Going into Saturday’s game against Washington State the third ranked Oregon Ducks were flying high, fresh off their victory over the then ninth ranked Stanford Cardinal. The Ducks too their #1 ranked offense into Pullman to face the 117th ranked defense (there are only 120 teams in the nation that qualify). So it should be a piece of cake right? Wrong….so, so wrong. The Ducks came out flat again, which is not unusual for them this season. But after suffering mounting injuries and making costly mistakes the Ducks were lucky to escape 43-23. Yes the score says that it was still a 20 point victory for Oregon, but considering how good this team is supposed to be and how horrible Washington State is anticipated to be, this was a disappointing performance for Oregon. The lag is understandable considering they go from facing arguably their toughest competition to their weakest in-conference foe, but there is no excuse for coming out and playing in a rainy stadium with the lack of intensity the Ducks had. With injuries all over the field and a more than likely upset coaching staff, the Ducks have a lot of work to do before they face UCLA on national television on the 21st.
The offense looked up and down throughout the game. At times running back LaMichael “LaHeisman” James showed his big play ability and speed, providing 136 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground, and added another 84 yard receiving score from quarterback Darron Thomas all in the first half. Darron Thomas was running the offense effectively and looked especially good throwing the ball in the spread offense. The experienced offensive line was doing a decent job of pass protecting as well, but no huge holes for James in this game. After Thomas left the game in the 2nd quarter back-up quarterback senior Nate Costa looked very good running the ball, nearing the 100 yard rushing mark himself and included a touchdown of his own. He proved to the player everyone thought he was, stable but nothing too exciting. Costa was able to lead a few scoring drives with a banged up offense. LaMichael James had broken a few big runs in the second half, but fumbled and lost the ball twice in the second half, one of the major issues with the electric players for the Ducks. Jeff Maehl received another touchdown, making this his 27th consecutive game with a reception. Maehl also eclipsed the 100 yard receiving mark for the first time this season. Wide receiver DJ Davis has a solid game as well, mainly in the short pass and screen game that the Ducks try to utilize so effectively. Most, including myself, expected receiver Josh Huff to have a breakout game as well, but I can only assume he was hampered by an injury much like the rest of the offense. After gaining a first down on the first play from scrimmage, Huff was only seen returning kick-offs. But with injuries to LaMichael James for a period of time, Darron Thomas, lineman Carson York and a scary collision involving Kenjon Barner it could be hard to judge the Oregon offense on this day.
On defense it really is more of the same for the Ducks. While getting after quarterback Jeff Tuel, the defensive backs were regularly allowing the Cougar receivers to run underneath their protection and make short receptions. There were a lot of players being run on and off the field for the Ducks, especially for the defensive backs. The most impressive player on this day was defensive lineman Brandon “Grizzly” Bair. Bair was a constant presence in the Washington State backfield and basically single-handedly stifled the Cougar run game. When the Oregon defense provided pressure Tuel was largely ineffective, but when he was given time he was able to complete passes to a young receiving core that also dropped a lot of passes on the day. But once again the defense for the Ducks woke up in the second half, allowing 6 points in the 3rd quarter and nothing in the 4th quarter. That brings the season total to 13 points allowed in the 3rd, and 0 in the 4th. Still a very impressive stat for an Oregon defense that will remain the question mark for a team ranked near the top. Casey Mathews added a second half interception (his 3rd on the season) inside the Duck 10 to prevent the Cougars from ruining the 4th quarter bonanza that is the Oregon defense. It appeared that Mathews as well as cornerback Cliff Harris were injured during the course of the game as well. Cliff Harris had a very good game yet again on the defensive side of the ball. Oh yeah, and he returned another punt for a touchdown, his third on the year. What else is new? Harris has to be considered one of the most valuable players thus far for the Ducks; the guy does something spectacular every single game it seems like.
On a day full of injuries to the Ducks, one clearly separates itself from the pack. In the first half standout running back Kenjon Barner was receiving a kick-off when around his own 10 yard line he was involved in a massive collision with an oncoming Washington State player. The defender appeared to be accelerated into an unsuspecting Barner due to a block from an Oregon player right into the head of Barner. The Washington State player appeared to put the crown of helmet right into the facemask and chin on Barner, causing his neck to spin and knock Barner unconscious immediately. The result of the play was a fumble recovered by Washington State that was later converted to a touchdown, but the Ducks were clearly more concerned with their teammate. Barner spent about 10 minutes on the ground, as teammates, coaches and trainers tended to the sophomore. Barner’s parents were brought down to the field and his mother was visibly upset, and his father was constantly in conversation with head coach Chip Kelly and the assisting trainers. LaMichael James was also visibly distraught at the sight of his helpless teammate, who looked hysterical with worry while hiding his face in a towel. James and Barner, while competitors for the same running back position, are very close friends and support each other no matter what. After a few more nerve-racking moments, Barner was helped to his feet and put on a stretcher and taken to a nearby hospital for observation. I am happy to report that to this point Barner has been responsive and in stable condition. I will be posting updates on Kenjon’s condition when they become available.
Now the Ducks have a bit of an extended break before they play the UCLA Bruins at Autzen Stadium on October 24th, a nationally televised Thursday night game scheduled to kick-off at 6pm PT. The rest will be good for those Ducks that are nursing injuries; hopefully Thomas and James will be back in the line-up. It is too early to estimate a prognosis on Barner, but on injuries to the head that could very well be a concussion or neck issue it is important for the Ducks to be very cautious with the timetable for his return. UCLA lost a road game to Cal today 35-7, and they will have the same bye week as the Ducks. With #1Alabama losing to #19 South Carolina today you would expect the Ducks to rise to #2 in the polls and into the national championship drivers seat. But with the way computers work and the fact that Oregon State (who seems to have a knack for screwing up everything) beat #9 Arizona today that makes Boise State’s schedule look stronger, possibly enough to jump Oregon for now. Only the computers know at this point, but what else is knew.
About the Author
Written by Rob Parness
My name is Robbie Parness and I am a student at the University of Oregon. I'm a California native that loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. I would love to become a sports writer someday or work in sports in any capacity.