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TRIBUNE PHOTO: DAVID BLAIR - The Oregon Ducks, laden with youth, are going with freshman Justin Herbert at quarterback. EUGENE — So, what does the future hold for the Oregon Ducks, the program that has won nine or more games for nine consecutive years? Well, nine wins probably aren’t going to happen. The Ducks are 2-4 with six games to go.


Judging by the Ducks’ performance in recent games, all losses, they might not win another game. The Pac-12’s worst defense has been abused, the inconsistent offense has turned to true freshman QB Justin Herbert — hey, at least it gives Dakota Prukop more time to work on his graduate studies — and what coach Mark Helfrich called “malaise” at the start of the Colorado game has morphed into what appears to be dissension, lack of caring and, perhaps, a disconnect with coaches.

Wow, how the mighty have fallen. The Ducks haven’t been a two-win team since 1982 (2-8-1), a three-win team since 1991 (3-8), a four-win team since 1983 (4-6-1) and a losing team since 2004 (5-6).

The Ducks are preparing to play at Cal, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 21, wanting to simply win one game.

A long-term goal, which harkens back to the Rich Brooks days, is to make a bowl game.

“Yeah, right now that is the goal,” says Cameron Hunt, senior offensive lineman. “And just figuring out what guys need to be encouraged and bought-in and continue to have guys playing well. Reinforce, hey, don’t let up. Just gotta keep fighting.”

Indeed, it’s onward and possibly upward for the Ducks, from athletic director Rob Mullens to coach Mark Helfrich to some players.

Mullens, in an interview conducted by a UO radio show, sort of gave Helfrich a vote of confidence. It doesn’t sound like a termination is imminent for the head man, who has a multimillion-dollar buyout. Helfrich is two years removed from guiding the Ducks to the national championship game with the help of QB Marcus Mariota.

“I understand the frustration, I absolutely appreciate the passion,” Mullens said, adding the word “disappointed” to his comments. “We’re six games into the season and not where anyone wants to be. But there’s still an opportunity to turn this a little bit and see some positive results.”

Mullens indicated that Helfrich continues to do some good things, even while the Ducks spiral to the bottom of the Pac-12.

“When you’re a coach in any sport, your results are very transparent,” Mullens said. “In football, it’s 12 Saturdays. It’s there for everybody to see. There’s a lot of other things that happen Sunday through Friday, that you’re also evaluating. ... There is a time when you look at it all and say, ‘How did we perform?’”

Mullens went on to say that administration and coaches want to support the student-athletes. Oregon has been “fortunate for a long period of time,” he added, “across the board in all 20 sports to achieve all sorts of things. ... We’ve been able to build championship programs in all 20 sports,” which might come as a surprise to the folks who follow women’s soccer, women’s lacrosse, women’s basketball (lately), tennis and baseball.

After the Ducks gave up the most points in a league game (70) ever against Washington, Helfrich, who feels the administration has his back, said the coaches need to “keep loving them” (meaning players) and “keep focusing on the future.”

Some players have been saying things lately that simply have not been said around the Oregon program for many years, at least publicly.

The theme is that some players feel other players don’t care about winning or losing, and that older players feel some young players act entitled — put on the Oregon uniform, the thinking goes, and win games.

The Ducks held a players-only meeting the Monday after the Colorado loss, led by Johnny Ragin, Dwayne Stanford and Pharaoh Brown.

Veteran defensive tackle Austin Maloata and others sounded off on the entitlement subject.

True freshman linebacker Troy Dye weighed in. “We need to want it more,” he said. “A bunch of guys on the team just don’t want it,” meaning winning.

After the UW loss, a couple others commented about the state of players, including another true freshman, defensive back Brenden Schooler.

“It just seems like they don’t care if we win or lose, if we’re doing good or bad,” he said. “They’re happy to be here just to be here.”

Hunt said about 30 to 40 percent of the team doesn’t care about winning or losing. “We’ve got some guys on our team who are busting their tails off to win and other guys on our team that don’t even care if we win or lose,” he said. “I don’t think everyone is bought-in. I think people really need to evaluate if they want to play.” He says coaches need to figure out who wants to play, and the players who don’t want to play “can leave.”

Said Helfrich: “Those are things we need to address in-house and take care of them in-house and talk about them in-house and we will — this week.”

(Kudos to Hunt and others for speaking their minds. Some players, including receiver Darren Carrington, decline post-game interview requests or just don’t show up).

Helfrich and his coordinators, Brady Hoke on defense and Matt Lubick on offense, as well as longtime assistants Steve Greatwood, Gary Campbell, Don Pellum and John Neal and others, have some work to do.

Helfrich said after the game that players had to “heal physically and psychologically moving forward,” and added the word mentally the next day.

How can the Ducks improve?

Even though the Ducks don’t talk about injuries, Helfrich says some players will be getting healthier and back on the field. Receiver Devon Allen, offensive lineman Tyrell Crosby and linebacker Ragin won’t be returning, but perhaps receiver Stanford and defensive end Jalen Jelks will? Hunt says “we’ve been devastated by (injuries).”

There have been other injuries — to the likes of Dye and fellow linebacker A.J. Hotchkins and to backup offensive linemen and to star running back Royce Freeman. Oregon’s No. 2 all-time leading rusher took a jarring hit against Washington but still played, and once the game became a Huskies runaway Freeman stood on the sideline.

And, tight end Brown has been in and out of the lineup, after he came back from a devastating leg injury in 2014.

The defense has been a mess, not able to stop anything consistently. The scheme is new and the players are simply showing to be not very good.

As has been well-documented, Herbert needs to progress, because it sounds like the Ducks will move forward with the true freshman rather than the graduate transfer Prukop. Herbert now is sort of the poster child for UO’s youth movement.

Hunt says the Ducks need to “pound the rock,” meaning run the ball, which could bode well against Cal’s poor rush defense.

The remaining schedule includes two home games (Arizona State, Stanford) and four on the road (Cal, USC, Utah, Oregon State).

It’s arguable that the Ducks could lose every game, which means that a 5-7 record could be deemed a success by season’s end.

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