Revenge had and reputation improved. Those are the headlines that should have come Sunday morning for both the Oregon Ducks Week 2 and Pac-12. There should have been articles written about a relentless first half by the Oregon offense and a tenacious defense throughout, and coverage surrounding the Pac-12’s ability to play with the big bad SEC. Others might have said the conference wasn’t so soft. But Oregon’s 27-21 loss to Auburn in the 2019 Advocare Classic did not do that, at least not entirely.
Oregon should have won that game. They should have converted multiple scoring opportunities and surged to a confident lead. Mario Cristobal should have managed his timeouts better, perhaps giving the Ducks more of a chance at the end. Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo should have made use of his thin yet impressive wide receiver group.
Football, however, is not a game of should-haves. It’s a game of results. And while fans will speculate as to what could have been made better to change the outcome, what the Oregon football program needs to do is focus on the future. There is still a lot of football to play starting with week 2.
That said, there’s no doubt that this one hurts. Time to explain why.
Setting the Table for Oregon Ducks Week 2
There was a lot put on Oregon’s plate as they headed to face the Auburn Tigers in Arlington, Texas. Not only would they represent their program, university and its fan base, but they would also represent the Pac-12 Conference in the nation’s biggest week one game.
For years the Pac-12 Conference has been seen as soft, especially in the eyes of the SEC. No respect has been given to the west, and it was expected of the Ducks to flip the script. This was meant to be the game where Oregon would come away with a key victory for themselves and the conference. No pressure, right?
On an individual level expectations for the Oregon football program were just as high. This was meant to be a justification of the lofty preseason expectations for a team some have just on the peripheral of the College Football Playoff. Led by Oregon senior quarterback Justin Herbert and the nation’s top offensive line, many expected the Ducks’ offense to explode, impress and overwhelm. The defense, meanwhile, was expected to improve and hold their ground, especially against Auburn’s true freshman quarterback Bo Nix.
And after a few unexpected down years, fans of the Ducks were ready for the program to get back on track. What began as the Decade of the Duck could still finish in spectacular fashion. A win over Auburn in the opener would be proof that Oregon football was headed towards that.
An Ominous Start and Other Negatives for the Ducks
If there was anything that would be indicative of the end result of Oregon’s game against Auburn, it was their first play. Or rather, lack thereof.
Electing to receive the kickoff, the Ducks took the field on offense first. Out came Herbert, his vaulted offensive line, an up-and-coming running back in sophomore CJ Verdell and a wide receiver corps that was injury-ridden yet talented. But before they would take the first snap the Ducks found themselves caught in the headlights. Confused about what play to run and what personnel to line up where Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal was forced to call a timeout.
A less than ideal start to the 2019 season but appropriate for how the Ducks would play much of the game.
While Oregon dominated much of the game, they constantly found themselves fumbling — both literally and figuratively — in key moments. The Ducks missed a chip-shot field goal, dropped a touchdown pass that would have extended their lead, fumbled the ball in the red zone, mismanaged timeouts on a crucial fourth-and-one and allowed Auburn to hold on to just enough hope that they were still in the game. The Oregon football program many expected, while vastly improved, had not yet completely arrived. Too many missed opportunities.
Oregon offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo, meanwhile, took much of the blame. Impressing fans with a diverse selection of play calls early on that had Auburn second-guessing, Arroyo was unable to adapt to the Tigers’ defensive adjustments, choosing conservative plays rather than those that could quickly extend Oregon’s lead. He played right into Auburn’s arms to the dismay of Duck fans nationwide. This isn’t the first time Arroyo has been criticized in such fashion, and how he manages the coming games may determine his future career.
Positives from the Auburn Loss
It’s hard to see positives in any loss. But for the Oregon football team, there was plenty to take away from their game against Auburn.
First, the 2019 Oregon defense looks like the real deal. Under new defensive coordinator Andy Avalos the Ducks were fierce upfront and impressive in the secondary. They played intuitively — for the most part — and showed an ability to match up with some of the best talent in the nation. While they did react too quick in a few crucial moments, what mental mistakes they made can be cleaned up with improved focus and coaching. Those adjustments are easier to make than those based on a lack of talent or personnel.
Second, Oregon’s depleted wide receivers no longer look so depleted. Johnny Johnson III emerged as a breakout candidate. Jaylon Redd found a nice presence in the slot. Redshirt freshman Spencer Webb made the nation know his name with a statement touchdown early in the game. What these receivers did is prove themselves physical and talented enough to hold down the position group until the addition of the highly-anticipated senior transfer Juwan Johnson and true freshman Mycah Pittman. Once they are added, Oregon’s wide receivers could be one of the best units in the Pac-12.
Next, Oregon’s tough loss to Auburn wasn’t conference crippling for the Pac-12. In fact, it was just the opposite. It may seem hard to argue the strength of the conference in a losing effort. What the Ducks showed was the gap may not be as big as some think. Oregon’s defensive front seven managed penetration. Their offensive line held steady against the best defensive front seven in the nation and their personnel constantly looked more talented. It’s the execution that suffered. Don’t be surprised if Oregon’s performance against Auburn provides a confidence boost for other Pac-12 teams in non-conference games.
Moving Forward with the Oregon Ducks Week 2
The beauty of college football — and sports in general — is that you must move on fast. Learn from mistakes and use them to improve the future. And with 11 games left on the schedule, there is still a big opportunity for the Oregon football program to make 2019 a special season. Next up? The Nevada Wolfpack, a team that brings with it a potent offense and the momentum of a last-second win over the Big Ten’s Purdue Boilermakers.
Unlike the Auburn game, the Ducks are not only favored to win, but they’re also expected to. Nevada is a Mountain West Conference opponent, and while threatening in their conference, they should not present Oregon a problem. That in itself can be a problem, however. Overlooking opponents, especially one as talented as Nevada, often spells doom.
Don’t think the Ducks will overlook the Wolf Pack, however. They’ve been spoiled by the Mountain West Conference in the recent past (Boise State). A loss in the home opener would derail the rest of the season. A win, meanwhile, would be the first step towards a still promising year. Some of Oregon’s best years have come after a week one loss.
They’ll be hoping 2019 follows suit. It starts with the Oregon Ducks Week 2.