Oct. 15, 2016
Willie Taggart to Oregon: Best Move Available
The PAC-12 has received some gruff over the last few seasons.
To me, it started when Oregon collapsed in the National Championship game in 2014-15. For years we've heard the PAC-12 as the speed conference that could outrun the likes of the SEC, Big Ten, ACC, etc. Heck, when Alabama has been doing their dominant way, Oregon had constantly been trolling Bama, thinking they deserved that shot at facing the Tide to see who is better and Ducks fans strongly believed Oregon could not only take Saban & Alabama but DESTROY them. Unfortunately, that never panned out of seeing that dream match. The closest of course was 2014 with the first playoff and Ohio State made sure neither team won. First, Alabama in the semi-final and then Oregon in the championship.
But let's talk about that game first. Actually that season in a nutshell for Oregon. Yes, they went 12-1 and won the PAC-12, exacting their lone loss to Arizona. I mentioned it before back two months ago with the Ducks ways, but Oregon was probably saved by Marcus Mariota in 2014. His ability to avoid being hit and making big plays instead of having major losses is still beyond impressive. That said, Mariota got hit A LOT in that season. And he still won the Heisman and deservedly so. Had anybody else besides Mariota quarterbacked the Ducks, 8-4 or 7-5 would have been their record. But that championship game, Mariota got hit over and over by Joey Bosa and Ohio State. That was the first issue was Oregon's offensive line was dominated. And then on the other side, you had Oregon's fast and quick defense get completely obliterated by the Buckeyes offensive line. They were flat-out bullied, and Mariota had no answers.
With that backdrop, Oregon went into 2015 as a favorite for a title, even without Mariota. However, they played a physical Michigan State squad a second straight year (and lost this time) and lost. Then they played a Utah team who started to play physical football on the lines themselves, thus walloping the Ducks at Autzen Stadium. Adding on, they lost in a shootout to the air raid mentality of the Washington State Cougars, who started to play a little defense themselves. Oregon's mentality was that the injuries mounted and that was a key reason why they didn't get those games.
And then this year Oregon bottomed out. The Ducks offense fell to a "decent" offense (not a feared one), and the defense was terrible. Teams in the PAC-12 are slowly starting to dump the quick-strike, spread offenses that try to win games by the score of 51-45 but get that physical presence on the lines, especially on defense, to bully opposing squads. Stanford has done it for years and had great success, winning PAC-12 titles. We're seeing it in Utah. Jim Mora had it going a few years back in UCLA (which is confusing given how they brought back nearly the entire starting lineup in 2015) before losing it, and current PAC-12 champion & playoff participant Washington understands it. Even Colorado is slowly adopting that mentality. And notice that Washington and Stanford are the only other teams to have won the PAC-12 championship with it the last two seasons. On the flip-side, where are the quick strike, spread offenses in Arizona (both the Wildcats and Sun Devils) in the standings? Watching bowl games at home.
On Twitter about a month or two ago, I got into a debate with an Oregon backer who said Oregon was just young. I told her the nonsense that Oregon has done the last few years had been covered up by certain offensive players such as Mariota and Royce Freeman. Those guys kept Oregon winning with their play and speed. However, if you looked at what the Ducks did, especially on defense, you could not help but go "how was this team the runner up in 2014?" And it has been this way for a while. Oregon has been built to win the PAC-12, but not play against the powers of the nation. Take the examples of Auburn where Nick Fairley dominated in the National Championship game in 2010. Then the year after when LSU took them to task. Yes, they beat Tennessee while the Vols were down. They beat a lowly Virginia squad (though this year, the Cavs scored a good bit), but losses to TCU and Nebraska in the past year has shown they aren't very good out of conference (yes, they beat Michigan State and Florida State in 2014, I get that, but that has really been it). And it is the issue in the trenches. They get bullied, especially on defense, and since the national championship loss, they have been bullied as a whole.
So Willie Taggart is a good offensive minded coach. He could install different offenses (could do spread, but pro-form, but even in the gun, whatever he chooses, pending on the style). If he can recruit power guys and not just the speedsters at Oregon the Ducks will be back in no time. So for me, I think this was a safe, yet good hire for the Ducks. Time will tell on how well he does, but if he is able to get some power up front and win those battles there, then the Ducks will be atop of the PAC-12 in no time.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat