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TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Oregon Ducks linebacker A.J. Hotchkins chases Colorado quarterback Steven Montez during the Buffaloes '41-38 victory Saturday at Autzen Stadium.EUGENE — Predictably, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich took the high road in the wake of consecutive losses by his Ducks.


“This team can be special,” he says. “This team, this year. We have a tough schedule, a tough road ahead of us, but this team can be great. There is zero doubt in my mind.”

The Ducks are 2-2; they were 3-3 last year and won six consecutive games before losing a 31-0 lead and the Alamo Bowl to TCU.

Current defensive woes, youth and inexperience in many areas, mistakes such as bad penalties, a quarterback (Dakota Prukop) still making the adjustment to big-time football ... the list goes on as to why the Ducks have found themselves forced to go 5-3 the rest of the way just to get to 7-5 and maybe the Vegas Bowl. Upstart Colorado legitimately beat the Ducks 41-38 last weekend. The Ducks didn’t lose the game, despite Prukop’s late interception in the end zone, the Buffaloes won it. Backup QB Steven Montez and the offense put up almost 600 yards, recovered from an Oregon onslaught to drive for winning points on Bryce Bobo’s terrific one-handed and one-foot-inbound TD catch and then picked off Prukop (by Ahkello Witherspoon) at the end.

Helfrich wanted a “safe pass,” if Prukop passed. The Ducks had two timeouts, plenty of time and sat at the CU 7 when the first play went into the hands of the Buffs defender.

Helfrich says all the right things, per usual. The Ducks have bounced back before. It has to be a “personal thing” for them to get better. It’s just little fixable things, and coulda woulda shoulda, etc. Players sound together and cohesive, the coach claims, and “we have to be in the solution business.”

“A lot of negative (about the program), and that’s not what we can be consumed with,” he adds.

The Ducks play at Washington State (1-2) on Saturday, and the Cougars had last weekend off and two weeks to prepare for Oregon. Quarterback Luke Falk and WSU’s numerous skill players might be licking their chops at the thought of playing coordinator Brady Hoke’s defense. And clearly, some kinks need to be worked out on offense, which has a young line, new signal-caller, inconsistent passer, and a star running back (Royce Freeman) on the mend.

“We need to grow up,” Helfrich said after the CU game.

A reporter asked Helfrich on Sunday whether he would have done anything differently against Colorado. Perhaps he would address the final pass. His answer (for your translation/interpretation):

“Certainly from an offensive standpoint, we were in position to do everything we wanted. Anything that’s bad, it’s my responsibility. Anything else that happens, good or bad or whatever, we solve it together. If the quarterback throws a great pass and the guy drops it, that’s my fault. As long as the wide receiver coach and receiver are committed to making it better and we’re committed to solve it together? That’s how it rolls. We’re never going to blame the players for anything. That’s how we do it. We keep all that stuff internal.”

• True freshman QB Justin Herbert has still only played one snap, in the season-opening game against UC Davis. Prukop has quarterbacked the team in the first four games, and he’ll continue to play going forward, Helfrich says, despite consecutive losses and Prukop’s ill-fated fade pass that Colorado’s Witherspoon telegraphed and picked off in front of Darren Carrington.

“Dakota is the best quarterback on our team and we believe in him,” the coach says. “We had a great talk with him (Sunday), and he’ll learn a lot from this (Colorado) film. He had a bunch of opportunities of plays that he can make, we trust him to make, we’ve seen him make.”

• Is Prukop, the Montana State transfer, struggling with the speed of big-time football?

“I wouldn’t say that,” says Matt Lubick, UO offensive coordinator. “He missed some throws he would like to have back. But he also made some big throws (including two TDs to Carrington). (Marcus) Mariota would miss a couple of throws a game.

“But, those are throws (on which) we’ve got to work on mechanics and keep getting better at. We’re going to keep taking shots. And, he knows that.”

Then again, it was Prukop’s first interception of the season. He went 22 of 33 for 293 yards and two touchdowns. He’s completing 67 percent of his passes for 260 yards per game, with eight TDs and only one pick. He has carried the ball a team-high 44 times for a 3.2-yard average, including eight sacks.

• Consecutive losses by three points, and each time against Nebraska and Colorado having the ball with an opportunity and not winning?

UO cornerback Arrion Springs says about the Colorado game: “There was the hope factor. We’re about to win, ‘Oh my God!’ And, then that’s just gone.”

Consecutive losses haven’t happened at Oregon since 2007, not counting the loss in the January 2011 national title game and 2011 season-opening game against LSU.

“Leadership — guys who have been here a long time aren’t going to let this define our season,” Robinson says. “We have to bounce back.”

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