Warning non-football analyst and football fan only thoughts to follow:
In some of my previous comments I went on lyrically about how there is this fog of mystery that lingers around this Riley football program, which just never quite seems to lift; and I also heavily implied that I had a good feeling we were going to win this game and finally go to the Rose Bowl. Now that the game is done and we sitting with yet another L, and for the second year coming up short, I have to say I was a bit wrong about both.
First, that fog. Sure it hasn't lifted for me and I'm not sure yet this program has reached "elite" Pac-10 status, but at the same time this game did clear some of it for me. After watching that gutty and skilled performance I believe that this program is indeed another step closer. Now a good question here is: Well, maybe, but don't we always seem to say this after a bittersweet loss with Riley's teams? I think this is a good question, and leads into why I'm not as disappointed as I thought I would be and really relates to the second point I made before the game.
Second, that "good" feeling. Okay so I was wrong, the team did not win, but I tell you what if Canfield gets the ball back with any reasonable amount of time, and I'm talking anything more than 45 seconds. Exaggeration? Just take a look at that drive at the end of the half to get an idea why I'm so confident. And if the Beavs are only down 4 or 8 points, which looked possible, he is driving the team to a winning or tying score. The Beavs played on the big stage and they showed up, sure it wasn't perfect otherwise we fans would be booking Pasadena travel plans right now, but they were as good as the Ducks were and it came down to the team that was able to have the ball in their hands at the very end. I think the future is bright.
My more specific game thoughts after the break.
So, some game impressions. I said this in a comment I posted after coming back, but I want to applaud the Duck fans and team. I was able to see a lot the Yellow and Green up close and personal at Autzen, and have to say I was treated with respect, even with the grief some people gave me, and came away with an added bit of respect on my own. That said this is really going to be about the Orange and Black so let me also say, and in no way this is meant as a dig at the Autzen crowd just the complete opposite, that we in Beaver Nation complain all the time about not filling Reser and that Autzen is always full and loud, but I have to say the amount of energy and noise Reser puts out even with our non-sell outs is not that much behind Autzen. The State of Oregon is fast becoming, if not already, a place where I think opposing Pac-10 teams are going to have a tough time playing football.
Offense = Wow, Canfield looked amazing out there. During and after the game I kept hearing how Duck fans, and the UO coaches, were mighty impressed by Sean and you know what, I totally agree with you all "he's the real deal" (Chip Kelly). Sure the O-line gave up some key sacks and had a bunch of false starts, but wow none of those rattled Sean at all. He looked, well professional. I have to admit I could not even picture this as the same QB we had with the happy nervous feet at the beginning of the season. As noted the O-line gave up some plays, but I want to give them big time props too for that was a very hostile road environment, and a pretty darn good pass defense, and the majority of the game they gave Canfield more than enough time to pick the secondary apart.
Receiving and James Rodgers, he sure looked like he has become a big time receiver, and he was making some incredible catches on those laser darts Canfield was throwing. Along with Wheaton and the glimpses of possible greatness we are seeing with him, and with whoever the next out of nowhere receiver that steps up next year, and with the TE situation looking bright in Halahuni, I honestly believe this could be the best receiver group in the Pac-10 next year.
Quizz, sure he didn't have a ton of yards rushing, but wow did he bring it to the game, and remember that he did seven receptions for 76 yards so he had almost 150 all purpose yards. My wife, attending her first OSU football game, was saying stuff all the time like "He never goes down," "He's still going!" "He just never takes a break from playing does he?" Now she understands! The UO defense played him tough and he didn't get many carries because of Canfield's success, but I think Duck fans should now understand the test they'll get the next couple years.
Defense = Okay, sure they gave up some big plays and were missing some tackles that if made would have made that result a bit different, BUT they also played in position (for the most part) and played disciplined (for the most part). And you know what, they held one of the best offenses in the country to 37 points. They kept the team in it. The Ducks had a chance to put a big time hurt on the team in that first quarter and the defense held. Again in the fourth quarter the Ducks were driving and had a chance to put a little more space on the Beavs but the defense bent and didn't break and held them to a FG. I fully expect the defense to be even better next year.
Special teams = They always the last thought aren't they? But Hekker was fine in some cold and loud conditions, could've been better sure but did his job well enough. Kahut was lights out, and man I wish it could've come down to a FG to win it for you just had to know he would have nailed it. Coverage was great too, and the one bad return was called back anyway because of two holding calls, which makes you then think that was good coverage too.
So, my concluding thoughts, if you have got this far, that was a gutsy game. Seeing Tim Clark break his leg and be in that pain but be carted off with head up high like he did just showed the heart of this team I thought. Going for it on fourth down and long? Sure seemed like a FG there would have been a good deal, but you know we all have over the years criticized Riley for being too conservative and here he was for the championship going Bill Belichick on us and saying let's win it here, I can't complain. I'm proud of the heart shown last night, but I'm excited about the possibilities. There was a lot of skill shown last night against a very skilled team.
The mystery fog hasn't lifted completely, but I'm seeing some more stuff through it that is making me look forward to getting to the destination.