SALT LAKE CITY – Decide for yourself when this ends for the Oregon Ducks on Saturday night. When did they appear? Kick-off ? When the offense struggled to move the ball and the defense couldn’t get Utah out of the field?
No wrong answers today.
Utah defeated Oregon 38-7. No altitude sickness, folks. Just massive hurts in attack, defense and special teams. The Utes had a better plan, more urgency, and superior execution. Up 28 zip at halftime, the Utes’ assistant coaches rushed out of the press box on level six at Rice-Eccles Stadium, descended the elevator to the locker room for their 20-minute intermission.
Eleven minutes later, they reappeared.
Not much to say apparently.
Nothing to see here either.
The Oregon coaching staff also returned to the press gallery nine minutes later. Not because the Ducks staff talk or walk slower, but because the visitors presumably had a lot more to cover at halftime on Saturday night. And now we’re about to spend a week trying to figure out what Oregon has yet to play for.
First of all, however, a little credit for the Utes.
Utah was great, wasn’t it? Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig chopped up the Oregon defense one game at a time. The Utes offensive line put a stop to FieldTurf and pushed the Ducks towards the mountains. Mario Cristobal promised the ABC audience before kick-off that this Utah-Oregon game would be a “fight.” It was. Sadly, Oregon was eliminated from the college football playoff race in a game played in front of 52,724 Salt Lakers.
Oregon’s decision to hit dangerous Britain Covey, led 21-0 11 seconds into the half, will forever be known as “Salt Lake’s Big Mistake”. Oregon punter Tom Snee could have kicked the ball out of bounds. He could have hesitated, let a second or two pass, then hit a worm burner towards Kyle Whittingham on the sidelines. Instead, he fought the thing off and Covey rushed to the left sideline and broke Oregon’s back with a 78-yard return for a touchdown.
This is the question to ask. Because the Ducks are 9-2 and could still get back on their feet, win the North Division, win the Pac-12 title and have a bowl game on New Year’s Day. Does it work for you, Duck fan? It should. Because this season has been littered with injuries, setbacks and limitations. If we’re real, there were clues everywhere that suggested the whole question of the playoffs was faltering.
Exhibit A: The overtime loss to Stanford.
Exhibits B and C: Unimpressive wins over Cal and UCLA.
Exhibit D: The fact that the Ducks came into the game with just three assists this season from over 40 yards.
Oregon is playing a rivalry game against the State of Oregon in a week’s time. Beavers not only know what to do, but they are leading a winning streak and will show up. OSU also beat Utah earlier this season. In a Perfect World, Cristobal’s team regroup and decide they want another blow against Utah in a possible Pac-12 Championship game on December 3. But now I wonder how many games Oregon could have lost in Utah on Saturday night.
A? Of them? Or maybe more?
Will the Ducks fall flat now that their playoff hopes are dashed? Will they fall into a coma caused by Ute? We know Oregon has talent. We already know he can bounce back from a tough loss. The Ducks did it after the Stanford loss. But we don’t know how the Oregon operation will react. He focused maniacally on the playoff carrot until the second quarter on Saturday, where he suddenly morphed into a billy club that Whittingham used to subdue him.
Saturday night ended early for the Ducks. Maybe it was obvious to you from watching TV that Utah had all the energy and a better plan from the start. Maybe you saw Oregon run 11 games in the first quarter versus 21 for Utah and thought the Ducks would understand a few things. They’ve gotten over a series of slow starts this season, but that second quarter was a 21-0 knockout.
I’ve seen Oregon beat Ohio State at Ohio Stadium this season. It was a wonderful time for the program. I watched them put out Chip Kelly’s ghost. It was a great victory. I’ve seen them live up to it and do just enough to win in a series of weeks. This is a program that has raised expectations at the highest level of college football. Also the one that had some weird setbacks.
He lost linebacker Justin Flowe to injury in Week 1.
A month later, CJ Verdell’s season ended.
Now the Ducks may have to play without Verone McKinley III.
Maybe Oregon could learn from the guy who broke her heart on Saturday night. Covey served a two-year mission and missed a few years of college. He had two late-season injuries and took on a medical red shirt. He’s been at the University of Utah since 2015 and is technically still just a junior in a red shirt.
“I’m not leaving until Covey leaves,” is the Utah campus’s new rallying cry.
This guy caught that punt and started running. He drove back like a stake in the heart of Oregon on Saturday night. Do the Ducks want to see him on the football field again this season? If so, they must regroup. The questions for Oregon today aren’t so much about replacing a key player or finding a way to win a close game, as replacing the disappointing divot Utah just put in the season of the l ‘Oregon.
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