EUGENE, Ore. -- On the field during Saturday's 70-21 loss against No. 5 Washington, Oregon hardly resembled a team that has been among the nation's highest-performing programs of the past decade.
This was a far cry from the team that played for a national championship and had a Heisman Trophy winner two years ago, or that, despite its many flaws, won nine games last season.
The Ducks' defense, with first-year coordinator Brady Hoke, gave up 682 yards and gave several Washington players a few highlight-reel clips for their end-of-season banquet.
“We got our butts kicked, our butts kicked from every way you could,” Hoke said.
Offensively, in search of what coordinator Matt Lubick called a necessary “spark,” Oregon started a true freshman quarterback, Justin Herbert, who seemed to be an afterthought in the 2016 recruiting cycle.
Fans, in the midst of this four-game losing skid, have lost patience. When Oregon lined up in its two-point conversion Swinging Gate formation, Ducks fans booed their own team. By the fourth quarter, most of those fans (and all Oregon fans) had mostly cleared the stadium, leaving the space to be filled by jubilant Husky celebrations during postgame.
Somehow, when Oregon got to the postgame news conference, it got worse.
Let that sink in. That speaks to the players Mark Helfrich's staff have recruited, the team's leadership, the mentality in the locker room. It does not feel like the Oregon we have come to know.
On Sunday, Helfrich said he thought those comments were more a byproduct of certain players' competitive frustration than a reflection of his team.
“Any behavior by somebody else that doesn’t match theirs or isn’t totally with everything we’re trying to do is going to be read through that lens,” he said. “Certainly there are guys at this point in the season that aren’t doing necessarily everything we want them to do.”
But whether it’s an overreaction from Hunt or an accurate portrayal of the locker room, or even if it’s just players believing that one of their own isn’t rowing in the same direction, it’s still a huge issue for a team that can't afford many more missteps.
Oregon needs to win four of its final six games to ensure a postseason berth. That seems far-fetched. There aren’t even three teams that remain on the schedule that seem like games in which Oregon will be favored.
Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens tried to reassure frustrated fans in a radio interview in Oregon (he normally does a weekly scheduled appearance on Wednesdays), saying that he understood how the fans were feeling, but that he also knows there’s a lot of good that can still come of this team.
That’s true. Oregon started the 2015 season 3-3. But, it didn’t have these kinds of internal issues surfacing at this point a year ago. And, maybe it truly is a rebuilding year in which the Ducks can rebound, or, maybe it’s a rebuilding year that will be reflected upon during 2018 as fundamental to that group’s success. Certainly with four redshirt freshmen starting on the O-line and Herbert at QB, they seem to be building a foundation.
But it’s hard to think about 2018 when 2016 could see Oregon’s first losing record since 2004. That was before Oregon became Oregon, and reverting to that now seems like it could cause major upheaval within the program.
The bye week really couldn’t come at a better time -- two full weeks for the Ducks to get on the same page and figure out all of their issues both on and off the field.
Best-case scenario: Hunt’s words were an overreaction said by a frustrated player who has been both a part of the team that played for a national title and an underachieving 2016 squad.
Worst case scenario: He’s right.
Either way, so far this year, Oregon’s “Win The Day” mantra has fallen flat. Because when the Ducks fail to win the day they must -- you know, Saturday -- it’s not really Oregon.