"The Breaking Point"
Guest Post by Robert "Stroupinator" Stroup
[Editor's note: the opinions expressed below are strictly those of Robert Stroup, Oregon alum and current graduate student at Lehigh University. The Bloguin Network, The Duck Stops Here and its writing and editorial staff have no knowledge of what he's been drinking or how long it's been since he's had a proper conjugal visit.]
I’ve always been a bit conflicted when it comes to expectations. How good should a team be? How do I know? I’m not the coach, I don’t have the game film and I’m over 2500 miles away from Eugene. But after Michael Tallia’s flowery take on Duck football – which I enjoyed – I felt it necessary to express what I feel are reasonable expectations for this game.
First, for the brutal reality: this is not a game Oregon can win. At least, not yet.
A couple of interesting numbers as to why: in LSU’s last five early out-of-conference major contests, the Tigers have beaten Arizona State, Mississippi State, Washington, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Their combined score in those five games has been 189 to 85. They’re dominating teams – good teams – and making it look easy in big games. So while I appreciate the optimism on this site (and casually enjoy getting the rubbing in my side from everyone) I’m going to step away from it and return once I actually see some development in the lines. And I fully admit, as I’ve not been at practice, others (such as Dale) probably have a better idea as to if that is indeed happening.
However, even if that does happen, take away the ribbon and bow everyone is putting on the Ducks’ present line and you have two and half starters returning ,maximum, in Asper and York. Weems is an unknown; he has been easily injured in the past and is now called to action. It’s entirely possible that he could navigate the upcoming regular season unscathed, but as for now his permanence is far from a sure thing. With only two returning starters, and 57 or 58 total games experience for the front five, the offensive line has yet to gel. Their collective average weight is 297 pounds.
Comparatively speaking, the LSU front five has four starters returning from an 11-2 team last year and an average weight of approximately 312 pounds. Mathematically, the advantage in the trenches, before the game even begins, goes to LSU. And as Chip Kelly says so many times, football is just a numbers game.
Some additional commentary on this first point: what surprises me so much about Oregon under Kelly is how small Oregon has become (as an aside, Ted Miller pontificated about this recently on the Solid Verbal, and I think it bears repeating). In Mike Bellotti’s final years at Oregon, he coached many linemen, such as Geoff Schwartz, Adam Snyder, Max Unger and Fenuki Tupou who went on to become successful in the NFL. Those were guys who were physical and aggressive, and as a result, Oregon (occasionally) really played with an emotional fury. Although their style of play would have been less ideal in Kelly’s offense than in Bellotti’s, their successes speak volumes to the potential for quality linemen at Oregon, which, as of now, is a real question mark for a majority of Duck fans.
This leads me to the second point, which is harder to quantify than it is to qualify. It’s got a lot to do with the abovementioned lack of physicality. And I guess, to a certain extent, it’s got to do with coaching philosophy, too.
In short, under the spotlight, for whatever reason, Oregon seems to play with a Chip on the sidelines but not on the shoulder. This is too bad; given that the competition they’ve lost to (in Ohio State and Auburn) have been decidedly weaker teams schematically and fundamentally, Oregon could have gained something with a little emotion. Not a lot, but just one iota. In the national championship game, Darron Thomas unwisely (albeit humorously) dug for gold on a national television screen. Whereas everyone I was with laughed a bit, all I could think was of Adam Morrison in 2006, lying on the ground, pounding his fists after losing to UCLA. You’ve got to want it, you know? Because of a deep commitment to the plan – perhaps too deep of a commitment – I was never sure if the Oregon squad last year entirely registered their surroundings. It was clear that they cared about winning the game. That much was obvious to anyone. But they knew they had less talent than Auburn on the field, so why did they act like it? Why didn’t they follow the model already provided to them some two years before?
The model I’m referring to is Boise State. Boise throws a hammer down before their games. They live to play one game and one game alone. They don’t let opportunities fly by them like Oregon has, either. You can yell at them, scream at them and downgrade their credentials all you want. They still win. And as I get older and watch Oregon fumble and stumble again under a national spotlight, all I can think is how important it is – and how honest it is – to look into the mirror finally and admit it: Oregon has to suck it up, play a physical game for once in its life, and – damn it – they need to win a game they cannot win. That’s the breaking point. When Boise beat Oklahoma, they then beat Oregon and Virginia Tech as well. They had officially won the game they could not win.
And you know what? For all their incessant bitching, they are proven. Oregon isn’t.
So for the upcoming game against LSU, I implore everyone to forgo any great expectations and, instead, demand accountability from a line that is young, untested and likely to stumble. Demand improvement, at the very least. You can defend the losses and explain them all you want. They remain losses. Every fan should know the importance here: this upcoming game, more than any in Oregon’s history, determines what Oregon is as a program. And it is only a loss as well if you view Boise State, Ohio State and Auburn as trials. They weren’t trials, they were losses, and Oregon still has won a lot of days, but not the day.
May Oregon finally live up to the promise it’s shared with us. May it finally win the game it cannot.