In sports, as in other aspects of life, there are losses that sting more than others. When a team you want to have win loses, the pain of that loss depends on various factors.
For me, it has much to do with the familiar adage, "They left everything on the field." Meaning, the team did all that it could to win. Maximum effort. Minimum mistakes. Playing hard. Playing smart.
If both teams leave everything on the field, I view that as a great game, one that neither side deserved to lose, but one team had to (unless the game is soccer, which sometimes ends in a tie).
But yesterday the University of Oregon football team lost to Oregon State in a fashion that left a lingering bad taste in my fan-mouth. They did leave something on the field: energy, wise decisions, good coaching, a will to win.
ESPN describes the ugly (if you're an Oregon fan) conclusion of the game.
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- — Isaiah Newell ran for the go-ahead touchdown with 8:11 remaining, and No. 22 Oregon State took advantage of critical mistakes in the fourth quarter by No. 10 Oregon to rally for a 38-34 victory Saturday.
The Beavers (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12, No 21 CFP) trailed 31-10 late in the third quarter and 34-17 early in the fourth, but the Ducks (9-3, 7-2, No. 9 CFP) gave their rivals a short field on three consecutive possessions. Oregon State converted all three drives into touchdowns without attempting a single pass.
"I felt like we won the Super Bowl," Oregon State receiver Tyjon Lindsey said.
Oregon missed out on a spot in the Pac-12 championship game when No. 12 Washington beat Washington State later Saturday. No. 14 Utah won a tiebreaker and will face No. 5 Southern California on Friday for the league title.
I started watching the game in a balanced frame of mind. I'm a fan of both the Oregon Ducks and the Oregon State Beavers. At first I had the attitude that I'd be equally happy no matter which team won.
But as the game went on, I realized that emotionally I was more attached to an Oregon win. After all, that way Oregon would play in the Pac-12 championship game against USC. Oregon State narrowly lost to USC in the regular season. I wanted to see how Oregon would fare against the Trojans.
And even if Oregon lost to USC in the championship game, there was a good chance USC would be in the national playoff top four teams. This meant Oregon could play in the Rose Bowl on January 2, which would be way cool.
So I found myself hoping that Oregon would manage to eke out a win against Oregon State even as the Beavers were mounting a furious comeback that I found inspiring.
The blame for the loss falls on a lot of Oregon shoulders. However, sports writer John Canzano singled out Coach Lanning for some special blame, and athletic director Rob Mullens for some extra-special blame.
Oregon did a lot wrong on the way to losing this game. The Ducks had a punt blocked, they botched a second punt attempt, and Lanning decided in the fourth quarter that going for it on fourth down and 1 from his own 29-yard-line was a good idea.
It was a lousy idea.
Especially when you consider Lanning made a similar error from his side of the field, just two weeks earlier in losing to Washington. This time, he wasn’t doing it against a porous defense. He was trying it against the Pac-12’s best run defense, while holding a three-point lead, and with his quarterback hobbling.
Bo Nix was tossed for a one-yard loss.
The play foreshadowed another bad loss — the game itself.
...I’m still trying to wrap my head around what we saw at Reser Stadium. Oregon State deserves big-time credit. I wrote about the Beavers unthinkable path to victory in my post-game column.
Smith’s team demonstrated exceptional resilience. It overcame terrible officiating and three turnovers. It endured a horrendous start to the second half and walked off winners. But the focus now is on the hand-wringing currently going on at Oregon.
The Beavers overcame that massive second-half deficit against the youngest coaching staff in major college football. They did so with only 60 passing yards. Blame Dan Lanning for some of it? Sure. He was reckless. But the big-dollar donors at Oregon did not. Instead, they turned their post-game ire toward the athletic director who hired him — Rob Mullens.
It wasn’t just a lost football game on Saturday. The Ducks let a potential Rose Bowl slip through their fingers. They saw millions in revenue evaporate. They lost recruiting advantages, took a brand hit, and were embarrassed on television.
The donors don’t really blame Lanning. They expected growing pains. It’s not his fault he was put in charge. One of them compared the Oregon football operation to a $200,000 Bentley, handed to an inexperienced driver. Do you blame the young driver for dinging up the car? Or the person who gave him the keys?
“It was fraught with risk,” said one booster.
The donors are instead focused on Mullens, the AD, for hiring a coaching staff that looked in over its head on Saturday. They blame him.
Said a second long-time UO donor: “I’m not even mad about the game. I’m mad that it was predictable and the person in charge allowed it to be.”
Well, both Oregon and Oregon State have one more bowl game to play. One projection has Oregon in the December 28 Holiday Bowl against North Carolina, and Oregon State in the December 30 Sun Bowl against Louisville.
Not bad. But for Oregon, way worse than what would have been if they'd left everything on the field yesterday.