If you stepped away from your TV for two minutes Saturday night, you may have missed it.
It won’t make many end-of-year highlight videos, and could be forgotten about by now. One series late in the first half, however, could be the turning point in the Oregon Ducks season.
Holding on precariously to a 23-19 lead, with momentum clearly sitting on the other sideline, Oregon faced a Washington State team hell-bent on grabbing the lead and putting the second ranked team squarely on the ropes. Then…
Sack. Sack. Sack.
Oregon’s defense, by knocking the Cougars out of field goal range, may also have knocked off any lingering effects from a preseason filled with bone headed turnovers and penalties.
It’s no secret that the Ducks, right behind Alabama in the major polls, had played less than stellar ball through 4 ½ games.
With the stop against Wazzu, however, all that may have changed.
Oregon outscored the Cougars 28-0 in the first 20 minutes of the second half, running away from yet another hapless opponent, as if it were not even on the field.
Make no mistake … the Ducks are loaded on both sides of the ball. The offense, so young and full of promise, was as efficient as ever (especially along the line) in the second half. The defense was, well, the same: Stingy. Unrelenting. Opportunistic.
But that series … Sack. Sack. Sack.
It’s rare in football to see three straight plays resulting in the “s” word, especially in the spread-it-out world of college football. And no one spreads it out better than Mike Leach, who’s teams led the nation in passing six of his 10 years at Texas Tech. To pull that off against a squad led by Leach, even one short on the talent side, is something to behold.
Will the stop, which helped preserve Oregon’s lead and propelled them into the second half surge, be the series that wakes this team up and makes them realize their potential? That remains to be seen. One thing cannot be denied, though, and that is Oregon looked like a different squad after halftime.
Marcus Mariota, despite an interception, looked as calm and cool as ever. Kenjon Barner suddenly had gapping holes to run through. The receivers were more open, and simply looked faster than anyone WSU had to throw at them.
But it all comes back to that defense.
It’s time to stop looking at Oregon for their flashy offense only, because Nick Aliotti’s unit is too good to sit in the shadows. Senior leaders bleed into rising stars, mixed in with athletic newcomers, to create the perfect blend of terror for opposing offenses.
With a secondary ready to make their name as the best in school history, and the most enforcing line since the early 2000’s, what Oregon puts out on the field is the most complete defensive unit the school has ever seen. There are simply no holes to be found.
How the Ducks finish the season remains a mystery; and in the crazy world of college football, anything can happen. If Oregon can run the table-and that looks like a daunting task with the PAC-12 so strong-one little series in the second quarter against WSU might have been the turning point.
At 5-0, the season really starts Saturday when the 23rd-ranked Huskies come in. It’s a bitter rivalry, fueled by the fact that Oregon has dominated Washington in recent years.
Three weeks remain until the showdown with USC, widely regarded as the biggest obstacle between Oregon and a fourth consecutive conference title.
If the defense keeps this up, however, anything seems possible.