There was a lot not to like in how the Oregon football team lost last Saturday to Stanford. Aaron Fentress of the Portland Oregonian nailed the awesome awfulness of the loss in a story today.
Saturday's defeat ranks as one of the most disappointing in the program's history. All but gone are the Ducks' national title hopes. Claiming a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title will require help from others. A potential fourth consecutive trip to a BCS bowl game could dissolve into a trip to the Holiday Bowl.
...On the field, Oregon looked dreadful on Saturday. Its running game was stuffed. The passing game was rough. Oregon has made field-goal kicking a form of witchcraft the Ducks can't quite figure out.
Blend all of that together and you have arguably the most disappointing loss in program history.
l'll drink to that last statement. Much more than usual.
I'm typically a one-glass-of-red-wine guy. But after finishing watching a recording of the Oregon-Stanford game late Saturday night, I felt like becoming an alcoholic for a while so I could drown my memories of the many horrific moments that added up to an enormously frustrating loss.
Here's the image that sticks in the mind the most. Meaning, the worst. Watch the first 45 seconds of this video.
De'Anthony Thomas running ahead of quarterback Marcus Mariota as Mariota approached the Stanford end zone after a scintillating 77 yard gain. Mariota was tackled at the 15 yard line by a defender who ran up on him from behind.
An untouched defender, because Thomas was blissfully looking at the end zone from in front of Mariota and never noticed the Stanford player. Amazingly, after the game Thomas said:
“I was just running and trying to be a lead blocker,” Thomas said. “I didn’t even see the guy behind (Mariota).
“I just thought he was already out there (in the clear) and he was running to score a touchdown.”
Now, I've never played competitive football. However, I'm pretty damn sure about this: if Thomas is the lead blocker, and he's twenty yards from the end zone, not seeing any Stanford player in front of him to block, maybe he should consider the possibility that all of the Stanford players are behind him, and he should look around to see if Mariota needs some blocking help in that direction.
That play was a game changer. Oregon ended up with zero points after Mariota was tackled at the 15 yard line. The Ducks lost in overtime by three points.
It's often said that football, like other sports, is a game of inches. I get that.
An Oregon field goal bounced off a goal post. A controversial Stanford touchdown came down to a replay review of a reception that was right on the borderline between "complete" and "incomplete." In overtime a Duck defender reached out for a fumble and barely missed grabbing it, which would have stopped the Stanford series that ended with the game-winning field goal.
But Thomas' play on the Mariota run was much more disturbing.
It reflected a cluelessness about basic football technique which someone with Thomas' talent and experience should have well in hand. If your quarterback is on his way to a touchdown, make sure you block any defenders trying to tackle him.
Don't focus mindlessly on the goal line, seemingly looking forward to the high five's and chest bumps that you and Mariota are going to exchange in the end zone on national TV.
If that comment sounds unduly critical, watch De'Anthony Thomas' postgame interview. His cavalier attitude toward both his poor play on the long Mariota run, and the Ducks' loss of the game, really surprised me.
I could be wrong, but Thomas strikes me as me as someone who isn't big on self-examination or self-criticism. He's got a whatever, dude attitude and an air of uncaring coolness that rubbed my Duck fan'ness the wrong way.