After crazy weekend, business as usual for Oregon


After crazy weekend, business as usual for Oregon

AP Report:

After a weekend rife with rumors and speculation, Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks are right back where they started.

Oregon's enigmatic head coach flirted with a trio of NFL teams over three days before deciding late Sunday to stay with the No. 5 Ducks.

On Monday it was back to business. Kelly was at a coaches' convention in Tennessee. Oregon did not formally announce Kelly's decision - for the school his status hadn't changed, he's still the head coach - but athletic director Rob Mullens told reporters he was obviously ''ecstatic'' about it.

It was an anticlimactic end to the whirlwind that started soon after Oregon's 35-17 Fiesta Bowl victory over Kansas State on Thursday night.

Kelly was peppered with questions about whether he would entertain NFL offers in the days leading up to the bowl game and immediately after it. He told reporters: ''I'll listen and we'll see.''

On Friday, he met with the Cleveland Browns. The interview went on for some seven hours, and by the end of the night, sources close to the team were telling the media that Kelly was ''close'' to signing a deal.

But the next day, Kelly went ahead and met for a reported nine hours with the Philadelphia Eagles about their open coaching position. Somewhere in the midst of all that, he also spoke to the Buffalo Bills.

The roller coaster even took a comical turn when musician Mat Kearney released a song entitled ''Chip Don't Go,'' on YouTube. Kearney, a Eugene native, joked in the song: ''They don't have half the heart or the jerseys.''

By midday Sunday, The Associated Press learned that the Browns had started looking elsewhere because they weren't sure Kelly's heart was in the NFL.

That night, sources connected to Oregon and the Philadelphia Eagles confirmed an ESPN report that Kelly would remain in Eugene.

Mullens said renegotiation of Kelly's contract with the Ducks was not discussed, and he did not know the details of his coach's decision-making process. Mullens did admit to lobbying for Oregon.

''I don't want to speculate on anything, other than to say I think we have something special here. It's a great place. We have a very passionate fan base. We have a unique culture,'' Mullens said. ''I think it's one of the best jobs in all of football. Not just college football, I think it's one of the best jobs in football. I think that weighs heavily.''

Mullens said he was prepared to open a nationwide search for new coach had Kelly decided to leave.

Kelly has not commented publicly on the matter: Mullens explained he was focused on obligations at the convention and then would turn his attention to recruiting.

Kelly is 46-7 in four years as head coach at Oregon. The Ducks have been to four straight BCS bowl games - including a bid for the national championship against Auburn two seasons ago - and have won three Pac-12 championships.

He originally came to the Ducks in 2007 as offensive coordinator under Mike Bellotti. Before that, he was offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, where he started devising the innovative hurry-up offense the Ducks are known for today.

Oregon finished last season 12-1. The team was ranked No. 1 and appeared headed for another shot at the national championship until a 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford on Nov. 17.

The team will return two of its most dynamic players next season: redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, and speedy sophomore running back De'Anthony Thomas, who ran for a 94-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff of the Fiesta Bowl.

But there may also be some challenges: Oregon still faces possible NCAA sanctions based on its use of recruiting services.

Reports surfaced in 2011 concerning payments Oregon made to two such services, including a 25,000 check sent to Willie Lyles and Houston-based Complete Scouting Services in 2010. Lyles had a relationship with a player who committed to Oregon.

Earlier this year, Oregon requested a summary disposition in the case. The school presented a report to the infractions committee outlining violations the school believed occurred and appropriate sanctions. But Yahoo Sports reported that the two sides could not reach an agreement and now the matter is headed for a hearing, as early as this spring.

And there's certainly no evidence Kelly has ruled out a future in the NFL.

It's hard to argue that his stock has fallen in any way because of the failed courtship by four teams, including his talks with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early last year. Kelly obviously has a proven offensive mindset.

That said, there was already speculation that he might be waiting for his ''dream'' job with the New England Patriots, a seat currently held by Bill Belichick.

Only Kelly knows, and he's not saying.

ANNE M. PETERSON with the report

Ducks' rally falls short in 52-49 OT loss at Cal

USA Today

Ducks' rally falls short in 52-49 OT loss at Cal

California , Oregon 

How Oregon lost: The Ducks (2-5, 0-4 Pac-12) fell behind 21-0 in the second quarter and trailed 31-14 in the third quarter before catching fire on offense in the second half and showing some grit on defense to take a brief lead. 

However, in the end, Cal pulled it out with an interception in double-overtime to seal the deal.

What it all means: Oregon now must win four out of final five games in order to become bowl eligible with three road games remaining. One could consider that task to be a virtual impossibility. 

Key sequence: Oregon trailed 34-14 early in the third quarter and appeared to be all but done when Herbert caught fire and UO's running game began rolling. More importantly, the Ducks' defense finally started getting stops. 

Oregon forced two consecutive Cal punts and scored on short touchdown passes from Herbert to tight ends, Evan Baylis and then Johnny Mundt, to make the score 34-28 late in the third quarter. 

A third Oregon stop came when Cal attempted to go for it on a fourth down with one yard to go near mid-field. Oregon answered by driving for a touchdown pass from Herbert to wide receiver Charles Nelson from six yards out.  That gave the Ducks a 35-34 lead early in the fourth quarter. 

High flying Ducks: Herbert blossomed in the second half to finish the night with 258 yards and six touchdowns. 

Running back Tony Brooks-James led Oregon in rushing with 109 yards on 15 carries and scored on a one-yard run. 

Freshman linebacker Troy Dye had 14 tackles. 

Next up: Oregon returns home to host Arizona State (5-2, 2-2) at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The Sun Devils host Washington State (4-2, 3-0) on Saturday. 

Ducks must fix themselves mentally to win at Cal

Ducks must fix themselves mentally to win at Cal

Oregon senior guard Cameron Hunt said today that when he called out teammates for not caring following a 70-21 loss to No. 5 Washington on Oct. 8 he meant that they weren't giving maximum effort, not that they were actually indifferent to winning or losing.

"I think during that game what I meant to say was that the effort wasn't there," Hunt said. "I don't think anyone's quit on our team. I think we have a really good squad coming together and I believe in coach [Mark] Helfrich 100 percent. I trust him. He's our leader. I'd go to war with him any day."

Problem solved. Maybe. 

Hunt wasn't the only UO player to wonder out loud about player commitment following the loss to the Huskies. Freshmen Brendan Schooler and Troy Dye also said there were players who didn't appear to have their heart into the game. 

UO coach Mark Helfrich said last week that the notion some players have quit was simply not true, and shouldn't have been stated in public. 

Maybe so, but there has certainly been something negative going on internally. Let's not forget the players-only meeting following a 41-38 loss to Colorado in which teammates called out one another for poor play and poor effort. 

As Hunt indicated, there is a difference between effort and caring.  On the other hand, doesn't caring typically lead to greater effort? Doesn't a lack of effort come from a lack of desire?

Whatever the case, the Ducks (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12) had better fix themselves mentally or their season will essentially end Friday night at California (3-3, 1-2).  

Oregon must win four of its final six games to become bowl eligible. Cal is one of the most winnable remaining games on the Ducks' schedule. A loss on Friday and it would be difficult to believe the Ducks could win four of five to reach a bowl game with road games remaining at No. 19 Utah and USC. 

"I trust in this team and we just have to be able to give our full effort and put everything together," Hunt said. 

Here is the reality: These are young men who have grown accustomed to experiencing success that have recently been slapped in the face by a sobering amount of failure. When that happens, some panic. Some blame. Some lash out. It's quite normal. 

"In times like these, certainly character is revealed and guys expose themselves for who they are," Helfrich said. "For the vast, vast, vast majority of our guys, they're doing, or at least trying to do the right things."

Front-runners can kill a team when things go south. The Ducks players hope to avoid that and readjust as a team.

"I feel like players have taken a whole new accountability and responsibility for what has happened," safety Khalil Oliver said. "We've realized that it's on us."

Oliver said the team focused a lot on team unity during the bye week. If that pays off, the team could be in business. If not... 

A quick look at California:

When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday, California Memorial Stadium. 

T.V.: ESPN. 

Betting line: California by 3.

Records: Oregon (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12), Cal (3-3, 1-2). 

Coaches: Oregon's Mark Helfrich (35-12); Cal's Sonny Dykes (17-26 at Cal, 39-41 overall). 

Last week: Oregon and Cal were both off, previous to that got run over by Oregon State, 47-44. 

Golden Bears' impact players: Cal leads the conference in total offense (530.2 yards per game) and ranks second in scoring offense (42.3) behind Washington, which dumped 70 on the Ducks two weeks ago. 

Leading Cal's offense is senior quarterback David Webb. He leads the conference in passing yards per game (360.2) and is second in touchdown passes with 22, one off of Washington quarterback Jake Browning (23), who threw for six at UO. 

On paper, all of the above spells bad news for one of the bottom five defenses in the nation. 

However, Cal's weakness is also a horrible defense. Oregon State rushed for 474 yards during its 47-44 win over Cal.

Oregon and Cal could set defensive football back about 100 years on Friday night. 

The Golden Bears' leading receiver is Chad Hansen, who leads the conference in receptions per game (9.8), receiving yards (770) and receiving touchdowns (eight). 

Fear factor (five-point scale): 5. Cal's defense is horrible, but so is Oregon's.  The Ducks can put up points. But so can Cal. The big difference here is that UO is starting a freshman quarterback. Justin Herbert's biggest challenge could be making enough plays to keep pace with Cal's offense while making his first road start. 

Preliminary pick: California 43, Oregon 40.  Ducks could win by three touchdowns if they've ironed out all of the problems from the neck up and Herbert and the UO running game can put up 45 points. But that's a big if at this point. 

What happened to Oregon's 2-pt conversions? Receiver Charles Nelson answers


What happened to Oregon's 2-pt conversions? Receiver Charles Nelson answers

Bri Amaranthus and Aaron Fentress of the Ducksquad sit down with junior receiver Charles Nelson to find out what happened to Oregon's 2-pt conversion strategy. On this week's podcast:

-Nelson breaks down what it's like to live with Oregon running back Royce Freeman and defensive back Arrion Springs
-How bad is the inner turmoil in the Oregon football program?
-Can the Ducks beat Cal? Will they combine for 100 points?
-Will freshman quarterback Justin Herbert establish himself as a leader this season?

How the Ducks could go bowling in December

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

How the Ducks could go bowling in December

At this point in Oregon's season it's safe to say that the team is a white hot mess. 

The Ducks are young, lacking impact talent in some areas, dealing with player turmoil, and now, their coach is on the hot seat. 

It appears that UO coach Mark Helfrich's job security is at least a little bit in doubt. At least that's one way to view the fact that athletic director Rob Mullens didn't say the opposite when asked to shed some light on the subject last week during an interview on the in-house Duck Insider radio program. 

For Helfrich to make a strong case to cool off said hot seat it would appear that the Ducks (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12) would have to at least qualify for a bowl game. That would mean going 4-2 in the second half of the season, which begins Friday night at California. 

Anything short of going 6-6 and all bets are off. Anything could happen. Oregon has lost four consecutive games culminating with a 70-21 loss to No. 5 Washington (6-4, 3-0) at home on Oct. 8. 

Personally, it's difficult to grasp how the Ducks are going to overcome a freshman quarterback, a horrible defense, a young offensive line, four road games and a crumbling psyche to reach 6-6.

That said, there is no denying that UO could win every remaining game on its schedule should it play like it did in losses to No. 8 Nebraska and Colorado (5-2, 3-1). The Ducks lost both games by three points back when they were still playing respectable football. Can they get there again? If they do, the Ducks could certainly finish at 6-6. It just doesn't seem likely. 

That all said, let's just for the time being assume that freshman quarterback Justin Herbert made a big leap in improvement during the bye week, the defense goes from hideous to simply bad and the players recognize how embarrassing it would be to not reach a bowl game and finally come together as a team. 

Here is how, in that world, Oregon could win or lose each remaining game on its schedule:

At California (3-3, 1-2): The Golden Bears' defense is nearly as bad as Oregon's. Cal is allowing 40 points per game compared to 41.1 for the Ducks. Cal ranks last in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, allowing 283.8 yards per game while UO leads the Pac-12 with 257 yards rushing per game. If Oregon State could rush for 474 against the Golden Bears two weeks ago then Oregon should go for 674 on the ground. The downside here is that Cal is averaging 42.3 points per game and will certainly put up points against the Ducks' defense. But Oregon should run wild, control the game and win this one. If not, UO's season will essentially end in Berkeley, Calif.  

Prediction: Oregon victory.  

Vs. Arizona State (5-2, 2-2): The Sun Devils won't be a push over and the season could very well come down to the outcome of this game, one Herbert must shine in for UO to win. ASU entered the weekend leading the Pac-12 in rushing defense (89.3 yards per game) then got run over by Colorado for 315 yards in a 40-15 Buffaloes' victory. Arizona State's passing game is weak had it is equally bad against the pass, allowing 384 yards through the air per game, last in the Pac-12. 

Prediction: Oregon victory. 

At USC (4-3, 4-2): The Trojans, who won 48-13 at Arizona on Saturday, have played better as of late, and their defense is the reason why.  USC defeated ASU, 41-20 three games ago and two weeks ago took down the Buffaloes, 21-17. USC is up and down on offense, but will likely be up against the Ducks' defense. So, it comes down to UO's offense going up against USC's athletes. Smart money is on USC winning here, especially at home. 

Prediction: Oregon loss. 

Vs. Stanford (4-2, 2-2): The Cardinal was overrated to begin the season because of running back Christian McCaffrey. His 104 rushing yards leads the Pac-12 but he hasn't been nearly as dominant as he was last season now that he is playing with a vastly inferior team. Stanford ranks last in the conference in scoring (19.4 points per game) and total offense (307). The Cardinal defense remains strong and looked great on Saturday during a 17-10 win at Notre Dame. UO has a strong chance of winning this game if the defense doesn't make Stanford's offense look better than it is. 

Prediction: Toss up. 

At No. 19 Utah (6-1, 3-1): Utah is a tough place to play, especially when the Utes have their defense going like they do this season. Utah is allowing just 18.3 points per game and 130.1 yards on the ground. Utah's offense is average at 26.7 points per game but that means the Utes will score 35-plus on the Ducks while making life difficult for Herbert in a hostile environment. Then again, Utah did just struggle to win 19-14 at OSU on Saturday. 

Prediction: Oregon loss. 

At Oregon State (2-4, 1-2): How dramatic would it be if the Ducks rolled into the Civil War with a 5-6 record and needing one win to become bowl eligible? A victory for OSU in that scenario, or really any scenario, would make the Beavers' season while simultaneously destroying Oregon's.  The Beavers probably don't have enough offense to take advantage of Oregon's defense at a rate that would allow them to overcome UO's offense having its way with their defense. By this time, Herbert should be completely battle tested and ready to shred the Beavers. 

Prediction: Oregon victory if a bowl game is on the line. Oregon loses if sitting at 4-7 when this game comes around. 


Remember that these mostly favorable scenarios are predicated on the team fixing its inner dysfunction. If not, the Ducks could end up 4-8 in a heartbeat. 

The season has been a disappointment for the team and its fans, but the ducks still have plenty to play for. The threat of not reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2004 must mean something to this team.  If not, the Ducks have much bigger problems than Xs and Os could ever solve. 

Helfrich talks Mullens, addresses reports of team strife

Helfrich talks Mullens, addresses reports of team strife

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said today that he had a conversation with UO athletic director Rob Mullens following the Ducks' 70-21 loss to No. 5 Washington but declined to elaborate on what was said. 

He did, however, say that he feels like he has the administration's support as he works to turn around a 2-4 season. 

"I feel like we have a ton of support," Helfrich said. "The most support we have is the players and we need to play better. We'll shield them from all the negativity."

With six games remaining, Oregon needs four wins to become bowl eligible, which could go a long way toward helping Helfrich keep his job, assuming that it is in jeopardy.  On Monday, Mullens avoided offering unwavering support for Helfrich during an interview on the in-house Duck Insider radio show. 

That interview has raised speculation that Helfrich's job security is at least precarious as he heads into the second half of the season. 

"Nobody is happy," Helfrich said about the team losing four consecutive games. "There's not one person in our organization that's happy with the result. And again, we have to be about fixing that."

Helfrich said practice during the bye week has been solid. He spoke of righting the team emotionally, working on fundamentals, ball security, pass protection, developing young talent and taking advantage of the extra time to improve before playing at California next Friday.  

Helfrich also addressed the numerous reports of players claims that some teammates are not giving maximum effort and simply do not care about winning. Helfrich said those sentiments expressed Saturday night by freshman linebacker Troy Dye, freshman safety Brenden Schooler and senior right guard Cameron Hunt are simply not true. 

"Certainly, absolutely guys are frustrated," Helfrich said. "And that's fine. Number one, you shouldn't say anything like that to begin with when that's not true. It's emotional. All those things. But then our job is to right the ship from an emotional standpoint, from a psychological standpoint and just continue to point out what's going on and why it's going on."


LaMichael James keeps it real on the state of the Oregon football program


LaMichael James keeps it real on the state of the Oregon football program

LaMichael James joins Bri Amaranthus and Aaron Fentress on the DuckSquad Podcast to talk:

- Should Oregon's coaches be on the hot seat?

-Duck player attitudes

-Can UO turn things around?

Oregon AD Rob Mullens guarded during interview about Mark Helfrich's future

Oregon AD Rob Mullens guarded during interview about Mark Helfrich's future

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich is coaching for his job over the final six weeks of the season. 

At least that's one way to interpret what athletic director Rob Mullens didn't say during his Monday interview on the in-house radio program, “Duck Insider.

The show's host, Joey McMurry, didn't directly ask Mullens if Helfrich's job is in jeopardy after a 2-4 start, which includes a 70-21 loss to No. 5 Washington on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. Instead, McMurry asked Mullens what he thought about some fans calling for coaching changes. Mullens, who has declined interview requests from multiple outlets including CSN, responded as such: 

“I understand the frustration, absolutely appreciate the passion,” Mullens said. “We’re six games into the season and not where anyone wants to be. But there still is an opportunity to turn this a little bit and start to see some positive results. As I talked to Mark, they go right back to work and get right back in it. We have a wonderful group of student-athletes, and we need to do everything we can to support the coaches, the student-athletes, especially the seniors as they go this last go-round.”

McMurry attempted in other ways to get his boss to be more direct about Helfrich without coming out and asking, "is Helfrich's job in jeopardy?" Mullens, being very guarded with his words throughout, never provided any clear answers to the only question anyone listening wanted answered. 

Instead, Mullens went on and on about the passion of the fans, the success many sports programs at Oregon have enjoyed, working hard and the disappointment over the football team's rough start. 

“Yes, there’s a lot of frustrations, and no one wants to win more than I do, more than Coach Helfrich, more than the coaches and the student-athletes," Mullens said. "So we’ve got to get back to work and figure out how to turn these results around.”

The bottom line appears to be that if Helfrich doesn't turn things around, his tenure as Oregon's head coach could come to an end shortly after the Civil War. What it would take for Helfrich to lose or keep his job remains a mystery to all outside of Mullens' head. 

There is really no other way to interpret the interview.  At any point Mullens could have said, "Helfrich is our coach moving forward beyond this season."  

That fact that Mullens did not volunteer such support doesn't mean Helfrich is all but done. But it certainly doesn't mean Helfrich's job is safe. Helfrich himself played this game prior to last season's Alamo Bowl when asked if then-defensive coordinator Don Pellum's job was in jeopardy

 "Everybody has to get better," Helfrich said on Jan. 1 in San Antonio, Texas. "Somebody asked me a similar question the other day. I'm never gonna...I could get fired tomorrow. My boss [Mullens] is right over there. He could fire me after this press conference. I don't know....We all have to improve. Every single one of us. We've learned that around the world for a long, long time."

The Ducks lost to TCU in the Alamo Bowl, 47-41 in triple overtime, Pellum got demoted back to linebackers coach, Oregon hired Brady Hoke as the new defensive coordinator and UO's defense is statistically worse than it was last season. 

Now Helfrich finds himself on the other end of ambiguous words from his boss. 

“When you’re a coach in any sport, your results are very transparent,” Mullens said. “People watch it on the field, and in football it’s 12 Saturdays and it’s there for everybody to see. There's a lot of things that happen Monday through Friday or Sunday through Friday that you’re also evaluating. It’s just a continuous process of what can we do today to help support the coaches, support the student-athletes to meet these lofty expectations."

(Insert confused-looking Emoji face here).

Helfrich is 35-12 as a head coach at Oregon. He went 11-2 his first season in 2013 taking over for Chip Kelly. The following season, Helfrich went 13-2 while guiding the Ducks to their greatest season, which included a Pac-12 title, a Rose Bowl win over defending national champion Florida State, a Heisman Trophy for quarterback Marcus Mariota and a loss in the national title game to Ohio State. 

Last year the team dipped to 9-4 in large part due to a horrible defense and lack of a backup quarterback. Those problems persist this season, especially on defense, and the Ducks are getting pounded. 

Some players claim teammates have mentally checked out, and/or aren't giving maximum effort. There are rumors that some players have quit and do not like playing for Helfrich. 

"We're here working every single day to produce the results that we all want," Mullens said. 

For him, working sometimes includes hiring and firing coaches. Mullens faces by far his biggest challenge as athletic director in that regard. 

So what must Helfrich do to keep his job?

If the Ducks go 4-2 over the second half to finish 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game, one could assume that Helfrich's job would be safe. Anything short of that: all bets are off. 

One could surmise based on Mullens' lack of outwardly, steadfast support of Helfrich that if the Ducks continue to play poorly a coaching change will be made. A 4-8 record, or worse, could be difficult for Mullens to overlook if he is already not fully standing behind Helfrich at the moment. 

However, if the Ducks were to finish poorly, but Mullens is convinced the ingredients exist to turn things around next season, maybe that would be enough to earn Helfrich one season to right the ship. 

Other factors Mullens will have to consider involve player support for Helfrich and the staff and if the AD is ready to see the entire coaching staff dismissed. Hiring a new coach would mean going after someone accomplished, and that person would likely want to assemble his own staff. 

Assistant coaches John Neal, Gary Campbell, Pellum, Steve Greatwood and Jim Radcliffe, have been with the Ducks seemingly forever. Do they deserve to lose their jobs after one bad season when they were integral parts of program reaching such lofty heights?

Also, there is not-so-small matter of the $11 million remaining on Helfrich's contract, signed following the 2014 season. Is Oregon willing to eat that money, and pay a new coach a contract that probably would amount to about $15-$25 million over five years? 

Maybe disgruntled boosters would pick up Helfrich's tab? Could Phil Knight pressure Mullens to fire Helfrich and offer to pick up the $11 million check? Or, maybe Knight pressures Mullens to give Helfrich another year. 

Finally, whom is Oregon going to hire to replace Helfrich? What coach more accomplished than Helfrich would be available? And if he is available, is it because he recently got fired? If so, how is he then a better option? If a strong candidate already has a job and is winning, why would he leave his current situation for Oregon? Would the Ducks have to overpay to pry away such a coach?

Could Oregon even upgrade at head coach or would a move simply prove to be costly and lateral?

Would a new coach and his staff be as loyal to Oregon as this staff has been? Helfrich is an Oregonian, born and raised in Coos Bay. This is his dream job. Would a new coach merely view Oregon as stepping stone to the NFL or to a bigger collegiate program? Yes, there are numerous programs bigger than Oregon's.

Mullens job isn't an easy one. He must ponder all of the above and an untold number of other factors. 

But it all starts with Oregon's final six games. All are winnable. Helfrich probably needs at least four wins to remain safe.

Only Mullens knows for sure. That's the scary part for Helfrich. 

Fragile Ducks at risk of sinking into the Abyss

Fragile Ducks at risk of sinking into the Abyss

The character of the fragile Oregon Ducks will be put on display for the world to see over the second half of the season. 

These Ducks (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12) must collectively look in the mirror, search for some shred of dignity and figure out how they want to be remembered: As cowards who folded and put forth one of the most embarrassing seasons in program history that included a 70-21 drubbing Saturday night at the hands of No. 5 Washington? Or, as a group that discovered the word "resilient," embraced it, applied it and salvaged something positive out of this season that could propel them into next year, and save the jobs of the entire coaching staff, if indeed they are in danger.  

"It's a heart check," Oregon freshman linebacker Troy Dye said.

Heart, mind and soul.

Oregon has displayed none of the above, as of late. The Ducks, with their bye week here, have 11 days to figure this mess out before the season completely unravels. Right now, smart money says it already has. 

Washington (6-0, 3-0) exposed the Ducks' fragile psyche at Autzen Stadium. Granted, the already struggling Ducks had little chance of defeating the Huskies, who look like a legitimate national title contender.

But, 70-21? At home? After having already been whipped 51-33 at Washington State?

Seriously? Where's your pride, Oregon?

Apparently the Ducks have little. Just listen to the players speak. 

Dye said the team once again lacked "effort," and "energy."  Freshman safety Brenden Schooler said some players were giving off the vibe that they simply do not care.  

That comes from two true freshmen, who both appear to be heartbroken at where this program sits six games into their college careers. They didn't go to Oregon for this. They certainly didn't sign with UO to be the voices of reason for a clown show. 

There are front-runners and then there are leaders in sports. Front-runners jump on the bandwagon and ride high when all is well, then want credit. Leaders accept blame for the team's poor performance, look inward then rally the squad to improve. 

Oregon appears to have more front-runners who expected instant success the moment they signed their letter of intent, than it does leaders that can redirect this team toward success.

"I think everybody is thinking about the past," junior wide receiver Charles Nelson said, "all the great things we've done in the past and not focusing on the now."

A players-only meeting on Sept. 26 was supposed to have fixed that mentality. Clearly it has not.

What's most disturbing is that the Ducks are not this bad. Not even with four redshirt freshmen offensive linemen starting, not even with freshman quarterback Justin Herbert now leading the team, not even with six new starters in the front seven, and not even after a glut of injuries ravaging the roster. 

This team lost by three points to both No. 10 Nebraska (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) and Colorado (4-2, 2-1). The Ducks are not 59 points worse than Washington, which defeated the likes of Rutgers by the count of 48-13; Portland State, 41-3; and narrowly escaped Arizona with a 35-28 win in overtime. 

UO's once-dominant running game has been a mess the last two games. The defense has allowed 522.3 yards of offense per game (126th in the nation) and 41 points per game (124th). 

A defense must work really hard to stink that badly. 

Oregon's coaches certainly must accept culpability, and they have. But the problems could run deeper than Xs and Ox.  There are grumblings that players have quit mentally and that coach Mark Helfrich has lost the team. If true, the coaches must curb that trend in a hurry. 

Let's not forget that the staff has won before. Most have done so numerous times at Oregon under multiple head coaches. Most of the players, save for a handful that contributed to the 2014 team, have never seen a championship at this level. 

So, are these players who have allegedly quit doing so because of bad coaching? Or, is it because they are front-running quitters?

The truth is that the decline is the fault of everyone involved. It's up to the coaches and the players to dig the team out of this hole. What we know is that the coaches have been here many times before and survived. Some players have, as well. Oregon began last season 3-3 before winning six consecutive games. Will these Ducks find enough fight to win four of their final six to become bowl eligible?

Failing to at least reach a bowl game would be completely humiliating for the program. Experiencing a down year is one thing, going 5-7, or worse, would be an abomination for a program that just two years ago went 13-2, won the Rose Bowl and reached the national championship game. 

The remaining schedule is favorable for the Ducks. California (3-3, 1-2), up next for Oregon on Oct. 21, has a defense (122nd in total defense) almost as bad as the Ducks'. Arizona State (5-1, 2-1) is solid but definitely beatable with the 120th-ranked defense. So are Stanford (3-2, 2-2), USC (3-3, 2-2) and No. 21 Utah (5-1, 2-1). The there's the Beavers (2-3, 1-1), who took down the Golden Bears on Saturday to record their first conference win since 2014. 

If Oregon plays like it did during the first four weeks of the season, the Ducks will go 4-2 to finish 6-6 and reach a bowl game. 

If the Ducks play like they have the past two weeks, they will finish 4-8, at best.

"It's not about just being here, it's about putting in the work and actually winning..." Schooler said. "We have to pull together. We can't fall into this hole, because as soon as you get in, it's hard to get out."

Sorry, Brenden. The Ducks are already in that hole. 

The steep climb out begins right now. 

Keeping it real on Helfrich status... and better times ahead real soon for Ducks

Keeping it real on Helfrich status... and better times ahead real soon for Ducks

Some thoughts about Mark Helfrich and his suddenly downtrodden Ducks:

  • I know there are a lot of people figuring that Oregon isn't going to make any sudden move to fire its head football coach because it just doesn't do such things. It's been 40 years, in fact, since it fired a football coach. But that is really not very relevant. The current school and the athletic department administration hasn't been around through that time and there's really no way to predict what the current administration might do. Is AD Rob Mullens the kind of guy who would make an impulsive move? I doubt it, but I don't really know. He's got to be under some pressure. The situation in Eugene now is a lot different than any time I can remember at Oregon. There are expectations in Eugene that were never there during the Rich Brooks or even Mike Bellotti tenures. Nobody was demanding a bowl appearance every season or consistent residence in the Top 10 or even Top 25.
  • The real question is what the big-money boosters are thinking. Is Phil Knight OK about sticking with Helfrich after this season? Are there others writing big checks who are itchy for a change? That's what's really going to matter. My guess is that Knight is the last person in the world to want a quick change.
  • I would never favor firing a college football coach in the middle of the season. Interim coaches are usually not successful and I'm not sure the Ducks have anybody on their staff who could adequately -- or willingly -- fill the role.
  • The real key to replacing your head coach is whether you think you can bring in somebody better to take his place. That's what causes athletic directors to be cautious about making big moves. It's usually just easier to do nothing -- ride it out and hope things get better.
  • I don't expect Oregon's losing streak to last any longer. Oregon State (and kudos to the Beavers) rolled for 559 yards against the Bears Saturday and 474 of them were on the ground, where OSU averaged 9.5 yards per attempt. Yes, Cal is going to score on the Ducks -- but not enough to overcome what Oregon is going to put up against the Bears. The Ducks should run Cal out of its own stadium. I'm calling it right now, with a bye week to prepare, Oregon won't lose that game.