Missouri State is the team on the opposite sideline, but Oregon’s true opponents on Saturday are Complacency, Over-Confidence and The Failure to Improve.
A lackluster effort against an 0-2 FCS school won’t cost them the game, but it could cost the Ducks one later. Missouri State would have trouble beating Portland State. If money were no object, they would come West to play Portland State or Chico, and that’s a game the Bears, picked to finish last in the Missouri Valley conference, could play heads up. They’re coming to Autzen to collect a paycheck, and don’t have more than two or three players that could crack the Oregon two-deep. It’s a replacement game, against some not very dangerous people.
photo at left: the Ducks can show up dazed and confused on Saturday and do pretty well, but if they’re not careful, they’ll wind up sharing their spicy cheese pizza with the rest of the conference. (espn.com photo)
The danger comes on another day. The Ducks could toy around Saturday afternoon and execute poorly and still win by 30. They could mail it in and still score enough points to impress poll voters and avoid an historical humiliation. It’s a track meet the Webfoots win pretty readily and handily, even if they drop the baton. This is Angola versus the 1992 Dream Team, and even if they spend the night in a Barcelona bar and the morning on the golf course, it will be an afternoon of slam dunks and behind-the-back passes, and afterward the Missouri State players may ask for autographs. LaMichael James will get a quick quarter of work and an 80-yard run. De’Anthony Thomas will juke a linebacker and a cornerback with one shake-and-bake and jet to the end zone. The foghorn will blow and the cheerleaders will put on a shake-and-bake of their own. The Duck will do another 350 pushups, barely breaking his elbows or a sweat.
But what Oregon truly has to overcome this week is themselves, and the all-too-human tendency to go on cruise control in a flat stretch of highway with no cops. They need a solid week of preparation, and a crisp, motivated performance on Saturday because Arizona is playing Stanford and Washington is playing Nebraska. Their PAC-12 rivals are playing real games against competent opponents, and they’ll be tested. While they’re improving facing Texas or San Diego State, the Ducks have a routine day where everyone tells them how great they are. However true that is, the only thing that really matters is how great they can be.
This is a game that tests one of Chip Kelly’s most cherished theories. This week, the Ducks truly face a faceless opponent. If they commit in a laugher, and execute when they could just as easily go through the motions, they will have succeeded in a much bigger way than merely reaching 2-1. Character is revealed when no one is watching, when a much less focused effort will do as well.
The Ducks need to improve on defense. The offensive line has to block the running game better, and the downfield passing game still needs work. The effort and execution that beat Nevada won’t go 10-0 in the PAC-12, and this teams only chance to do so is to take full advantage of their remaining 45 practices and this last tune-up game. Missouri State can’t beat Oregon, not once in fifty times, and definitely not this Saturday. But the Ducks can fail themselves, by failing to take the opportunity to play football with relentless desire. The Ducks lost a dozen senior leaders after Glendale. Kenny Rowe and Casey Matthews aren’t here anymore. On Saturday, the new leadership for a new season has to show itself by showing up.