In 2013 Oregon lost a genius, replaced three coaches, cut ties with a wayward mega-talent, shelved a superstar, and had the best quarterback in school history play on one leg. They started freshmen at running back and offensive guard, and relied on young players at linebacker. They lost their edge in November, but rallied for team-effort wins and the Alamo Bowl, completling an 11-2 season some called a disappointment.
2014 started out brighter when three all-conference players agreed to return next year. But here's a list of what the Ducks rose above to achieve their fifth top ten finish in six years:
1. Charismatic head coach Chip Kelly pledges to stay, then decides to accept an NFL offer just 18 days before National Signing Day.
Ending on a high note: Derrick Malone clinches the Alamo Bowl with a 38-yard interception return, getting mobbed by a flock of jubilant Ducks, who sent defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti out with a defensive gem in a 30-7 win (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports).
2. Kelly takes defensive line coach and nutrition advisor and player mentor James Harris with him to Philadelphia.
3. Helrich is hired five days later, 12 days before Signing Day.
4. In the first month he has to hire a new offensive coordinator, receivers coach and defensive line coach.
5. Tight end Colt Lyerla, a preseason Mackey Award Watch List candidate at tight end, leaves the team after three games.
6. De'Anthony Thomas, the team's leading scorer and most dynamic offensive weapon, injures his ankle and misses four games.
7. The entire conference was deeper and stronger this year, becoming a cradle of coaches with Rich Rodrigues, Todd Graham, Mike Leach, Jim Mora and Steve Sarkisian leading resurgences at their programs. David Shaw and Stanford become one of the top-recruiting programs in the nation and a periennial top ten team, powered by a formidable running game, stout defense and big offensive line.
8,. Marcus Mariota suffers a knee injury.
9. Team leaders make unfortunate comments about not wanting to play in the Rose Bowl and falling short of the National Championship.
10. Defense springs a leak, allowing over 200 yards rushing in several key games.
Despite all this Helfrich became the first Oregon first-year coach to win a bowl game and achieve 11 wins. Admittedly he had more to work with than any previous head coach, but he also had a busload of adversity and jet-fueled expectations.
2014 will bring its own challenges, but the entire group, Helfrich included, will be strengthened by the experience of getting along without Chip Kelly,
@KenGoe Red-zone success fell from 90.41% to 78.38%; Ducks' 80.82% TD rate in RZ led nation in 2012, fell to 66.22%. Big fix this offseason.
We need to decide on a number two and number three quarterback and give them the corresponding reps and attention. Having a clear number two will be necessary this year. The conference is only going to get better and deeper and we have to keep up. The new Defensive Coordinator is going to have to step up big time and hit the ground running.
I would add to #4 that Helf creatively rounded up the Magnificent 7 coaches to visit and reassure verbally committed recruits that the experience of being a Duck would not change post-Kelly.
I will say again, that all the criticism we heard starting after the Stanford game, is equated directly with the mark Oregon has made on college football the last 6 seasons. Early on, a lot of the talking heads were really worried that the Ducks would be dead because Kelly wasn't there anymore.
The deal with Lyerla, coupled with the other problems with the O line became very noticeable. While ill timed,the "negative Rose Bowl comments said by any other team would have been perceived differently. It would have been seen as "Courageous", not settling, and other, more positive terms. But because it was Oregon, it became a huge blemish. Oregon had been exposed. Baylor was the new King of Flash.
Marcus's injury in my mind, clearly was the biggest. If he isn't down to one leg, all the other problems are certainly manageable, and the two loss "Disaster" is averted.
@Dale Newton What helps me feel like the "fix" will materialize next season is a healthy Mariota, an improved O line, and a more stable running game, all of which should come about through experience.
@duckifiedDf, I'm very interested to see how the reserve quarterbacks perform in the Spring Game. In "Mighty Oregon" magazine this week Jason Fife talked about how they need one guy to seize that job and be ready to run a play or a series or a quarter. Intrigued by Damion Hobbs, who is a good athlete and sturdily built at 6-2, 227. Rodriguez has the most talent and presence but not sure if his leg will ever be 100%. Looked to have a little hitch in his giddy-up even after two years.
@rgyleThat was the master stroke of his first year, Arg. Now he has to apply the same clarity of thinking to their red zone woes.
There were no "negative rose bowl comments." Go back and watch the interview. They took his words out of context and ran with them. He didn't say what you think he said.
@Ducko30The Alamo Bowl showed how much difference it makes to have a healthy, dynamic quarterback in this offense. He had a great game, but the offensive execution in the Red Zone was awful.