Posted on October 16, 2021
Two weeks ago against Stanford, Oregon led Stanford 24-17 in the final minutes of the 4th quarter. Stanford then put together an 11-play 86-yard drive.
The key play of the game was a 4th and goal in the final seconds when a penalty on the Oregon defense extended the game by one play. Stanford scored on that play to tie the game then went on to win in overtime.
Last night against Cal, Oregon led Cal 24-17 in the final minutes of the 4th quarter. Cal then put together an 18-play 73-yard drive. The key play of the game was a 4th and goal in the final seconds when the Oregon defense forced an incompletion.
Every Oregon fan watching waited a full second or two to make sure there were no yellow flags in view before breathing a sigh of relief.
It was a dramatic win against a Cal team that is now 1-5, but a win is a win.
Or is it? When it comes to Oregon fans and their expectations for their football team, I’m starting to wonder if simply winning games is enough.
With a bye following that heartbreaking loss to Stanford, Oregon fans had two weeks to stew over this team’s first loss of the season.
From early on in the Cal game, it was apparent the Oregon fan base was still carrying some major dissatisfaction from that loss.
When Oregon failed to convert a 4th-and-6 in Cal territory in the first quarter, the Autzen faithful started to boo.
When freshman receiver Kris Hutson fumbled the ball in the red zone in the second quarter, the Autzen faithful booed again.
When quarterback Anthony Brown misfired on a couple throws in the third quarter and Oregon was forced to punt on back-to-back drives, the Autzen faithful booed again.
It was a disgraceful performance. Not the performance of the Oregon offense. The performance of the Autzen faithful.
Booing their own team at the smallest hint of imperfection was a classless display from a fan base that has experienced too much success for its own good.
It should be pointed out here that I’m writing this as an Oregon native. I’m writing this as a diehard Duck fan. I’m writing this as someone who is still in negotiations with my wife about using Autzen as the middle name for our first child.
I love watching the Oregon football team more than I love watching any other team in any other sport.
But last night was ridiculous. It turned my stomach. It made me embarrassed to be an Oregon fan.
For whatever reason, much of the displeasure of the Oregon fan base seems to be aimed at Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown.
Brown has the misfortune of being a 6th-year senior transfer who beat out a five-star freshman in Ty Thompson for the starting job. This dynamic is not unique to Oregon.
Look at any team in the country that has a five star freshman waiting in the wings behind a quarterback who is less than perfect and I’ll show you the seeds of a quarterback controversy.
Just look north to Washington where some fans are underwhelmed by Dylan Morris and would love to see five-star recruit Sam Huard get his shot.
Part of being a football fan is having an irrational confidence in the backup quarterback to fix every problem on both sides of the ball. What’s maddening about this dynamic is that sometimes it works!
Take Oklahoma as an example. Oklahoma fans have been underwhelmed this season by the performance of Spencer Rattler, the preseason Heisman favorite.
The Oklahoma student section started chanting the name of backup Caleb Williams several games ago. Against Texas in the Red River Showdown, Williams was brought in for a play and immediately ran for a 66-yard touchdown.
Williams then played the whole second half and led Oklahoma in a thrilling comeback from an 18-point deficit. Williams is now expected to start the rest of the season for an Oklahoma team that seems completely rejuvenated.
When things work out like they did in Oklahoma, fans feel vindicated for lobbying for the backup quarterback. Not just Oklahoma fans. All fans everywhere.
The problem is that for every Oklahoma situation, there are probably a dozen or more Notre Dames.
Notre Dame fans have been dissatisfied with the play of senior transfer Jack Coan. Apparently the coaching staff agreed so they replaced Coan with sophomore Drew Pyne.
When Pyne struggled even more than Coan in a loss to Cincinnati, they turned to freshman Tyler Buchner against Virginia Tech. When Buchner struggled as well, they turned back to Coan to pull out a win over the Hokies.
Now nobody knows who Notre Dame’s quarterback is going to be from game to game. Jack Coan seems to be the objective best choice, but nothing in the last few games indicates that the coaching staff or the fan base has any trust in him.
All of this brings us back to Oregon where Anthony Brown has been identified as the scapegoat for whatever ails Oregon.
Even though Brown led the Ducks to a road win against a top five Ohio State team, one of the best wins in school history.
Even though Brown has thrown just one interception through six games this season.
Even though Brown leads an offense that is averaging 33.8 points per game, which ranks third in the conference as of this morning.
So at halftime of a 10-10 game against a 1-4 Cal team, there was Oregonian columnist John Canzano tweeting for Ty Thompson.
After Oregon’s offense sputters in the third quarter with their first three-and-out and first punt of the game, there were the ESPN announcers suggesting that maybe Brown has a problem “between the ears” and suggesting that replacing him might be the best move.
And you know what? I kind of wanted it too. I’m not immune to the enticing aroma of a backup quarterback in a game in which the offense is struggling.
When Oregon fell behind 17-10 early in the fourth quarter, a fellow Oregon fan texted me and asked whether I thought the time was right to turn to Thompson.
I told him that while that may be the right move, I was so disgusted by the performance of the Oregon crowd that I wanted Anthony Brown to be the one to lead them to victory.
And that’s exactly what Anthony Brown did.
On his next drive, Brown led the offense on a 5-play 62-yard drive which culminated in Brown finding Jaylen Redd for a 20 yard touchdown to tie the game. The throw, which split a tight window between two defenders, was Brown’s best pass of the year.
With the game tied at 17, Brown led the offense on another scoring drive. This time it was a 7-play 70-yard drive in which Brown covered the final 11 yards on the ground and reached for the pylon while being driven out of bounds by a defensive lineman.
Ducks in front!
— Oregon Football (@oregonfootball) October 16, 2021
All told, it was probably Brown’s best game in an Oregon uniform. 20-for-28 for 244 yards and 1 touchdown passing, 13 carries for 50 yards and 1 touchdown rushing.
As Brown celebrated with his teammates, I was elated for him.
I also had this thought: Oregon fans don’t deserve this.
Oregon fans don’t deserve the thrill that comes with seeing an offense put together game-tying and game-winning drives when they booed that same offense the first time they had to punt.
Oregon fans don’t deserve the thrill that comes with seeing a receiver making a tough catch in traffic when they booed a receiver for fumbling while fighting for extra yardage.
Oregon fans don’t deserve the thrill that comes with seeing a quarterback make incredible plays with his arm and his legs when they’re booing that same quarterback after a single incompletion.
Oregon fans need to be more appreciative of the team they root for and they need to be more appreciative of the quarterback leading that team.
It’s true, Anthony Brown is not going to win a Heisman like Marcus Mariota and he’s not going to be a first round draft choice like Justin Herbert.
But what if I told you that he could be a dual threat version of Joey Harrington?
I know, I know. This is blasphemy in Oregon circles to compare Anthony Brown to Joey Harrington. But hear me out.
First, Harrington is the best comp for Brown statistically. As of today, Brown’s passer rating of 141.7 is very close to Joey Harrington’s 2001 passer rating of 143.8.
Harrington completed 58.8% of his passes during that season, Brown has completed 59.2% this year. Harrington averaged 7.6 yards per attempt, Brown is currently averaging 7.9 yards per attempt.
If you’re an Oregon fan reading this, you have to admit that if I told you at the beginning of the season that Anthony Brown would match Joey Harrington’s productivity, you would have been thrilled.
Second, Harrington’s only loss during that wonderful ‘01 season was a weird loss to an unranked Stanford team. Thus far, Brown’s only loss as starter is a weird loss to an unranked Stanford team.
Finally, Harrington’s calling card during that season was clutch play in the fourth quarter. The Ducks pulled out five wins by 7 points or less.
Halfway through Brown’s season, he’s already led the Ducks to three wins by 7 points or less and he has continually made clutch plays in the fourth quarter.
It’s this last point that may be the hardest pill for Oregon fans to swallow. The fact that the Ducks even need to make clutch plays in the fourth quarter is a reality that many Duck fans are unable to reconcile.
Twenty years ago, when Oregon was pulling out win after win by the skin of their teeth, it was a thrill. Nobody was used to the Ducks being included at the top of the national rankings. After decades of losing, just to see Oregon win was reward enough.
Then the Chip Kelly era happened and everything went haywire. Oregon wasn’t just winning games, they were DOMINATING. Oregon football became a phenomenon that truly transformed the sport and the fourth quarter became mostly irrelevant.
By that point, Oregon was usually resting their starters.
Yes, Kelly’s Ducks also lost to an unranked Stanford team. It’s just that that was Oregon’s only loss to an unranked team in a four year period.
Yes, Kelly’s Ducks also had to pull out an ugly win over Cal when the offense struggled to move the ball. It’s just that Oregon beat every other conference opponent by double digits that same year.
In terms of entertainment, I don’t see the Mario Cristobal era ever becoming the Chip Kelly era. The sooner Oregon fans come to grips with that, the better.
That doesn’t mean I don’t think Oregon football can reach or surpass the same heights they enjoyed while Kelly was at the helm.
This is a program that has produced legit national title contenders under Mike Bellotti and Mark Helfrich in addition to Kelly and Mario Cristobal is a more established recruiter than any of those coaches.
He’s already produced a top five team and a Rose Bowl champ. If Oregon is able to keep Mario Cristobal, they should win a lot more games during his tenure.
They’re just going to win them differently.
This Oregon team with this quarterback is 5-1 and every game remaining on their schedule is winnable. This could be a special season. Just know that they’re not going to blow teams out.
If the Ducks are able to win the Pac-12 for a third straight season (a pipe dream 25 years ago) or challenge for a playoff spot, they’re likely going to do it by the skin of their teeth.
I fully expect their upcoming road games against UCLA, Washington, and Utah to come down to the wire and I expect the same about their season finale against the Beavers.
At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if their games against Colorado and Washington State follow suit.
Oregon fans have two options.
They can enjoy the ride and cheer for this team to scratch and claw their way to victories. They can revel in the fourth quarter rallies.
They can appreciate the way this team has overcome multiple devastating injuries to key players. They can fully embrace a flawed quarterback who somehow seems to be at his best in the fourth quarter.
Or they can sit with arms folded and refuse to enjoy a team they don’t deserve.
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