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Wings may be clipped, but Ducks aren't dead

UO isn't ready to be 'good loser' heading into final games


by: CHRIS PIETSCH/EUGENE REGISTER-GUARD - Stanfords defense pressured Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota into this lost fumble in the Ducks first loss of the season.EUGENE — The Oregon Ducks have lost football games before. One key under former coach Chip Kelly, though, was that they never allowed a loss to affect them the following week. Cliché as it was, Kelly’s “Every game is our Super Bowl” was marvelous at preventing the Ducks from ever losing consecutive games during a season.

The Monday after the 26-20 loss to Stanford that knocked the Ducks out of national championship contention, first-year UO coach Mark Helfrich admitted something that never would have been uttered during Kelly’s tenure.

“There was a little lingering ... sludge, kind of the hangover of the loss,” Helfrich said.

Questioned further about the hangover, Helfrich seemed to realize he had said something wrong and tried to cover his tracks.

“I’m not talking pervasive,” he said. “I’m talking a couple of guys here or there. And I might just be reading into that. ... But, as a group, our guys responded well.”

Another shocking moment on Monday was when receiver Bralon Addison inadvertently talked as if he were playing on an Oregon team in the early 1990s.

“We would love to be in a BCS game,” Addison said. “But we’re already bowl eligible. And anytime a team is bowl eligible, that’s a big deal right there. It’s hard to win in a conference like this.”

Not the kind of thing that Duck players have talked about for several years, to be sure.

Not everyone is taking the loss to Stanford as doom and gloom, however.

Asked if it was hard to move on from the loss, running back De’Anthony Thomas smiled widely.

“It’s not that hard,” Thomas said. “It’s Monday, and it’s a great day. We still have a lot to play for. We still should play for that No. 1 spot. We still should be one of the best teams to play college football.”

Thomas’ enthusiasm aside, Helfrich admits that helping Oregon turn the page and get ready for the next three games against Utah, Arizona and

Oregon State will be the greatest challenge of his coaching career.

The Ducks do have much to play for over the coming weeks. If Oregon can win out, it should be in yet another BCS game. If Stanford loses, the Ducks could find themselves in the Pac-12 title game. And, if all hell breaks loose, it is possible — with an asterisk — that Oregon could be one of the top two teams in the country.

“It’s a long season, and there’s a lot of football to be played,” quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “We’re not changing our goals. It was one game, and one game doesn’t define your season. We’ll keep chomping away and eventually pick up our heads in December and see where we are.”

Mariota’s health will be critical to Oregon’s chances of finishing the season strong. The sophomore appeared to hurt his knee against UCLA, and it only got worse against Stanford. By the end of the game, Mariota was hobbling.

When healthy, Mariota is perhaps the best quarterback in college football. Against Stanford, he struggled at times with his accuracy and was hesitant to take off and run.

Mariota says he will “for sure” play against Utah on Saturday. He also says that his knee “feels better than last week. That’s always a positive thing. After Thursday, we had a couple of days off, and getting off my feet a little bit helped me feel better.”

Is his knee 100 percent?

“That’s something I can’t talk about,” Mariota says.

When it was pointed out to Mariota that he could have simply answered the question in the affirmative, he smiled and said: “Yeah. I know.”

Even if Mariota is not healthy, offensive coordinator Scott Frost said Mariota would try to cowboy up.

“He cares about his teammates, and he’s going to gut it out if he can,” Frost said. “He doesn’t say much ever. He’s not going to say much if something is bothering him. But I think he’s smart enough to know if he’s taking a risk.”

Mariota said: “I’ve been taught my whole life not to show weakness, and I’m not going to fade away from that.”

While Mariota’s health will be paramount for the Ducks going forward, the other units on the team will spend this week simultaneously licking their wounds and preparing for the rest of the season.

“We’ve got to put it behind us and move on,” linebacker Boseko Lokombo said, of the defense. “On that night, (Stanford) just outplayed us. They outmatched us in every phase. The next couple of days are going to help us to get over it. We’ve still got a lot to play for. We’ve got to keep our spirits up and keep playing and finish strong.”

Said center Hroniss Grasu: “It’s kind of weird how we had a bunch of good drives (against Stanford) and a lot of blame goes to the offensive line. But if something goes wrong, blame the offensive line, and I agree with that. ... It defines our character as an offensive line to bounce back and just flush it out. We’ve got to just worry about Utah.”

Helping his team bounce back from a heart-wrenching loss is not something Helfrich wants to have to do too often.

“We don’t want to be good losers,” Helfrich said. “We don’t want to be great at recovering from a bunch of losses. But we’ll see.”