Oregon Ducks Football: A Rivalry Catastrophe


Sierra Donis (she/her), Editor

The Oregon Ducks football program can be considered one of the “holy grails” of sports teams in Oregon, and this year was no different. Coming into the season with a completely new coaching staff including Dan Lanning and transfer QB from Auburn, Bo Nix, the Ducks seemed like playoff contenders until they weren’t. With recent losses to both primary rivalry schools – Washington and Oregon State – the Ducks will not even appear in the Pac-12 championship. So, how did Oregon go from a team showing promise to losing to their biggest rivalry games?


With a 9-3 record, the Ducks ended their season with a typical crash-and-burn effect that has happened on multiple occasions. Oregon did show talent in the middle of the season, however, even though with a major rocky start against the Georgia Bulldogs for their opener, Bo Nix, would lead the Ducks to huge wins against UCLA and BYU and showed a major turn-around for the program. 


Approaching the end of the season, the Ducks simply needed to win out, and the Ducks could’ve waddled their way into a playoff spot. The last time the Ducks went to the College Football Playoffs, CFP, was with Marcus Mariota in 2014, and this year was the hope to return for revenge, and maybe even a national title. But of course, this dream wouldn’t last. The Ducks would end in Duck-like fashion and lose in-conference games that they needed to win. To add insult to injury, Oregon not only lost big but also lost to both of their rivals, one being right in Autzen Stadium after being famed for not losing at home for around four years. 


One of the major problems came down to coaching, calls from Dan Lanning, and his team. Confidence beyond logic would put Oregon in tight 4th down situations and surprise on-side kicks that would put the opponent on the 50-yard line to start the drive. Now, these risk-taking plays did work at UCLA, when the Ducks would pull off an on-side kick stunner and 4th down conversions against the Bruins to win the game 45 to 30. But, when Oregon tried these bold plays against the Huskies and Beavers, they were either ready for it, or the Ducks weren’t able to pull it off. With crucial 4th down turnovers from Noah Whittington by slipping without resistance against Washington, or Bo Nix being stuffed in a three-yard run against Oregon State, the Ducks would turnover the ball in the most important moments in the game. This came down to Dan Lanning’s decisions and the consequences that his team would undergo from them; in this case, it was losing chances at the Pac-12 championship, the CFP, and being the catalyst for comebacks by both rivals to win the game.


Making key tackles is also another thing that Oregon has gotten better at, but struggled with over the course of their season. In the Georgia game, the Ducks couldn’t land many tackles, and let the Bulldogs run them into the ground. Oregon State wasn’t much different, and Oregon found themselves not being able to stop their run game leading to plenty of points on the board for the Beavers. Soft coverage for Oregon is not something new either, as the Oregon DBs have been known to give plenty of breathing room for WRs. When you pair this issue with and also a lack of pressure on Michael Penix Jr., Washington’s QB weapon full of talent, you’re doomed from the start. Oregon does have some great defensive players, like Noah Sewell, DJ Johnson, and Christian Gonzalaz, but that didn’t cut it against their opponents this year.


In the Oregon State game, we saw a complete breakdown of special teams with the Ducks. With extreme mistakes in the fourth quarter, this would help facilitate the Beavers’ impressive comeback. It wasn’t punter Alex Bales’ night, with a blocked punt earlier in the game, proceeded to fumble the snap, recover the ball, but place Oregon State at Oregon’s 2-yard line. The Beavers would score, and cut the deficit to 34-31 with plenty of time in the fourth quarter for Oregon State to claim the victory. 


The returning team also made bad decisions when receiving the punt and would leave an injured Bo Nix and his line on the 8-yard line to start the drive, along with letting the Beavers return for plenty of yards late in the game. These mistakes would amount to Oregon’s loss to Oregon State, with complete embarrassment and failure on both sides of special teams.


Yet, even with all of these issues, Oregon still put on a show for us this season. Bo Nix was a versatile player that can be compared to the debatable level of Justin Herbert’s success — even when an injury would occur in the Washington game. Troy Franklin was definitely another key to the Ducks’ offensive success with him and Nix working like a well-oiled machine with spectacular catches. Noah Whittington and especially Bucky Irving would be a run game powerhouse and were able to charge through defensive lines left and right. The Ducks definitely had a powerful offense this season, especially compared to last year’s generally anti-climatic QB, Anthony Brown Jr.


Oregon definitely has more in store when it comes to the offense when it comes to the impending bowl game. But, the Ducks will definitely be taking a hit from imminent changes to the roster. Bo Nix will most likely choose to enter the NFL draft, and just recently Kenny Dillingham – Oregon’s offensive coordinator – just left to coach for his alma mater, Arizona State. This combined with other crucial seniors leaving will definitely be a shake-up for next season, but we’ll see what’s to come for the Ducks.


Oregon’s football program definitely had mishaps when facing their biggest matches of Washington and Oregon State, and lost their chances at the Pac-12 Championship which now belongs to the Utah Utes, and the CFP; but they’re still bound for a bowl game. The Ducks will be heading to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels, and Ducks fans can’t wait to see what type of game Bo Nix will put on. Even though this season can be considered disappointing, the Ducks still showed their fighting spirit, and I personally can’t wait to see what’s in store for the program and especially the close match-up with UNC on November 15th.