LAS VEGAS — Outplayed. Out-coached. Out-smarted. Out-toughed. No question, college football was very fair to the Oregon Ducks on Saturday. They got deserved exactly what they got.
Final: Boise State 38, Oregon 28.
The final score was polite. Wasn’t that close. And the outcome raised a pile of reasonable questions about just-hired Ducks coach Mario Cristobal and the program he now must lead. But what isn’t debatable is whether Oregon wanted to be in this bowl game. It didn’t. Anyone who watched the "Men of Oregon" play understood that the Ducks were a splintered and distracted mess that treated the event like an exhibition.
Some in, some out. Some focused, others not. And in the end, the media assembled in the post-game news conference should have fallen out of the folding chairs and kicked their legs toward the ceiling laughing when Cristobal announced he’d just left, "an emotional" locker room.
Emotional? The Ducks? Was Cristobal just in the wrong locker room?
Because there was very little emotion on display from an Oregon team that managed an anemic 47 rushing yards and made exactly one trip to the red zone against Boise State. The Ducks got outgained (481-280), allowed 362 passing yards to BSU quarterback Brett Rypien, and got abused by Broncos receiver Cedric Wilson for 221 yards.
Boise State cared. Players cared. Broncos’ fans cared. After the post-game handshakes, the Ducks retreated to their locker room at Sam Boyd Stadium while Boise State coach Bryan Harsin accepted his Las Vegas Bowl trophy flanked by a couple of Vegas showgirls dressed in blue and orange feathers.
Said Harsin: "One team, one heartbeat."
It was an undeniable rally cry. One that I hope the Oregon program heard through all its post-game tears. Because Boise State didn’t have better players, or more gifted athletes. It showed up, looked like it cared, and tried to play its best game of football. But what it had most of all was a winning vibe, led by Harsin, who should be hired away by the next Pac 12 Conference team with an opening. He’s now 5-1 against the conference.
Oregon, on the other side, had one NFL-bound player (Royce Freeman) in street clothes while another (Tyrell Crosby) played all four quarters wearing No. 58 — to honor the victims of the Las Vegas shooting. The game mattered deeply to one player. Not very much at all to the other. And therein sat the root of the issue for the Ducks — it was not one team or one heartbeat.
Why would it be? The Ducks coaching staff is divided, too. You can feel it. A few Willie Taggart loyalists are still on the sidelines, coaching their final game with one eye toward joining the party Florida State. Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is either in — or out — depending on how the wind blows this next week. Offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo presumably will stay and call plays next season at UO, but if he’s not more creative than he was on Saturday, Cristobal might want to re-think that hire.
Oregon’s first nine first-down plays of the game included eight runs. None of them worth mentioning here. All of them sniffed out by Boise State. And if it weren’t for a couple of bizarre defensive scoring plays that helped the Ducks stay in the game, the offensive performance alone would have emptied Sam Boyd Stadium at halftime.
The Ducks didn’t appear to care about this game. They treated it like an exhibition. Afterward, Harsin bristled at the notion that these low-tier bowl games don’t matter.
He said, "They’re not exhibition games. It was a chance for Boise State and Oregon to get together… there’s a lot to prove and you’re on a national stage in Las Vegas. That’s a pretty good opportunity to showcase what your team is all about."
So what is Oregon football going to be about next season?
Just before the fourth quarter, down 31-14, Cristobal pulled his team around him near mid-field and gave an animated speech. In the background, The Las Vegas Bowl trotted out a guy wearing a straightjacket, put him on a balance board, and told him, "OK, let’s see you get out of this."
I felt like Cristobal had the tougher assignment.
Oregon could not find rhythm. The Ducks offense couldn’t block. The defense made some big plays, but not enough of the routine ones. And Oregon’s 10 penalties for 95 yards were a symptom of a sloppy, heartless effort.
Said Cristobal: "That’s not what our identity is or what it’s going to be."
Go prove it, coach.