BREAKING: Oregon wide receiver Darren Carrington suspended for national title game

Darren Carrington

BREAKING: Oregon wide receiver Darren Carrington suspended for national title game

DALLAS - Oregon redshirt freshman wide receiver Darren Carrington failed a NCAA administered drug test and did not make the trip to Texas for Monday's national title game against Ohio State at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, according to multiple team sources.

The Ducks arrived here this evening. The team could try to appeal the suspension.  

Carrington tested positive for marijuana, according to sources.

Losing Carrington is a huge blow to the Ducks, already minus redshirt freshman wide receiver Devon Allen, who injured his knee on the opening kickoff of last week's Rose Bowl. 

[RELATED: Loss of WR Carrington bad news, but not devastating for Oregon Ducks]

Carrington delivered the best performance of his career during Oregon's 59-20 win over Florida State in the Rose Bowl playoff game when he caught seven passes for a season-high 165 yards and two touchdowns. Carrington was coming off having seven catches for 126 yards during UO's 51-13 win over Arizona in the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 5 in Santa Clara, Calif. 

Carrington has 37 receptions for 704 yards and four touchdowns on the season. He ranks second on the team in receiving yards and fourth in reception. 

Allen ranks second in receptions (41) and third in receiving yards (684), and leads the team with seven touchdown receptions.

That means 78 receptions, 1,388 receiving yards and 11 receiving touchdowns have been benched for the national title game. 

Lack of discipline costing Ducks close games

Lack of discipline costing Ducks close games

EUGENE - Welcome to the new normal for Oregon. It involves close games against once-middling teams that come down to the wire. Matchups that require greater attention to detail to win. Contests that these Ducks have yet to prove they can emerge from victorious. 

The Ducks, after losing 41-38 at home to Colorado on Saturday, are 3-5 in games decided by seven points or less dating back to last season, and have lost three such games in a row dating back to the Alamo Bowl debacle. Since the Ducks became national title contenders in 2010, Oregon is 7-10 in close contests with just 14 losses in seven seasons. 

Essentially, when opponents keep games close they have had a better than 50 percent chance of winning.  That's bad news for Oregon given that the Ducks (2-2) are likely to play in many more close games this season in what looks to be a balanced Pac-12 Conference led by No. 7 Stanford and No. 8 Washington. The question for Oregon is if it has enough talent and discipline to win the vast majority of such games in order to contend in the North Division. So far, the answer is no. 

That reality led to a players-only meeting following Monday's practice held for the team to yell, point fingers, clear the air and redirect this sinking ship in the right direction.  

"I think maybe that's what the team needed, is to get called out at certain positions," senior guard Cameron Hunt said.

The result was a spirited, fast and physical practice on Tuesday that coaches and players called one of the team's best, especially for the defense, which has woefully under-performed and blown fourth-quarter leads in losses at No. 15 Nebraska and to Colorado. 

Too often Oregon blames itself for losses rather than give much credit to the opposition. However, there is no denying that in their last three defeats the Ducks committed gross unforced errors late in the games that contributed greatly to them losing. 

From 2010 through 2014, Oregon found itself in only nine close games out of 68 contests (13.2 percent). Mistakes made in other games were covered up with blowout victories. However, the post-Marcus Mariota (2012-2014) coupled with the dramatic improvement of offenses within the conference have led to the Ducks finding themselves in eight close games out of 17 played (47.1 percent) dating back to the start of last season.

So what's to blame for the failure in close games?

Some outside of the program blame coach Mark Helrich and his staff. The players, however blame themselves. 

"I think our effort was terrible, both sides of the ball, special teams," Hunt said. "I think we can do a lot better and that's something that shouldn't be questioned. Or effort should be full-go. There shouldn't be anything left in the tank when the game is over."

Part of the problem liess with younger players who arrive at Oregon with a grandiose sense of self worth without ever having accomplished anything at the college level. 

"That entitlement, that cannot exist," Helfrich said. 

It did a bit in 2013, leading to veteran leaders such as Mariota and center Hroniss Grasu working to eliminate bad attitudes among players. The result was a run to the national title game during the 2014 season. Now today's veterans are out to perform the same type of eradication project. 

"We have a lot of young players on the team who really don't understand the culture and how we do stuff here," Hunt said. "That's something that is non-negotiable, 100 percent effort on every play, best you've got."

All that said, the veterans also share heavily in the blame, according to senior wide receiver Dwayne Stanford. 

"It's not just the younger guys making mistakes," he said. 

Stanford also added veterans must share in the mistakes made by younger players within their position groups.

"If a receiver messes up, that's on me," Stanford said. 

One young player who certainly gets it is linebacker Troy Dye, who had a lot to say about the defense's lackluster performance.

"There's too many missed tackles, lack of effort," Dye said. "It's the effort and the fight and the hunger. We have to want it more."

In Helfrich's experience, sometimes it takes failure for players to realize the importance of executing the little things within a game plan. He said that often times failure on a second down in the second quarter is as important as a poorly thrown pass that's intercepted in the fourth quarter. 

Plus, nothing screams undisciplined like frequent penalties. Oregon ranks last in the conference in total penalties (41) and penalty yards per game (97.2). Stanford, in three games, has committed just 13 penalties for 32 yards per game. 

If the players-only meeting helps reaffirm the understanding that they must play with more discipline and effort, the Ducks could turn the corner. 

"I think those kinds of things are almost always positive in the end," Helfrich said of the team meeting held on the field following practice. "Like a lot of things there's words and then there's actions and commitments that come out of things."

Oregon next plays at 1-2 Washington State on Saturday. The Ducks are the superior team. Both teams are in desperation mode. Oregon could win going away. Or, if the players-only meeting doesn't pay off, the Ducks could find themselves in another close game they could easily lose. 

Oregon's discipline, or lack thereof, could determine its fate. 

"I hate losing," Hunt said. "I bet you a lot of guys on our team hate losing, as well. So, I mean, you hate it, but what are you going to do now to fix it? That's the big question. It's up to some of these guys on the team whether they want to grow up fast and fix it or if not, we're going to continue to lose."

UO RB Royce Freeman to return at WSU

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Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

UO RB Royce Freeman to return at WSU

Oregon junior running back Royce Freeman has a chance to rewrite the programs rushing record list this season. Each week we will provide an update on his progress. 

EUGENE - Oregon junior running back Royce Freeman will return to action after missing one game with a lower leg injury, Oregon running backs coach said today following practice. 

"He's been practicing full, so I expect him to be 100 percent," Campbell said following Tuesday's practice. 

Freeman, not available for comment, left Oregon's loss at Nebraska on Oct. 17 in the first quarter with 31 yards. He then was held out of Saturday's loss to Colorado at home. 

Missing seven quarters of action, and the team losing two games, have pretty much killed Freeman's chances at becoming a Heisman Trophy candidate. 

The action missed had also severely hurt Freeman's chances of breaking Oregon's career rushing record held by LaMichael James.

Freeman is 1,555 yards away from James' record of 5,082 set from 2009 through 2011. 

Freeman began the year with 3,203 career yards after rushing for a program-record 1,838 yards in 2015. That figure broke James' previous single-season record of 1,805 set in 2011. 

Here is a statistical breakdown of Freeman's run at both the yardage and touchdown records:

RUSHING YARDAGE

James' record: 5,082 yards.

Last week: Freeman sat out the team's 41-38 loss to Colorado. The week prior at Nebraska he rushed for 31 yards before leaving the game in the first quarter with an injury during the 35-32 loss. 

2016 total: Freeman has gained 325 yards on 37 carries this season. 

Career total: Freeman has 3,528 career yards. He needs 92 to move into second place all time ahead of Kenjon Barner (3,623)

Freeman needs: He sits 1,554 yards away from breaking James' record. 

Average needed per game (13-game season): With nine games remaining, Freeman must average 172.7 yards per game to break James' record. 

RUSHING TOUCHDOWNS

James' record: 53.

Last week: Freeman sat out. 

2016 total: He now has four rushing touchdowns. 

Career total: Freeman sits at 39 for his career. He needs two touchdowns to tie Barner (41) for second place. 

Freeman needs: He is 14 rushing touchdowns away from breaking the record. 

Next up: The Ducks play at Washington State (1-2). 

Safety sensation Brenden Schooler surfs with sharks: The DuckSquad Podcast

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Safety sensation Brenden Schooler surfs with sharks: The DuckSquad Podcast

The DuckSquad podcast dives into:
-Can Oregon still win the Pac-12 title?
-True freshman Brenden Schooler, the overlooked recruit, who has something to prove at Oregon
-Royce Freeman injury update
-Should Mark Helfrich be on the hot seat?

 

Tennessee to Oregon, "You have a friend in me"

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Tennessee Vols

Tennessee to Oregon, "You have a friend in me"

Late last week I asked if Oregon and Tennessee just became best friends after a Tweet from the Oregon Ducks trolled the Volunteers rival, and Week 4 opponent, the Florida Gators.

If the Volunteer’s lastest video on social media is any indication, then the two schools have indeed started a budding friendship.

On Monday the Volunteers, fresh off of ending an eleven-game losing streak to the Gators, took to Twitter to thank the Ducks for their support.

The Tweet read, "Hey [Oregon], apparently pulling trucks makes you hungry. You have a friend in me. Your Friend, Smokey," and had the following video attached to it:

If mascots can really be friends, than The Duck and Smokey are BFFs. Woody and Buzz would be proud.

Reeling Ducks begin quest to be "great" at WSU

Reeling Ducks begin quest to be "great" at WSU

Can you hear Dionne Warwick singing her 1979 hit song Déjà Vu?

It certainly should be the Oregon Ducks' theme song this week. 

For the second consecutive season the Ducks find themselves sitting at 2-2 and being written off by many. The only clear difference from last year to this year is that in 2015 the Ducks at this point were coming off of a 62-20 drubbing at the hands of Utah in Autzen Stadium while this season Oregon is smarting after a 41-38 loss at home to Colorado on Saturday. 

Prior to both games were heartbreaking, three-point losses on the road to a Big Ten opponent. 

If what happens next also mirrors what occurred last season, the Ducks could be set to start salvaging their season starting this week at Washington State (1-2). 

"We were left for dead last year and bounced back," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "We were left for dead the year before and that turned out okay. It's just a time where each individual has to be accountable for their role and their fit in this deal. I told the team last night, and I believe it 100 percent, this team can be special. This team, this year. We have a tough road and a tough schedule ahead of us but this team can be great. There's zero doubt in my mind."

Oregon in 2014 overcame a loss to Arizona and an injured offensive line to reach the national title game. The 2015 Ducks survived a poor defense long enough to get back quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. from a finger injury then rattled off six consecutive wins before the Alamo Bowl debacle. 

Where will this year's team end up? Tough to say. 

The good news for Oregon is that its two losses have come by a combined six points to two teams (Colorado and No. 15 Nebraska, 35-32) that have a combined record of 7-1 with the lone loss going to Colorado at No. 4 Michigan. 

The bad news is that Oregon's defense remains a work in progress and the Ducks have just begun a run of five games against some of the top offenses in the country. WSU, Washington, California and Arizona State are all up next with each is averaging more than 40 points per game

Colorado sliced through Oregon's defense with backup quarterback Steven Montez accounting for 333 yards passing and 135 rushing as the Buffaloes amassed 593 yards of total offense in his first start. 

Next up is Washington State. The Cougars are reeling after suffering losses at home to Eastern Washington out of the Big Sky Conference, and at Boise State. Their lone victory came against Idaho. 

UO certainly should be too much for the Cougars, but the game will be played at night and in Pullman, Wash., where strange things often go down. 

A win is a must for the Ducks with No. 8 Washington (4-0) eagerly anticipating taking down the Ducks the following week. 

Should the Ducks lose at WSU, a sub-.500 season would start to look like a distinct possibility. 

Here is a quick look at Oregon vs. OSU:

When: 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Martin Stadium, Pullman, Wash.   

T.V.: Pac-12 Networks. 

Betting line: Oregon by 1.

Records: Oregon (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12), Washington State (1-2, 0-0). 

Coaches: Oregon's Mark Helfrich (35-10); WSU's Mike Leach (22-31 at WSU, 106-74 overall). 

Last week: Oregon lost 41-38 at home to Colorado. WSU was idle. 

Cougars' impact players: The Cougars are off to a slow start but the offense remains potent, averaging 42 points and 514.7 total yards per game. 

Quarterback Luke Falk has been spectacular, completing 74.1 percent of his passes for 1,124 yards and 11 touchdowns with just two interceptions. However, he ranks eighth in the conference in passing efficiency (154.3) because WSU relies so much on short passes. His 7.11 yards per pass attempt is hardly frightening. 

His top targets, Gabe Marks and Tavares Martin Jr. rank second and third in the conference in receptions per game with nine and six respectively. 

Linebacker Peyton Pelluer is seventh in the conference with 7.7 tackles per game. He leads a defense that has given up 27.3 points per game.

Fear factor (five-point scale): 4. At this point it's reasonable to believe that every team on Oregon's schedule could defeat the Ducks as long as their defense remains this suspect. But the Cougars' inability, or refusal, to run the football should help Oregon tremendously. WSU is averaging 121.7 yards per game on the ground.

The Ducks should be able to get after the quarterback and create pressure on Falk in WSU's spread offense without worrying too much about the run. 

However, WSU's run defense has been strong, allowing just 103 yards per game, third fewest in the conference. If WSU stymies Oregon's run game and forces quarterback Dakota Prukop to win the game, the Ducks 

Preliminary pick: Oregon 43, WSU 37.  It will be close, it will be wild and in the end, the Ducks will find a way to win. 

UO QB Dakota Prukop two errant throws away from hero status

UO QB Dakota Prukop two errant throws away from hero status

EUGENE - Oregon quarterback Dakota Prukop has played some very good football this season. 

Unfortunately for him and the Ducks, two plays separate him from having already earned legendary status rather than simply being a good quarterback who keeps falling short. 

Prukop, during Saturday's 41-38 loss to Colorado at Autzen Stadium, threw an interception in the fourth-quarter on a horribly underthrown pass to wide receiver Darren Carrington II, who ran a fade pattern to the left corner of the end zone. Colorado cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon intercepted the throw with 48 seconds remaining.  

Two games ago in the final minute at Nebraska, Prukop, with the Ducks down 35-32, rolled right and located wide receiver Charles Nelson open running toward the right corner of the end zone. But Prukop underthrew Nelson and the pass was deflected. The game ended two plays later when Prukop rushed for three yards on a desperate fourth down attempt with 18 yards to go for a first. 

Two would-be winning plays. Two underthrown passes. Prukop leads Carrington to the corner of the end zone and it's a likely touchdown. Prukop leads Nelson and it's also a likely touchdown.

That's how close Oregon (2-0) is to being 4-0. That's how close Prukop, a graduate transfer from Montana State, is to having thrown two game-winning touchdown passes for the Ducks already this season. 

Instead he is left to lament what could have been. 

"It's execution," Prukop said following Saturday's defeat. "People are going to say, "nah, it's not one play. It's the whole game.' But it came down to the last play."

It's a tough situation to be in for a quarterback. They're asked to save the the rest of the team from its collective mistakes while minimizing their own. Bottom line, however, is that they are expected to make big plays. Prukop has made plenty. He has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 1,041 yards and eight touchdowns with just the one interception. He's also rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown. 

Such statistics, however, ring hollow when a quarterback fails to deliver with the game on the line. 

Some fans and members of the media have criticized the play call on the pass intended for Carrington against Colorado. That's largely unfair.

Red zone fade passes are rarely intercepted because they are pretty safe throws. Either the pass is lofted to the corner where only the receiver can get it, or it goes out of bounds. Another option is to throw the ball with great velocity to the receivers back shoulder so that he must adjust to it while the defensive back can't see the ball because he is trailing the receiver. 

"I thought it was a safe play," Oregon offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said of the call on first and goal from the Colorado seven. 

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich supported the call. 

"With two time outs, just trying to get a play off quickly and use all four downs..." Helfrich said "In that situation we're obviously trying to give a playmaker a chance. Hopefully it's a safe ball and that turned out differently."

Prukop said he felt good about the play call. 

"When they called that play I was like, 'we're going to get a touchdown right here,'" Prukop said.

His intent, Prukop said, was to throw the ball high and to the corner of the end zone. 

"I should have put it a lot higher," Prukop said. "Give him an easy jump ball. That's what he likes. Just have to learn from it."

The passing combo, Prukop said, has worked on that play extensively in practice with Prukop laying it up for the ultra athletic Carrington to go get it. On Saturday, however, Prukop misfired. 

"I've got to go see it on film but obviously I didn't put enough juice on it," he said. 

Prukop said he ended up throwing the ball a bit more like a back shoulder pass.

"I've got to put the ball in position where only the receiver could get to it," Prukop said. 

The pass lacked the trajectory or velocity of such a throw and instead turned into a lob pass directly to the defensive back. 

"Throwing it like I did, that's too risky," Prukop said. "I paid for it."

The play left Oregon's players and coaches stunned. The Ducks went from having a chance to win, or at least tie with a field goal, to losing after one errant throw. 

Players and coaches said they would rally around one another to right the ship. At the center of that, Lubick said, is Prukop, who demonstrated great leadership in the face of adversity. 

That ability, plus Prukop's talent, could put UO in position to win plenty of games this season. But there are going to be times where Prukop must make the big throws that so far have eluded him.

"I haven't been through something like this before," Prukop said. "It sucks. Just have to eat it and learn from it. 

Ducks' defense lacks difference makers

Ducks' defense lacks difference makers

EUGENE - Oregon's defense is a mess and that won't change until the Ducks recruit, develop and properly deploy impact players capable of preventing such debacles as the team's 41-38 loss to Colorado on Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.

The post-game interviews included a lot of talk from the defense about missed assignments, poor tackling and playing with more intensity. Those elements of the game, while certainly important, do not make up for the absence of big time playmakers that make lives easier for all involved. 

Suspect recruiting and a lack of player development has led to Oregon fielding a collection of good, but not yet great players on defense. That makes scheming for opponents more difficult and leaves the Ducks with numerous holes that can be exploited by opposing offenses. 

Case in point: The Buffaloes (3-1) racked up 593 yards of total offense while being led by a redshirt freshman quarterback who passed for 333 yards and rushed for 135 more while making his first career start. 

The Ducks (2-2) made Montez look like a future Heisman Trophy candidate while appearing to be desperately searching for answers to slow down a team Oregon had routinely walloped since 2011. 

UO defensive coordinator Brady Hoke, when asked if the Ducks had the types of impact playmakers on defense it needs responded: "I'm not sure about that."

Translation: "No."

Said coach Mark Helfrich when presented with the same question: "We are still searching for that pass rusher, or that cover guy."

The Ducks need some Haloti Ngatas, Matt Toeainas, Nick Reeds, DeForest Buckners or Arik Armsteads on the defensive line. A Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso, Casey Matthew or Joe Walker at linebacker would help. The secondary desperately needs an Ifo Ekpre-Olamu, a Jairus Byrd, a T.J. Ward or a Patrick Chung. 

The absence of th0se types of players is glaring. And keep in mind that a lot of those players played with others from that group. The Ducks are searching for just one of that caliber at the moment. 

Consequently, for the second consecutive game the defense blew a lead in the fourth quarter by surrendering a long drive. Colorado, trailing 38-34, drove 70 yards in seven plays to go ahead 41-38. Colorado didn't face a third down on the drive until the play when Montez threw a 31-yard touchdown to end the drive. 

Last week, Nebraska drove 80 yards for the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter with the Ducks clinging to a 32-28 lead. On the drive, Nebraska converted on a fourth down with nine yards to go to set up a 34-yard touchdown run right up the middle by quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.

Nobody stepped up. Nobody made an impact play. The Ducks had to rely on the quarterback and the offense to win and they no longer have Marcus Mariota back there to be that guy. 

So what has happened to the defense? Recruiting star rankings aren't everything, but the Ducks have not had great success landing dominant four-star recruits on defense in recent years. The Ducks signed 20 four-star recruits and one one five-star player from 2013 through 2015, the classes that should make up the bulk of the 2016 defense. Of those 21 just six came on defense. 

  • 2013: The Ducks signed seven four-star players, with just three on defense, along with five-star running back Thomas Tyner. Safety Tyree Robinson is a solid starter. His twin brother Tyrell, however, now plays at Fresno State. Linebacker Torrodney Prevot, who never developed into a starter, has been suspended indefinitely pending legal proceedings.
  • 2014: Junior college transfer defensive end Tui Talia was the lone defender among five four-star recruits. He exhausted his eligibility last season.
  • 2015: Oregon signed eight four star recruits with just two on defense. Defensive lineman Canton Kaumatule, expected to be the next Buckner or Armstead, has been a non-factor with one tackle this season. Cornerback Ugo Amadi is a part-time starter who has yet to come of age.

The 2012 class had 10 four-star recruits with four on defense. They included defensive linemen Alex Balducci, Armstead and Buckner, who were too good to redshirt and are now gone. Armstead and Buckner were first-round picks by the San Francisco 49ers. Those are the types of players Oregon's is missing.  

Keep in mind that the 2014 defense that helped the Ducks reach the national title game had five starters who were four-star recruits; Armstead, Buckner, Balducci, Olomu and safety Erick Dargan. 

This is not to say that some budding stars don't exist on Oregon's roster. Hoke said not having the pass rushing abilities of redshirt sophomore Jalen Jelks (two sacks against Virginia) against both Colorado and Nebraska hurt and causes the defense to search for more exotic ways to create pressure, which can expose other areas of a defense. 

Freshman safety Brenden Schooler and freshman linebacker Troy Dye each made great plays on interceptions in the third quarter, and have the look of being potential superstars. Their plays keyed a run of 21 consecutive points that gave the Ducks a 38-33 late in the third quarter.

"Those two interceptions were big keys in the game," Dye said. "The crowd got back into it. We just kind of fed off of that and the defense got multiple stops."

But neither is yet the type of player opposing teams must alter their game plans for. There isn't one player like that on a defense, but it is young. Oregon could return nine or 10 starters next season. Maybe a couple will develop into stars capable of changing the entire dynamic of the defense. 

Right now, all of the misfires provide teaching moments for a defense learning how to make plays in order to get off the field in critical moments.  

"Those are gut punches that you have to overcome," Helfrich said. "That's kind of what we're talking about in terms of growing up. You have to bounce back from that."

That's easier to do with great players consistently making great plays. 

How good can the Ducks' future be as long as they're living in the past?

How good can the Ducks' future be as long as they're living in the past?

When Oregon lost head coach Chip Kelly to the National Football League, it lost a heck of a coach. Everybody knows that.

The Ducks also lost the seminal figure in their surge to becoming both a consistent national power and one of the most fun teams to watch in college football. Kelly was to Oregon what Steve Jobs was to Apple -- a unique innovator who always seemed to be one step ahead of the competition. His teams were prepared, smart and difficult to predict. Just when you thought you had him figured out, he came up with something else.

It was as if he was that late friend of mine, who used to say, “Just when you think you have all the answers, I CHANGE THE QUESTIONS!”

And in his absence, Oregon football has tried its best to maintain Kelly's aura by continuing to stick to his style. But the style without the designer is a cheap imitation. A knockoff. And that's what Duck football has become -- a product that looks on the surface just like the ones Kelly created, but without the substance and innovation that made the whole thing work in the first place. They have nobody now who can CHANGE THE QUESTIONS!

I don't know what to think of Coach Mark Helfrich. He talks a good game. He takes responsibility, as he should, when things don't go well. He obviously knows football way better than you and me, But there's something missing. And in a lot of the ways you measure the impact of coaches, he doesn't measure up very well.

I've always looked at penalties as a measure of the preparation and discipline level of football teams -- a direct result of coaching.  The Ducks are averaging 11 penalties per game, 125th in the country and ahead of only Arkansas State, San Diego State and Marshall. Seriously, that's brutal. Oregon came out Saturday afternoon not ready for Colorado, which was starting a freshman backup at quarterback. The Buffaloes jumped them early and took control of the game. And the Ducks, with the game seemingly in their grasp, couldn't execute late in the game to win it.

Yes, quarterback Dakota Prukop tossed up the football equivalent of an air-balled free throw in the end zone, leaving a fade pass woefully short. But was it the right call? Was Prukop prepared to make such a throw? We'll never know, but I believe it's a reason that going out and grabbing a Big Sky quarterback who was a graduate transfer as a one-season fix is probably not the way a big-time program should go about its business. Prukop is new enough to the program that I'm not certain the coaches could ever have known what he's capable (or not capable) of doing late in a Pac-12 game.

Recruiting is a big part of the coach's job and for me, the mere fact of a program of this nature having to go out two years in a row to the Rent-A-Quarterback store in the Big Sky Conference is a sign things aren't going well in that department.

The defense is as big a problem this season as it was last year -- perhaps even worse, as the Ducks seem stuck in a rather static 4-3 that doesn't get much pressure on the quarterback and seems to grow confused in zone coverage. There are only two ways out of that problem -- recruit better players or talk Nick Aliotti out of retirement. The former is much more likely than the latter, I would assume.

The offense, though, has been this team's identity for years and it's not hitting on all cylinders, either. And with that defense, the offense must get much, much more efficient for Oregon to end up on the winning side of the scoreboard.

And this is where Kelly is missed the most. This coaching staff is still trying to to run Chip's stuff without Chip and I don't think that's going well. The tempo is inconsistent and that doesn't matter, anyway, because everyone has caught up to the whole play-fast deal. The play calling is pedestrian and where Kelly always seemed to be outside the box and difficult to predict, the Ducks now seem at a loss at times about how they want to attack.

For all their playmakers on offense, Oregon ranks tied for 69th in the country in third-down conversion percentage. Part of that, of course, is not getting many yards on first and second down. That's when Oregon seems at its offensive worst, by the way -- first and second down, where the conservative side of the coaching staff seems to have a death grip on the offense.

Chip Kelly built Oregon into a feared national powerhouse and an offensive juggernaut. We won't ever know if he could have kept the Ducks on top -- only a select few programs can maintain that excellence over an extended time.

But I do think we know by now that Helfrich hasn't been able to do it. That's not an indictment, really. Apple still hasn't recovered from losing Steve Jobs, either.

Ducks lose to Colorado for the first time since Buffs joined PAC-12

Ducks lose to Colorado for the first time since Buffs joined PAC-12

Colorado 41, Oregon 38

How Oregon lost: The Ducks (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) played their worst game of the season on both sides of the ball while Colorado (3-1, 1-0) put on a show on offense despite being without starting quarterback Sefo Liufau (ankle).

Freshman Steven Montez didn't look anything like the player who misfired on all seven of his pass attempts at No. 4 Michigan last week after Liufau went down while leading the Bufflaoes to a 31-17 lead in the third quarter. 

But then the Ducks forced a couple of turnovers in the third quarter, got hot on offense and pulled out to a 38-33 lead heading into the fourth quarter.  

Colorado answered with a scoring drive that set up the Ducks with a final chance to win down 41-38. Oregon drove to the Colorado seven-yard line and faced a first down and goal to go. On first down, quarterback Dakota Prukop threw a fade pass to the left corner of the end zone that was intended for wide receiver Darren Carrington II. The pass was poorly underthrown, resulting in an interception by cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon with 48 seconds remaining in the game. 

What it means: Oregon loses to Colorado for the first time since the Buffaloes joined the Pac-12 in 2011, and the first time since the 1998 Aloha Bowl. 

Key sequence: Oregon trailed 33-17 after Montez threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to a diving Devin Ross with 12:59 remaining in the third quarter. 

Oregon was then forced to punt and Colorado went on the move again. But Montez got greedy with a deep pass down the right sideline that UO freshman cornerback Brenden Schooler intercepted at the 13-yard line and returned to the Oregon 49. Five plays later UO running back Tony Brooks-James scored from one yard out to make the score 33-24, Colorado. 

The Ducks' defense then forced Colorado to punt for the first time on the day. Oregon took that offering and marched 74 yards on 10 plays, ending the drive with a three-yard touchdown run by running back Kani Benoit to trim Colorado's lead to 33-31.

Oregon's defense stepped up again. On Colorado's next possession, UO freshman linebacker Troy Dye intercepted a Montez pass at the Colorado 27.  A couple of plays later, Prukop hit Carrington in the left corner of the end zone to give the Ducks a 38-33 lead with 38 seconds remaining in the third quarter. 

All told, Oregon scored three touchdowns in 6 minutes and 8 seconds of action during its run. 

Play of the game: The Ducks trailed 23-7 in the second quarter and lined up to punt when the Ducks went to their bag of tricks. Middle linebacker Danny Mattingly, as the upback, took the direct snap and rumbled through a gaping hold for 29 yards to the Colorado 28. Two plays later Prukop hit Carrington for a 25-yard touchdown pass that trimmed Oregon's deficit to 23-14. 

High flying Ducks: Prukop got off to a slow start but finished the game with 293 yards on 22-of-33 passing with two touchdowns and one interception. 

Brooks-James didn't start but he led the team with 120 yards on 16 carries. 

Dye led UO with 10 tackles and a sack after not playing defense last year. Middle linebacker A.J. Hotchkins returned to action with nine tackles. 

Darren Carrington caught two touchdown passes. 

Fowl play: Oregon's defense, save for the forced turnovers in the third quarter, didn't look strong at all. The Ducks allowed Montez to  pass for 217 yards in the first half before he finished with 333 on 23-of-22 passing with three touchdown passes and two interceptions.

Colorado amassed 593 yards of offense. Oregon had 508.  

The Ducks couldn't keep track of wide receiver Devin Ross, who caught seven passes for 153 yards and a touchdown.  

Next up: Oregon plays next Saturday at Washington State (1-2). The Cougars were off this week.