Oregon runs out of answers after 62-20 loss to Utah
EUGENE, Oregon – Oregon’s defensive back’s coach John Neal sat slumped in a chair in the media room after the Duck’s 62-20 loss to No. 18 Utah, resting his head in one of his hands.
“I usually have a lot to say,” said Neal, following the worst home loss by a Ducks team since 1977. “But at some point in that game, I kind of just – I ran out of answers.”
The feeling was mutual among Oregon players and coaches after the Ducks picked up their second loss of the season, marking the first time since 2004 that an Oregon team has lost two games in the month of September.
“Some of the same things that have been happening – they happened again,” said Neal. “We left guys uncovered and gave up some easy touchdowns. Things got out of hand. It was kind of like an avalanche that we couldn’t stop.”
The term “snowballed” was thrown around several times in the post game interviews, while many of the players were seemingly stunned at the outcome of the game that saw 41 unanswered points in the second half.
After a loss to then No. 5 Michigan State in the second week of the season, the road to the second annual College Football Playoff was uphill. But after a 42-point loss to an 11-point dog in Utah, a trip to Glendale on January 11th seems far out of reach for the struggling Ducks.
“You know, tonight happened -- there’s nothing we can do about that now,” said Head Coach Mark Helfrich. “Our reaction tonight -- that is what we can control. We have some high-character guys that can flip that switch and move on looking forward.”
Some questions still remain around a young defensive secondary that has given up on average 330.5 yards per game through the air. Freshmen Glen Ihenacho and Ugo Amadi made the first starts of their career against Utah, but 62 points and 530 total yards given up hardly shows that an answer was found.
“We are trying to limit some of the mistakes that we have been making the first three weeks, so I put guys in there that have been consistent and deserved a chance,” said Neal. “Obviously we didn’t get any better, so we have to go back and figure it out again. At this point there’s nothing left to do but keep striving to find some answers.”
Some uncertainty at the quarterback position has also raised some questions as the Ducks sit with a 2-2 record in a season that has seen backup Jeff Lockie play close to as many snaps as heralded transfer Vernon Adams Jr.
Adams, who sat out last week’s matchup against Georgia State with a broken index finger, was pulled from Saturday’s game in the second quarter after going just 2-for-7 for 26 yards and one touchdown.
“[Adams] just wasn’t himself tonight,” said offensive coordinator Scott Frost.
“He couldn’t throw it down field very well and it was pretty obvious after a few drives that he wasn’t at his best. I feel bad for the kid, but it was just time to make a change.”
Oregon’s first three offensive possessions of the game ended in punts, and Adams’ lone touchdown of the game came on a 13-yard screen pass to Royce Freeman after Byron Marshall set up the Duck’s offense in scoring position with a 77-yard kick return.
“I don’t want to give an excuse – I could have made a lot of those throws,” said Adams. “I wasn’t doing anything, so why would the coaches keep me in? We always preach next man up. [Lockie] came in and did what he had to do to get us back in it.”
Lockie, who came into the game with 6:15 left in the first half, led the Ducks on a seven play, 68-yard drive that was capped off by a 6-yard touchdown pass to Bralon Addison, cutting the Utah lead to 20-13. That touchdown would be the last points Oregon would score until third string quarterback Taylor Alie ran 14-yards for a touchdown with 3:58 left in the game.
“We just have to come out and keep working hard,” said Adams. “Whoever it may be, whether its [Lockie] or myself, the team is going to roll with them, and we are going to get better and fix it.”
With two losses on the record and a long season ahead, the Ducks now sit in a position where many of the coaches and players have not been before; playing from behind.
“This is one of the few programs in the country that hasn’t had a down year in a long time,” said Frost. “I know the character of this team, and I know that they will rebound. Everyone just needs to keep their head up and look forward.”
The Ducks may have been hit in the mouth tonight, and the loss certainly may end their run at a second straight playoff appearance. But many coaches stressed that it would take a lot more than that to break this team apart.
“There’s a lot of hugging and a lot of reassurances that we aren’t going to quit,” said Neal. “We haven’t been in this position in a long time here at Oregon, so we just have to go and see what we’re made of.”