Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Stanford at Oregon Prediction: Oregon has an "Oregon problem" and Stanford will have a "Stanford Problem"

There has been a lot recently about Oregon having a "Stanford problem". I can understand where that comes from and agree to a point. I think Stanford is a very disciplined team defensively and offensively last year with Tyler Gaffney they were a really solid in the run game. However, after reviewing the film from the 2013 game on "The Farm" my opinion is that Oregon's "Stanford problem" really has a lot more to do with Oregon's unforced errors than being an inferior team or chalking it up to a "bad match up". I'll attempt to explain my reasoning below:

On the first drive of the game Oregon was moving the ball and had a 3rd&1 around midfield when all of the sudden a false start which turned into a 3rd & 6. On the following play Mariota under threw a wide open receiver (Lowe I believe) for a TD. 

Throughout the first half they had opportunities to score TD's and came up empty mainly due to unforced errors with the one caveat being Stanford's goal line defense seemed to give us fits. Part of that is play calling and other part was Stanford just being more physical and overly aggressive at the point of attack which we couldn't expose. All in all I counted at least three Oregon scores that "should have been in the first half". 

Defensively for Oregon there was a mix of ingredients that lead to Stanford's success. One very specific pass interference call against Ifo where he intercepted a pass at the Oregon 3 yard line which Stanford ended up scoring a TD and some really bad missed tackles. For the most part I felt like the D-line played well but the LB's were out of their gaps on quite a few run plays. Now I don't know what assignments were on those specific plays but it seemed like multiple times LB's were either in the same gap or late to their assignments. As far as tackling goes there is a specific 3rd down play that is baffling in which 3 Ducks got to Hogan on a run to his left on 3rd & long and he breaks all 3 tackles keeping the drive alive. They eventually scored a FG to end the half on that drive. Also it wasn't just that particular play but it seemed as if the entire game Hogan had vasoline on him every time Oregon tried to tackle him. To his credit he made some great reads however on many of those plays I'd give him a 2-10 chance of gaining yards and it seemed like he was 10 for 10 on those. 

The other part of the defensive problem was Tyler Gaffney. He played one of the toughest games at as a running back that I've ever seen. He waited for his blocks, made several good reads, and rarely went down on first contact. In short yardage he made sure that his first priority was getting north to the line to gain. Oregon actually had quite a few plays holding Stanford to 1 yard to negative yards however it seemed like when it counted Stanford just made plays. Gaffney carried the ball some 45 times in that game and even when Oregon stripped him in the 3rd quarter the ball just bounced right back to him as he was going to the ground. Sometimes its just the way things go but I believe a mix of missed tackles and great individual effort by Hogan and Gaffney was key in last years game.  

Marcus Mariota and all his greatness was injured last year and watching the film it was apparent in the running and passing game. In the running game there were times that he normally would have run or the read option would have been dialed up and wasn't. In the passing game aside from the first quarter underthrow with Trent Murphy on the ground next to him Marcus seemed very uncomfortable in the pocket and a few times fled early when he could have stepped up comfortably. In the third quarter when Oregon was driving inside Stanford's 30 yard line Marcus goes down hard by 3 Stanford defenders after scrambling and loses a fumble. He obviously was in a lot of pain after that play and the next series looked indecisive when he missed wide open Byron Marshall on a play where I think he normally would have ran and then on third down missed a wide open Josh Huff. He seemed to regain his composure later in the game but that is really one of the only times I've ever seen him rattled. All in all with as much pressure as Stanford was bringing I felt like the O-line did a really good job but Stanford's defense seemed to just get enough pressure to make Marcus uncomfortable. I'm sure the injury had a lot to do with his discomfort and regardless he still played like a warrior which I don't think he gets enough credit for his toughness. 

In the running game (again not knowing the play call) a few RB's seemed to miss at least three times cut back lanes that could have gone for big gains. I believe these are plays that LMJ would make and those are game changing plays. I believer Royce Freeman will make those plays this year. 

To sum it up you could say that Oregon has a "Stanford problem" as it's impossible to say if all of Oregon's unforced errors were due to great plays by Stanford or if they were just uncharacteristic plays by Oregon all happening in one game. Or you could say that Oregon has an "Oregon problem" which to me after watching the film is more accurate based on all the unforced errors and uncharacteristic mistakes they made. Keep in mind the 2013 Stanford game looked similar to the 2014 Arizona game and if the same Oregon team that played against Arizona shows up against Stanford it could be another battle. I don't think that will happen and if Oregon can limit its unforced errors and play with passion I don't see them losing this game. I think Oregon will fix it's "Oregon problem".

With that said here is my prediction:

Major factors in my prediction that will make an immediate impact compared to last year are the addition of Royce Freeman, a healthy Mariota, and an increased emphasis on the run game. Not to be forgotten is at wide receiver Oregon's new red zone threat and possession receiver Dwayne Stanford will be a factor thus causing Stanford to have a "Stanford problem".  Also considering Stanford is minus Tyler Gaffney and no longer "playing in a phonebooth" which to me are two huge factors in last years game make it an easy pick for me. I don't think Hogan can beat Oregon again especially with the new offensive scheme they are running (though I wouldn't be surprised if they go back to the "phonebooth" scheme often for this game) and he will have the Ducks full attention. I realize that Oregon may have some deficiencies on defense but overall I believe they have made gigantic improvements the last few weeks (yes even over Cal as I think Goff played as good as he has all year and is a future NFL QB). Between Freeman, Mariota's Health, and Dwayne Stanford I think the red zone play will be much improved this year along with having new play-makers, and a high degree of motivation to beat Stanford, Oregon puts on its best showing of the season and rolls 41-13.  

Now with that said I think the following week at Utah (Stanford 2.0) will be a different story but for this week enjoy the beat down! 

Thanks for reading!

The Fan 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Oregon Coaches Respond, ESPN Love Affair?

(Oregon Fans) Ring Ring
(Oregon Coaches)You Rang?
(Fans) Oh, I didn't know anyone was here.
(Coaches)Yep, been here all day...
(Fans) Oh, okay I didn't expect you to answer
(Coaches) Well I did, you have a question?
(Fans) Uhhhh Nope
(Coaches) Okay gotta get back to work. Bye.

What was the question again? "Oregon Coaches Need to Earn Their Pay" more of a statement but also a question and the quick answer is Yes.

I'm not sure how these coaches have made such a dramatic turnaround in a few short weeks but this is Oregon Football being played. Fast, Disciplined, Physical, Mentally Tough, and Unpredictable. You could say the swagger is back and that the coaches indeed answered the bell and are "Earning Their Pay". The fans asked for better coaching and the coaches delivered. I'm sure the coaches are delivering for their team, each other, and the process they've committed to before considering the fans however that's just how it is. Fans have voices but no accountability and coaches have to be politically correct, take the criticism, and are bigger people than to say "I told you so" but I would consider the recent play of the Ducks as the unspoken "I told you so" from the coaches. This is why Chip Kelly said "Praise and Blame is all the same" because when you pick up one side of the stick you pick up both ends and the origin of the comments come from the same place whether critical or supportive. It's all part of the job.

So my hats off to the coaches for such a quick turnaround. If Scott Frost is calling plays (which I am skeptical of) he's done a masterful job. Whatever adjustments Don Pellum changed is working well, and Coach Helfrich has shown he and his staff have the leadership and moxie to make a championship run. I'm not convinced that Helfrich isn't calling plays now because of how different the offense is from a offensive play calling perspective from the first five games of the season to the last two. Maybe Jake Fisher is just that good but I think there is more to it. I guess we will wait and see but either way the coaches deserve some major credit for the on field improvements. They are in fact Winning The Day.

Now Is History Repeating itself? Is this the greatest love story of our time? A picture is worth a thousand words so what words come to mind when you see this?

Just as Oregon has gotten its swagger back so has the SEC West at least in the eyes of the national media. ESPN and its panel of "experts" are already anointing the SEC West as the greatest, most dominant teams in the history of college football to play in the same conference the same year. Now I might be embellishing a little but these "experts" mind you are the same people last season that thought Oklahoma shouldn't even show up to the Sugar Bowl against mighty Bama, and that because Auburn beat Bama it had a shot to beat FSU especially because they were the Champions of the unbeatable SEC. The two loss Big 12 team beat Bama by 14 going away and FSU spotted Auburn a couple TD's so it wouldn't be a blowout. That's right the mighty SEC lost two BCS games last year, the only conference to accomplish that feat in the 2013 season and maybe they'll be the only conference to lose two playoff games this season.

Now I get it, the SEC has won 7 of the last 9 championships and dominated the BCS era in general. Hats off to them for that but I think if you peel the layers off you could make compelling arguments for several teams that would have loved to have been given a seat in the championship game each year like UCLA in 1998, Washington and Oregon State in 2000, Oregon in 2001, 2011, 2012, USC in 2006, TCU in 2010, Michigan State last year, and lets not forget these are just a few that I can remember off the top of my head...You see the point. There are always other good teams and the truth is we really don't know how it would play out on the field until...the games are actually played out on the field (harnessing my inner Austin Powers "Richie Cunningham"). Once you get that the rankings which are subjective decide that the SEC has Five Top 10 teams every year then you can realize if we looked at other conferences with the same favor the media looked at the SEC those conferences would have a better chance of getting into the National Championship Game annually thus increasing the chances of winning more National Titles. Now that was very true with the BCS era and maybe the playoff will level the playing field a little however if the SEC gets two teams in every year their odds (guerrilla math) increase by double giving it a significant advantage over the other conferences.

I guess we will wait and see how the season plays out but my guess is that if the SEC West has a one loss non-league champion it will have two teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff. It will infuriate most outside of SEC country but to me it'll be a blessing in disguise. Why? Because I also think that there won't be an SEC team in the Championship Game so that means I do think history will repeat itself...Repeat? I mean two SEC teams will lose big post season games just like 2013. Truth is two seasons in a row probably won't be enough to change the bias completely but it'll be a start to the end of the "Greatest Love Affair" in modern day college football...

Thanks for Reading!


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Advice from an "Idiot Fairweather Fan" - Time for coaches to "earn their pay"

After the Ducks loss on Thursday to Arizona many of us took to social media to voice our frustration. I was one of those people. I personally make no apologies for voicing my frustrations in regards to the coaches whom are professionals at their trade. I try not to voice negative opinions about the athletes because at the end of the day they are 18-22 year old young men who are no doubt trying their hardest to Win The Day. The athletes are getting a scholarship and stipend but in no way are compensated enough to call them professionals or hold them ultimately accountable. So this is mostly about the coaches. 

Who am I to hold anyone accountable you ask? Well I am a fan who purchases tickets and memorabilia (and lots of it) that goes back to the program which pays the coaches. I do donate in addition however that has no bearing on why I get to hold the coaches accountable any more or less than any other passionate fan, its simply because its a brand I've supported through good and bad no matter how frustrated or disappointed I've been with the result. 

Recently I hear some ex-players (and by "some" I mean "a few" and this in no way is meant to disrespect or group ex-players into a category or start some kind of useless counterproductive fan rivalry) insinuating that us "regular fans" know nothing, are idiots, and most commonly are fair weather blah blah blah... The irony here is after you are done playing and you are unassociated with the coaching staff and program you are relegated to becoming a fan (Though your blood, sweat, and tears to this program means you are a highly vested supporter/fan). You undoubtedly have a better base of knowledge than 99% of fans but don't assume they don't know anything because they didn't play. Here are a few points to consider for both types of fans:


1) Most likely that "fair weather fan" probably supported you when you were a player either directly or indirectly. 
2) Yes, most likely you know more about the game however you don't have to play to be highly knowledgeable.
3) These fans actually like you and are not trying to take anything away from the blood, sweat, and tears you gave this university. To the contrary they want your blood, sweat, and tears to be upheld with proper stewardship. 
4) Be aware that your personal relationship with the staff could make you more sensitive to the comments being made. 
5) Calling someone an "idiot" because they called someone else an "idiot" doesn't make anyone involved in the name calling chain look good.
6) It is just a game and here for entertainment purposes

Regular Fans 

1) Never let your insults become personal or assault a man's character as a human (Unless its a Sandusky situation or something egregious. You can fire away with gloves off at that point) 
2) Keep complaints related to football
3) The best "chaser" for angry criticism is helpful solutions
4) When engaging with ex-athletes understand that they have personally vested many years of their life for the benefit of this program and be respectful and even acknowledge it with gratitude. Also when you are taking a shot at coaches, understand these men have mentored many of these athletes and are a lasting father figure to them (so proceed with caution).  
5) Calling someone an "idiot" because they called someone else an "idiot" doesn't make anyone involved in the name calling chain look good.
6) It is just a game and here for entertainment purposes 

Now don't get me wrong there are "idiot fans" out there and I may well be one of them however I think you have to be blind or not interested in college football at all to realize that the Ducks just aren't the same since the coaching regime shuffle of 2013 & 2014. This is not to say they can't get it right but lets be honest, something is off as a power 5 coach referred to in Travis Haney's blog on ESPN.com this morning. 

Maybe this is what's wrong and maybe not...

1) Players are thinking too much: This is just an observation but to me specifically on defense the players appear to be thinking too much about being technical and not enough about just playing instinctively. This can be caused by being scared to make a mistake (micromanaged), miscommunication, lack of confidence, or just not being prepared properly.  

2) We've gotten away from running the ball first: Think about the mentality of running the football from an offensive lineman's perspective in cavemen language. I see guy, I flatten guy or I need to make a hole here and a guy is in my way, I move guy out of way. The mentality is aggressive and taking the fight to the defense vs passing seems to put you in more of a protective less aggressive mindset. This is what coaches like Chip Kelly, David Shaw, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Les Miles, Pete Carroll and Gus Malzahn have always done, run the ball successfully. Granted the offensive line is an issue right now, but with the amount of talent that's in the backfield I think figuring out how to run the ball effectively is key. I think you have to run Marcus more. It sounds like a gamble and risking his health but if he runs the ball effectively it may lead to him getting sacked less and him being sacked is more dangerous than him running and diving or sliding. I'm not suggesting we Urban Meyer/Tebow him but he's just too talented of a runner to not try to give him some more run/pass options. 

3) Pass protection is broken: Giving up 12 sacks in 2 games is something that just isn't okay. I believe this is a product of major injuries to the line but also becoming somewhat predictable situationally (down and distance etc...). I see them trying at times to move the pocket occasionally and I think it has to be done more often until the line problems are solved. 

4) Defensive game plan not working: Don Pellum knows more about football in his right pinkie than I do throughout my whole body. But it's really hard to look at your own label when you are working inside the bottle. I think he will get it right but I also think he needs to look real hard at taking more risks defensively. If he believes in his secondary like we all think he does, then it seems like putting more than five in the box would be an appropriate gamble. I honestly think he's closer to getting in right than people are giving him credit for and a few small adjustments will probably make the difference. I would personally like to see him test his defense by putting them in higher risk reward situations much more often. 

5) Line coaching is suspect: This is probably my biggest gripe about Chip leaving. Not the fact that Chip left but the fact he took Jerry Azzinaro with him and the line has not been as good since. 

6) Lack of offensive creativity/play calling is becoming vanilla: I think the fear factor for opposing defenses is somewhat gone. Yes Oregon beat Michigan State but the B1G doesn't have offenses as good as the PAC-12 thus they have not faced that kind of tempo week in and week out for a few years like many PAC-12 schools have at this time. What was innovative by Oregon has been copied and rewritten by just about every offense in the conference. Opposing defenses practice against it daily now and so the tempo is less of a factor late in the games than it used to be. Oregon needs to find ways to get back to being the innovators they are and add new wrinkles to the offense. I realize that play calling is much easier in retrospect however it seems to me like its time for Mark Helfrich to take over the play calling responsibility from Scott Frost. 

7) Discipline: Oregon appears sloppy and undisciplined. I have no idea why but it seems like every game there are enough yellow flags thrown at the Ducks to create another uniform combo. I believe this comes back to discipline and coaching the athletes to be accountable for their actions and aware of themselves situationally in the game. Meaning the coaches need to teach the athletes to be aware of how the refs are calling the game, how their body language towards the refs may affect calls later in the game, and just work on playing smarter. 

I'm sure the coaches know everything here that I have said and much more. I don't doubt their knowledge of the game, passion for coaching, integrity, or their intentions. I am wondering if they have the process that is going to work for them or if they are so worried about living in Chips shadow that they don't feel like they have the true ownership ability to make necessary changes. The old adage "With great power comes great responsibility" rings true only if the ones with the perceived power understand they fully have the power to make change. I hope these coaches understand that the fan base though frustrated is behind them 100% and if that means changing WTD to put their own stamp on it, then make that change now and you will be supported. 

This loss is a great opportunity for the staff to show its moxie. There is no doubt that every member of the staff is an outstanding member of the community but this about football. I am fully in support of this coaching staff and hope with every ounce of my fandom that they are able to turn it around but the business of football is harsh, cutting, judgemental, and cut throat. On that note the coaches are on the business side of football and do in fact get paid six and seven digit salaries. With those salaries come expectations from fans. Therefore its fair to assume the fans want to see the coaches "earn their pay". What earning their pay means most likely varies from fan to fan but for me personally to answer a strip down a complex question is having the team playing with great efficiency and discipline, plain and simple. I think in a nutshell coaches "earning their pay" is the only reasonable expectation fans can have at least that's what this "idiot fairweather fan" thinks.