Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thoughts On Missouri State

Listen. Do you hear that? That is the sound of critics and media types saying that the Oregon-Missouri State game on Saturday will teach nothing about the Oregon Duck football team. And, to some extent, they might be right. If you are looking for this game to tell you how good the Ducks are, move along; nothing to see here.

That does not mean, however, that the game cannot be one that teaches the coaches about their team. Not necessarily how good they are going to be this season, but about their character, their focus, their intensity. Every team has games like Missouri State. It is not whether you win the game, or how much you win by that gives the coaches the information they need, it is the manner with which the team approaches the game.

In the myopic view of some beat writers, they simply look at the massacre that is about to happen on the football field and opine about what a waste of time and energy it is to play. They come at you with stories about why the Missouri State's of the world schedule these games and why the Oregon's of the world need these games. Keep in mind, however, that this season would have been drastically different had two major events not happened. First, conference realignment. Without that, the Ducks are playing Utah this weekend, not Missouri State. The second major difference is that the Ducks were originally scheduled to play Kansas State this year; not LSU. Imagine for a moment, what the season would look like right now had Oregon beaten Kansas State, Utah and Nevada to open 3-0; the Ducks would still be ranked in the top 3.

So, what does a game like this mean for the Ducks? After all, though Terrell Turner talks about understanding the upsets, this team is not the 2007 Michigan team or 2011 Oregon State Beavers. They are not going to lose this game without a major catastrophe (think 5th string QB). But there are things the Ducks can learn about their players.

First, and foremost, while fans look at the scoreboard to determine success, coaches look deeper. Each player is graded by how well he carried out his assignment. As an example, last weekend, De'Anthony Thomas caught a pass and took it to the house after a brilliant shake-n-bake move on a hapless defender. But that was not his assignment. He was supposed to block a linebacker and missed the assignment. I can assure you that his grade on that play was NOT an "A."

Second, the most important factor to success in the Pac-12 conference is the ability to maintain focus, discipline and effort each and every week. During the week of a game against a less talented team, the coaches need to stress focus. Later in the season, the Ducks will face other less talented teams. The difference? Washington State has better athletes than Missouri State. In order to ensure the Ducks are equipped to prepare for teams like Washington State, these players, especially the 20+ freshmen and sophomores that see regular playing time, need to learn how to prepare like professionals. Each week, they must be focused.

Third, this gives the coaches an opportunity to evaluate players in game situations to determine where they are in terms of competing. It's one thing to know the plays, it is an animal of a different nature to actually execute the plays properly with 60,000 people screaming.

Finally, it gives the coaches the opportunity to work on different aspects of the offensive and defensive packages. With game film to look back on coaches can make decisions about the potential effectiveness of different plays and strategies. Essentially, it gives the coaches a chance to get better at their job as well. And, of course, let us not forget, it gives the Ducks an extra home game. That is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million in gate receipts, not to mention concessions.

So, before we scoff too much at the likely blowout victory, just remember, every game has value to coaches.

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