Evanson: Oregon football falls flat on big stage, again
Well, that was ugly.
The Oregon Ducks traveled 3,000 miles Saturday with a new coach, some new players, and a new scheme in an effort to reinvigorate a fanbase still digging out from beneath the rubble of what was left from the 2021 season. But what was meant to inspire only further deflated a program seemingly still punch-drunk from three embarrassing defeats to end last year's campaign.
Those are the halftime scores of Oregon's last four losses, all of which came in their last five games.
Before we get too far into this, it should be noted that the Georgia Bulldogs are the defending national champions, return a loaded and elite roster of talent, and were playing in front of what amounted to a home crowd. So, while embarrassing on a number of levels, there's certainly no shame in losing to that team, in that scenario. But if you're looking for a silver lining in what was at face value an unmitigated disaster for the Ducks and their fans, I'm not sure I know what to tell you.
Offensively, Oregon scored three points.
Defensively, they couldn't get off the field and didn't force a Georgia punt until the Bulldogs' second unit failed early in the fourth quarter.
And collectively, the recruits that Mario Cristobal hung his hat on for four years while at Oregon looked pedestrian alongside the blue-chip talent that doesn't just contend for, but wins the national titles the Ducks have been chasing since they first found national prominence with a No. 2-ranking to finish the 2001 season.
"…He knows we have better players. He'll never say that, but he knows we've got better players."
That's what Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said regarding first-year Oregon head coach Dan Lanning's inaugural Ducks game, and at the same time what he didn't need to tell anyone who suffered through the marquee Week-1 matchup.
Oregon was smaller, slower, and noticeably less prepared, which was evident by the number of missed tackles by players who on rare occasions managed to be in position to defend a Georgia offense with an effective plan. Of all the concerning things that came from Lanning's debut, it was that — a Duck defense that seemed at best a step behind and at worst completely lost — that took the cake.
Receivers were wide open, backs often ran untouched, and Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett repeatedly sat in the pocket with time to do as he pleased. Lanning's a defensive guy and the first one Oregon's had at the head coaching position since Rich Brooks, as such I expected more than what we saw against Georgia.
Yes, personnel was a factor, but aside from the "Jimmy's and Joe's" were the "X's and O's" that too failed to make the grade.
I'm not indicting Lanning, he may very well turn this around against Eastern Washington this coming week and show steady improvement moving forward. After-all, Chip Kelly fared equally bad in his debut against Boise State and he went on to win three Pac-12 titles and lead the Ducks to four consecutive BCS bowl appearances. But at the same time it's curious that despite an alleged upgrade in talent across the board, Oregon is performing at a lesser grade in the games and against the teams that they themselves measure themselves against — now with two different coaching staffs.
Maybe their talent has been exaggerated?
Maybe too they've failed to develop that talent?
And maybe in the end Lanning won't end up being the guy they hoped he'd be upon his hiring nine months ago?
But that's yet to be determined despite what talent may or may not be there, the development that may or may not be happening, or a debut that can only be described in one way — ugly.
It's only up from here, Ducks, but from at least the looks of it last weekend, there's a long way to go.
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