Wednesday, October 18, 2017

To Live and Die in L.A.: Ducks have 72 hours to expose Josh Rosen as a counterfeit

On Saturday Ducks have to do whatever it takes to break into Josh Rosen's crib and make him burn a bunch of his money.

To Live and Die in L.A. was a stylish action thriller made for the Miami Vice/MTV generation by director William Friedkin in 1985. It starred a hopelessly young William Petersen opposed by a scene-chewing unknown named Willem Dafoe, who would get his big break a year later with the release of Platoon.

It doesn't have much to do with football, except that like the Secret Service agents in the movie the Ducks cover is already blown. As a team saddled with a green rookie agent (their inexperienced freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister) it's too easy for the bad guys to sniff out what they're trying to do.

Oregon's only chance to win Saturday is to bust into Rosen's crib and make him panic and burn a bunch of his fake cash. 

UCLA has the conference's worst run defense. Just 3-3 on the season, they gave up 457 yards to Arizona on the ground last week, allowing four rushing touchdowns in a 47-30 loss.  The Wildcats new quarterback, sophomore Kahlil Tate, burned them for 230 yards on 15 carries, including a scintillating 71-yard touchdown run.

Tate's the real deal, and the Ducks will have to deal with him in a couple of weeks. In a September game he had 357 yards rushing versus the Colorado Buffaloes. He's like Jeremiah Masoli unencumbered by a stolen laptop, the kind of tricky/shifty/elusive dual threat QB Rich Rodriguez used to have at West Virginia. Tate's single-handedly transformed Arizona from a conference also-ran PAC-12 teams could pencil in for homecoming to a pesky opponent that's a headache to prepare for.

Significantly, in UA's pasting of UCLA they attempted just 13 passes, completing 9 for 148 yards.

Somehow Oregon has to find that much of a passing attack. Burmeister is no Kahlil Tate at this stage of his career, but he has the conference's best running back stable to his left in the Gulf Coast Offense. In the blowout loss to Stanford last Saturday the Ducks ran for 286 yards even when The Cardinal had the advantage of knowing what they could and couldn't do do on every play.

The Bruins don't have Stanford's toughness. They've allowed a league-worst 326 yards a game on the ground, 6.57 yards per carry.  The Ducks offensive line should smell blood in the dumpster.

Oregon can score enough points to win this weekend if Burmeister takes just a couple of steps forward in his development as the green rookie quarterback. Like everyone else in Oregon's agonizing Herbertless odyssey through the meat of their schedule the Bruins will pack the box and dare him to throw, pressure him with run blitzes and shifts he doesn't have the experience to recognize.

He's achieving a childhood dream as a San Diego native returning to Southern California to play a game in the Rose Bowl. Maybe that's enough to get him to calm down and trust his talent (he has some). Maybe his teammates will do a better job of picking him up, protecting him, executing for him and avoiding costly penalties on big plays. Because there are big plays to be had against a woeful Jim Mora/Tom Bradley defense.

On the Oregon sideline Duck defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt has to bring out the ravenous Doberman in his defense. They've got to attack. attack, attack and rattle Rosen's rich-boy facade of self-assurance.

Joshua Ballinger Lippincott Rosen is the son of a prominent orthopedic surgeon and a former journalist. Mensa smart and profoundly gifted, he comes by his talent naturally: his father was a nationally-ranked figure skater who nearly made it to the Olympics, his mother a former captain of the Princeton lacrosse team. J.B.L. Rosen was an age-group tennis champion growing up, giving it up for football just as he entered high school.

Rosen went to St. John Bosco prep school and grew up in an $8 million house in Manhattan Beach, California. He's notorious for questioning authority to the point of arrogance, supremely confident, impossibly driven. Trent Dilfer hates him: Rosen wouldn't listen at Elite 11 Camp back in 2014. He thought he knew more than the instructors.

The famously opinionated ESPN analyst told Chad Carson of 247Sports:

“He looks what people think a quarterback should look like,” Dilfer said. “He’s big, he’s strong, he makes the very difficult look easy. He’s super, super smart, but I think it is almost a curse for him. Josh is a guy who has yet to buy in to what I am preaching. He’s still a guy who keeps telling me how they do it at John Bosco.
“It’s funny because I’ve sat him down, I’ve complimented him on how much he knows. He definitely understands defenses, but what Josh has to learn before the takes the keys over to a major college program is that it’s not about knowing more than the coach, it’s about doing it the coach’s way. And that’s something hopefully we’ll see in the next few days because he has one of our best coaches in (former NFL QB) Charlie Frye coaching him and if he was wise he would listen to what Charlie tells him.”

Three years forward, Rosen has the same triple curses of talent, intelligence and supreme self-confidence. He does amazing things on the football field, zipping passes between three defenders, leading a 34-point fourth quarter comeback versus Texas A&M.

He can be had, though. He can be frustrated. Through 6 games he's thrown 17 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. The Bruins have given up 14 sacks. 

The Bruins don't have much of a running game. Leading rusher Soso Jamabo has only been so-so, with 249 yards on 49 carries. 

If the Ducks can make their hosts one dimensional and pressure Chosen Rosen into some mistakes, they can steal a game at the Granddaddy. They are one-touchdown underdogs. It will require some fight and reversal of fortune. But honestly, this is their best chance to steal a win before the Civil War.

5-3 is dramatically better than a three game losing streak and 4-4. This is where the Oregon season turns, where Duck fans find out what they have in this new coaching staff and their ability to adjust on the fly and solve problems. They have to be the undercover cops and come in guns blazing in an impossible situation.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Willie Taggart's first year and the slump of monumental proportions

Oregon's cheerleaders are never in a slump,
but they've had little to dance for in the last few weeks.
This is what I mean about squandering the brand: in back-to-back blowout losses to Washington State and Stanford (each for the second year in a row, worse yet) Oregon football has produced its lowest point total over two games since 1992.

The Ducks finished 6-6 that year and lost to Wake Forest in the Independence Bowl.

Like this one, '92 was a season of mediocrity and struggling for an identity: Sophomore quarterback Danny O'Neil threw for 11 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Running backs Sean Burwell and Ricky Whittle combined for 1456 rushing yards and 8 TDs. 

The young secondary, Herman O'Berry, Alex Molden, Chad Cota and Eric Castle had 13 picks. Receiver Ronnie Harris took a punt return to the house, and an undersized freshman named Cristin McLemore caught his first touchdown pass.

25 years ago today the Ducks lost to #1 Washington 24-3 at Autzen Stadium before an announced crowd of 47,612, half of whom were wearing purple and gold. The week before they fell to #20 USC in The Coliseum 32-10.

They did cap the year with a 7-0 victory over Oregon State at Parker Stadium, then bought their way to Shreveport for some disappointing football in horrible weather, sleet, high winds and mispronounced names.

Oregon's first Rose Bowl in three decades was born in all that futility. It followed two years later in the 1994 season when some promising young players, O'Neil, McLemore, Cota and Castle among them, matured.

The Ducks rise to prominence, big bowls and Top 20 finishes was hard-earned. It started with a meeting after the 1996 Cotton Bowl and a promise to build an indoor practice facility, a new vision for the program built around offense and speed.

Seven games into the Willie Taggart era, the Ducks are in the midst of a two-game losing streak in which the patented offense has been completely grounded. Last week they managed just 33 yards passing with three turnovers. 

The loss of sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert has been felt deeply. But what's even worse and more alarming is the lack of discipline and execution this team has displayed.  They rank dead last in the FBS with 95 penalty yards per game. They've had two punts blocked and surrendered an onside kick. Big gains and touchdowns have been taken off the board by blocking infractions behind the play. 

These Ducks specialize in the drive-killing mistake. After a promising start against mediocre competition they can't convert on third down and can't find any balance in their offense. Freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister has struggled mightily despite a promising prep career and good practice habits. He looks lost, discouraged, uncomfortable and overwhelmed. His teammates haven't given him enough help, nor has the play-calling, which has become unimaginative and predictable.

The one positive from last week's loss to Stanford was Oregon's ability to run the football. With everyone in the stadium knowing exactly what they had to do Royce Freeman and his backfield mates ran for 286 yards against a solid Stanford defense, though the going got much harder after halftime when defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and linebacker Peter Kalambayi came off targeting suspensions that sidelined them for the first two quarters.

Injuries are one thing, but what's alarming about the 2017 Ducks is their lack of discipline and execution. Blocked kicks. Penalties. Unforced, untimely errors. That points to coaching. Certainly the youth of the team is a factor, but Taggart's mantra coming in was "No excuses."

The Florida native and his staff have proven themselves to be great at relating to players and generating enthusiasm on the recruiting trail. Oregon has the #6 class in the country right now according to The Ducks have a new energy and a new swagger after the malaise of last year's 4-8 swan dive under Mark Helfrich.

All that is good, but Taggart, who is almost impossible not to like with his enthusiasm and quick smile, has to show he can coach. Does he teach this team anything? How will they improve over the last five games? Will Burmeister settle down and show some progress?

Justin Herbert is a wonderful talent, and his return will give the Ducks a boost of confidence. But it won't magically cure the chronic mistakes that have made the Ducks a losing football team in PAC-12 play. Certainly it's important to have patience with the rebuild and to accept the fact that the return to conference dominance and the Top Twenty won't be easy, but well-coached teams do the little things well and execute the fundamentals. In Stanford's 49-7 blowout win over the Ducks The Cardinal had just one turnover, no sacks, and two penalties for 15 yards.

The Ducks have to stop keeping themselves out of the end zone and getting big plays called back. Willie Taggart has to show he can teach them to play smarter football, or Oregon has wasted a lot of money.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Don't squander the brand: kids all over the country want to be Ducks

Several years ago when DSH started my writing adventure, the site got an unsolicited email with a highlight film from an undersized tailback from Florida.

His name was Fabian Moreau, and he wanted desperately to be a Duck.

Fabian was a good football player but not highly rated, about 5-9, 165, an 11.2 hundred guy who didn't quite make the Ducks radar.

Maybe he should have. We touted him all of that year in 2011 with weekly highlights and updates. He wasn't as fast as Thomas Tyner or De'Anthony Thomas, so Oregon never picked him up.

Late in the recruiting cycle Moreau got an offer from UCLA and made the roster as a defensive back. He steadily improved, making 2nd team All-PAC 12, drafted in the third round by Washington in the NFL. Age  23 now, he has 9 tackles and a pass deflection through 5 games in his first season as a pro.

Fabian Moreau achieved his dream. He stayed persistent. He grew. He got stronger. He believed in himself so fervently he searched the internet for a way to get his name out there.

His was the first name I thought of when I got an unsolicited follow on Twitter from a high school slot receiver/defensive back from Georgia a couple of weeks ago.

Ja'Leak Perry is a 5-9, 160-pound running back from Hebron Christian Academy  in Dacula, Georgia.

His best time in the 100 is 11.5, which puts him at a 40 time somewhere in the 4.7, 4.8 range. He's only a junior, class of 2019, so he still has time to improve.

Perry is serious about his football future. We had a long conversation after he sent me the highlight tape. "I feel that my strengths are being able to play any position on the field and my speed. I like to play fast and physically on the field and use my speed for a advantage."

"I'm trying to work on getting my weight up as much as possible to become a stronger player on the field."

He has a 3.2 G.P.A. and recognizes that football doesn't last forever. "Yes sir. Grades always come first," he said.

"I see myself playing cornerback at the next level , but I'll always be willing to play any position a coach will need me to play."

So far this season he has 32 tackles and an interception for the 4-3 Lions, who are coached by former NFL lineman Jeff Saturday, Peyton Manning's center and a 6-time Pro Bowler.

In a 29-7 win over Towns County in late September, Ja'Leak had five solo tackles and caught a touchdown pass.

It's hard to say how far Perry's football dream will take him. He has to grow a bit and get stronger and faster. He says he's improved the 40 time to 4.57, which is viable for a slotback or corner. He shows some burst and vision in the highlight film, and his willingness to send his highlight tape to an anonymous recruiting writer across the country shows initiative and an abiding love for the game.

The Ducks aren't likely to come calling. At present they have just 10 scholarship seniors completing their eligibility in 2019. Even with the predictable attrition, it's likely to be a small and select class. They already have one commitment for the year after next, 5-star wide receiver Arjei Henderson from Travis High School in Richmond, Texas. He's 6-2, 190, superbly fluid and explosively fast.

The takeaway for Duck fans here is that the Oregon brand still has magic. Kids love the uniforms, the style, and what was, before Justin Herbert's untimely injury, an explosive offense. They remember De'Anthony Thomas and LaMichael James, the sick spin moves and 0-to-60 touchdowns. They want to be part of that. There's still a lot to sell, as witnessed by Oregon's #6-ranked recruiting class coming off a 4-8 season.

The takeaway for me is that the fascinating, compelling part of this endeavor is telling stories about young men's dreams.  I hope Ja'Leak Perry makes it. Maybe he plays at Georgia Southern or The Citadel or Berry or LaGrange. It truly doesn't matter where, provided it gives him an opportunity to pursue his love of the game as far as it will take him. Hopefully he uses it as an opportunity to be engaged in the classroom as well and provide himself a foundation in life and a career.

It could be that Perry's football experience ends with a couple of touchdowns and a state playoff game as a high school senior. Or perhaps he grows an inch or two and improves his bench and squat, attends a camp next summer and catches a scout's eye, makes the roster at a Power 5 school and blossoms into an all-league player. We'll seek him out for an update down the road.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Winning the off season one weekend at a time

Photo right: youth, wasted on the young, who think they'll be young forever: Josh Huff got into some trouble this weekend, and who hasn't? But the issue creates some problems and challenges for his coach and his team.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Moving the chains: all great stories start with a dream

For many promising young players around the country, the Ducks have become nationally relevant and a part of their dream. They're forward-thinking enough to know that without one, you're just another spectator or critic.

Photo right: LaMichael James works out at the Super Bowl, part of the Gatorade Sports Perfomance Lab exhibit, his first pro endorsement deal.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Jeff Lockie's used to being "the other qb" and winding up the one who wins

He played in a league with two five-star division one prospects, both of whom got more notice. He played for a school that most years finishes in the middle of the pack. Coming to Oregon, he's invariably mentioned after Jake Rodrigues, the Ducks' other signee at quarterback on Letter of Intent Day.

When practice begins next fall, Lockie will be fourth on the depth chart.

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Can Oregon's football "Tall Firs" win a National Championship?

Yesterday the football Ducks signed the 21 members of their 2012 recruiting class, and it includes ten players who are 6-4 or taller, and a dozen or so with a basketball background. The new "Tall Firs" are born.

Wheel, deal and throw down: Arik Armstead drives the lane in a baskeball game last season. The fluidity and quickness that makes him a legitimate division one basketball prospect at 6-8, 295 could make him an exceptional, unblockable defensive lineman ( photo).

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