Well people, I'm back from my trip to Los Angeles to watch Pac-10 football champs the Oregon Ducks play in the Rose Bowl on New Years Day. I had a great time meeting up with friends, soaking up some sun and watching the game. While my Ducks did not win, I am really glad I took the time to go to the game.
You can see my pictures from the game by clicking HERE.
Focusing specifically on the game, I truly believe that the Ducks were beaten by a better team. Not a vastly superior team, but one slightly better in key areas...and that made all the difference in the Ducks losing as they did by nine points vs. winning by even one point. I think it's easier to stomach a loss such as this when you know, in the end, your team was beat by a better team. For example, ask LSU fans if they think they got beat by a better Penn State team in the Capital One Bowl the other day.
Anyway, having seen the game up close and in person, I think you can boil why the Ducks lost down to two key points. Sure, there are a lot of individual plays, other elements (like the OSU defense) and certainly what appeared to me to be very spotty officiating that one could debate, but I think the following two elements really are at the core of the outcome:
1. The Play of Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor. As far as I could tell, the Oregon plan of attack on defense was to stop the run and dare Pryor to beat them with his arm. Well, he did. He played better in this game than he had in his entire career, doing things through the air in the Rose Bowl that he had not done in two seasons worth of play for the Buckeyes.
The Ducks did indeed manage to decently contain the Ohio State running backs enough to force the Buckeyes into numerous third-and-longs. However, virtually every time Pryor came up aces either throwing spectacularly accurate passes or dashing to the first down marker. The later type of escape was somewhat expected, but it was Pryor's ability to heave a ball (sometimes wildly it seemed) just about anywhere at any time under any circumstances and have it hit the intended receiver for a catch that was so uncanny. And this is why Ohio State controlled the clock and therefore the score and - ultimately - the game. Kudos to Pryor and the Ohio State offense.
2. Turn Overs. Despite all of what I just said about Pryor and despite all the talk of the great Ohio State defense, the Ducks did have a lead in the third quarter. After relinquishing that lead to be down by just two points, the Duck O drove efficiently down the field and were poised to score at least 3 or 7 to re-take the lead late in the third quarter. But that did not happen because...the Ducks fumbled the ball near the goal line and out the back of the end zone. No points for the Ducks. OSU retained the lead and they got the ball back.
Before this play, I KNEW the Ducks were going to win the Rose Bowl. I knew it. Score and take the lead and the clock-killing strategy by Ohio State goes out the window. Momentum would have been on the Ducks' side and all things possible. But, this did not happen. Instead, Ohio State took the ball and killed more clock with their offense and the Ducks continued to play from behind. At this point, I KNEW the Ducks would not win. Sure, there was still time on the clock, but this was such a momentous play that I realized it wasn't happening for my Ducks.
The other turn over that hurt was a deflected pass from Oregon QB Masoli that Ohio State picked off in the first half. After a short drive they scored a field goal. At the time it felt good that the Ducks held the Buckeyes to only a field goal, but looking back on it you have to realize that Oregon only lost this game by 9 points. Take that early field goal away and it's a six point difference in the fourth quarter. One score and a win. That is a LOT different than how things went down.
So, there you go. Not being able to stop a hot QB and turning the ball over. That's what killed the Ducks chances ultimately in my opinion. And, it's why Ohio State was the better team. Again, not by much...but they were. Hats off.
With virtually every player back on offense and most of the defense back too next season, I look for the Ducks to be a legit contender to win the Pac-10 again. But, I think they're going to have to really work on their pass rush defense and also be better at handling the ball on offense if they hope to repeat and/or then win the Rose Bowl next time.