a new obstacle, a new challenge. This year, the challenge was the Ohio State Buckeyes, an obviously superior team (if last night’s not-even-close national championship was any sort of an indication). In previous years, the Ducks have been victimized by America’s inability to look over their own horizons – the SEC always got the benefit of the doubt, and the PAC-12 none of it. If Oregon lost only a single game, they were done and suddenly clawing their way back into no higher than third. If Alabama or Auburn or Georgia or whoever else lost a game, we chalked it up to stiff competition and a hard road to the end.
(In 2012, the Ducks finished the season as the country’s only team without a regulation loss. They weren’t even in the final, which was a laugher win by one-loss Alabama over a then-undefeated Notre Dame.)
But Oregon was made for the playoff, and that 59-20 slaughter of Florida State – caused as much by the Seminoles’ awfulness as it was by the Ducks’ disruption of a, until that point, undefeated system built to buoy Jameis Winston – gave Nike’s favourite team a 6.5-point lean over Ohio State, the team that barely made the final four, the same team that was starting a kid named Cardale Jones for only his second and third career starts.
But of course, no team can drive as fast as Oregon does without stalling, or running out of gas, or speed-wobbling, or hitting a patch of black something, or… well, no team can go all year without a slip-up, that’s what I’m trying to say.
Oregon had one early, and one late. Like I said, a write-off. First, a fender-bender.
To be clear, Oregon had one too many – Ohio State had just one, a now-forgotten second-week loss to Virginia Tech, 35-21.
Alabama had two, and Florida State had one officially. (Although the Seminoles hardly surged into this year’s playoff, and Jameis Winston was hardly defending his Heisman, even if he’s drafted first overall in the NFL’s next draft.)
The Ducks are a locomotive. But Ohio State is a force field. Or a cliff, take your pick. (I’m running low on examples for this metaphor.)
The Buckeyes had nothing to lose last night – their consolation was earning the ticket, and they weren’t intimidated by Oregon’s shiny shoulder blades or Mariota’s speed. But the Ducks had everything to play for – a title would have cemented their program’s legacy, almost legitimized their high-tempo style of play, and Mariota could have added a national championship to his Heisman, perhaps entrenching himself atop the NFL’s draft order next summer – and, therefore, everything to lose.
And the Hawaii-born quarterback actually turned in a pretty stellar performance last night, throwing for 333 yards and two scores. (He had a couple bad misses in the fourth and an interception on the last play of the game, after anything mattered.) But Oregon’s run game, normally led with a lit batch of fireworks and Thomas Tyner, was shut down. It became pathetic to watch, actually, with head coach Mark Helfrich calling for hand-offs and swings seemingly just because he didn’t want to put it all on Mariota, or to prove his system could work against anyone. Tyner had 5.2 yards per carry last night, but I don’t remember one of them. All I remember is Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott torching the Ducks every time he touched the ball, finishing with 246 yards and four touchdowns. (Elliott started with 98 yards on 11 carries, a near 9.0 yards a touch.)
But the truly infuriating thing about last night’s game wasn’t watching my Ducks – who I have come to love since I first started watching college football in 2005, for all the immature reasons you could assume anyone would fall in love with the Ducks – lose another national championship. It was knowing that the conversation was about to suddenly change to a slew of silly, progress-stunting conclusions passed down by America’s replaceable analysts…
(Watch two of them below, in Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith. Bayless somehow finds a way to work in Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys, and Smith says he would have much more preferred Alabama versus Florida State in the national championship… so, two losers. Point taken, guys. How about you save some yeast for next year?)
Oregon’s system doesn’t work. Defence wins championships. Mariota isn’t an NFL quarterback; he’s not the best quarterback in America.
Sh*t like that. Except, Ohio State didn’t win by playing boring Buckeye football – you know, the sort of game they’ve played to all-for-nothing efforts for the past 12 years, the sort of game they played when Florida beat them 41-14 in 2007.
If anything, Ohio State proved that Oregon’s system works, because Ohio State was playing like Oregon last night.
Urban Meyer’s not some relic who barks Lombardi quotes and pretends to know a damn about the game. He’s a mad professor who coached an a Buckeyes team equal to Oregon in its vibrancy and fury.
All you heard at halftime last night was, This game could be even worse for Oregon, if Ohio State hadn’t made some mistakes.
The Buckeyes had four turnovers last night, mistakes – or were they just solid, aggressive plays from Oregon’s defence? No, you can’t give credit to a loser – that brought the score to 21-10 in the second half on Monday night. But luckily, Elliott was there to ram the ball down Oregon’s throat, to offset the dysfunction that was Ohio State’s third quarter. And the Ducks offset it, too – with two HUGE dropped balls in the first quarter, when the game was still tight and heart-stopping, with 10 penalties for 76 yards lost, all at the wrong time.
You can’t say the Ducks were lucky to only be down 11 at the half. Because you could always make that case, and you could say the Buckeyes were lucky, too. (Nobody should ever blame or credit anything to luck, really.)
But what I saw last night wasn’t one wild team and another conservative. I didn’t see a careful Ohio State or an overwhelming Oregon.
I saw two very vulnerable collections of 20-year-olds, going YOLO all over Jerry Jones World.
It was delicious. And I realize now, even though their Tron-like colour schemes are hanging in their locks rooms at half-mast, that I still love Oregon. And I kind of love anyone who plays their game, even if it ends with a thud and a sigh.
VIDEO: ESPN First Take – Ohio State beats Oregon 42-20