Evanson: Where does Oregon go from here? Wherever Bo Nix can take them
Following the Oregon Ducks' home loss to Washington, Seattle "shock jock" and well-known Husky Honk Dave "Softy" Mahler remarked on Twitter that knocking Oregon quarterback Bo Nix from the game late in the fourth quarter was "the play of the year for UW," and that he didn't "think they win without it."
He's right. After all, with a healthy Nix, Oregon likely goes for and converts that fourth down deep in Washington territory, likely then scores and leads 38-27 with under four minutes to play, and then almost certainly the Huskies and all their honks have another loss to lament on their five-hour trek back to Seattle.
Even if they don't convert and score, a healthy Nix certainly doesn't go three-and-out from their own 25-yard line, Washington never gets a game-winning field goal, and again the Ducks reign supreme for the 16th time in their last 19 meetings.
However, Nix wasn't healthy, they didn't covert or score to put the game out of reach, and in the end it were the Oregon faithful left to drown in their boiling blood as their arch rival to the north literally danced on the "O" at midfield in Autzen Stadium.
A dark day in Duck football history, but "how dark" has yet to be determined.
Oregon still has a lot to play for. Sure, their College Football Playoff dreams have gone the way of the dodo, but with wins over Utah and Oregon State the Ducks can and will earn a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game, and with a win there would likely be 11-2 and headed to Pasadena to play the loser of Ohio State/Michigan.
That's a pretty healthy trophy for a team likely still not ready for what would've awaited them as part of the final four, but to make any of it happen they'll need Nix pulling the strings.
The transfer quarterback has been nothing short of phenomenal since Oregon's opening loss to No. 1-ranked Georgia.
He's thrown 25 touchdown passes to just three interceptions, is averaging more than 300 yards passing per game, and is completing throws at nearly a 75 percent clip.
Additionally, he's rushed for 516 yards and 14 touchdowns.
That type of production, along with the leadership the fourth-year player has provided, is invaluable and likely irreplaceable if his injury keeps him out this week versus the Utes.
Oregon head coach Dan Lanning has been mostly mum on Nix and his injury since the game. Yesterday, in his weekly press conference, he chose not to address the quarterback's status to start the week, nor the status of the two starting offensive linemen who too left the game due to injury.
"I'm not going to share really any update with anyone," Lanning said. "We came away dinged in that game. I will say that I feel lot more positive today getting to hear some news on where things are at right now."
Take that for what it's worth, but at the same time understand that minus their starting signal-caller wins against Utah and/or the Beavers may be hard to find.
On paper, you'd think Oregon could remain viable offensively. After all, backup Ty Thompson is in his second year and was considered by many to be one of the country's finest prospects coming out of high school. But while boasting all the measurables on paper, in his — albeit limited — time on the field he's looked less like a five-star recruit and more like a player unsure that he belongs.
Thompson's been an interesting study since his arrival in Eugene. Many thought he'd push for the starting position in his true freshman season and when starter Anthony Brown struggled mightily throughout, many more clamored for him to play.
He never did.
Prior to this season, those same supporters hoped he'd beat Nix out for the job and when he didn't people started to wonder if it was less about experience and more about what was or wasn't happening behind the scenes.
That's not a knock on Thompson, but rather the reality of his performance in practice, during scrimmages, and on film when he's had his opportunities in games.
Playing quarterback is hard. Ask Nix who had his struggles of his own over his three seasons at the helm at Auburn. But while time can make things better, Oregon, and Thompson, don't have much of that to prepare for what's to come.
The Ducks need Nix. Utah is good, and Oregon State is certainly good enough to beat a compromised Oregon team in what will undoubtedly be a hostile environment in Corvallis for the two teams' rivalry game Nov. 26.
Like Mahler said, his injury cost the Ducks against Washington. Now Oregon can only hope it won't cost them even more.
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