Oregon Ducks’ 2021 NCAAF Season Review

The tenth-ranked Ducks’ defeat by 38-10 to Utah Utes in the PAC-12 championship final game last week spelt the end of the 2021 NCAAF season and with it the end of the team’s superb success in PAC-12. 

After back-to-back championships in the previous two years, the chance to be the first team to make it three in a row was just out of reach as they fell behind early and couldn’t claw it back in the conference title game at Allegiant Stadium.

They should have seen this coming – just two weeks earlier the Ducks saw their College Football Playoff hopes ended by the same opposition in a 38-7 defeat that clinched the PAC-12 South Division title for the Utes.

Oregon bounced back from that defeat and finished the regular season with a home win against rivals Oregon State by nine points to claim the North Division title and set-up the final meeting with their conquerors from the previous week.

But in the rematch they couldn’t gain revenge. Utah took an early 14-0 lead, added a third touchdown late in the second quarter and then took advantage of a breakdown to add another on the final play of the half. 

Oregon’s offense struggled, managing only 221 yards through the game. It was a bitter pill to swallow after coming so close by only suffering two losses in the regular Conference campaign after a bright start.

Anthony Brown has been a star performer this season (source: CBSSports)

Coach Mario Cristobal’s team started the season with four comfortable wins. They opened on Sept 4 with a 31-24 win over Fresno State but had to come from behind to avoid an upset. Trailing 24-21 early in the fourth quarter, Oregon got a turnover forced by linebacker Justin Flowe that set up a game-tying field goal by Camden Lewis. 

After the defense got off the field quickly again with a three-and-out, quarterback Anthony Brown capped his first career UO start with a 30-yard touchdown run that put the Ducks ahead and they went on to assert their dominance.

Next up was an incredible victory over Ohio State by 35-28 which was one for the history books.

Oregon’s win will go down as one of the most significant in program history, beating No. 3 Ohio State before 100,482 fans in Ohio Stadium. One of the biggest crowds ever to watch the Ducks saw one of the biggest games they’ve ever been involved in as they confirmed their status as a College Football Playoff contender by racking up arguably their best ever win.

CJ Verdell put the Ducks up by 14 early in the second half and they managed to keep Ohio State’s comeback attempt at bay before a crowd that grew increasingly raucous. Freshman tight end Moliki Matavao scored the decisive touchdown with 10:10 left in the game, and a superb interception by safety Verone McKinley III with 2:50 to play all but sealed a famous historic victory.

Then came two huge home wins over Stony Brook (48-7) and Arizona (41-19), scoring 31 unanswered points and hitting 436 yards in the first, then hitting Arizona with explosive offensive plays and five takeaways by the defense. Camden Lewis proved he can hit the target in both fixtures with four field goals.

After taking four wins the Ducks suffered their first loss at Stanford by 24-31 on Oct 2 in cruel fashion. They scored 17 straight points to take the lead in the fourth quarter but two false start penalties in the final three minutes cost the Ducks, and Stanford touched down to force overtime where they edged ahead to claim the spoils.

Cristobal’s men bounced back in fine fashion by recording five wins in a row. They had to dig deep to dispatch California (24-17) and UCLA (34-31) in close battles before a huge 52-29 over Colorado which would prove the Ducks biggest margin of victory in the season.

Anthony Brown (307 PASS), Byron Cardwell (127 RUSH) and Devon Williams (95 REC) were all on fire in Autzen before the winning run continued against Washington (26-16) and Washington State (38-24) – Brown’s pass conversion again leading the Ducks to both victories.  

Going into the visit to Utah for week 12 the Ducks were confident of extending that run but the home team ran out comfortable winners to put a dent in injury-hit Oregon’s play-off hopes. Missing a number of key players, Anthony Brown once again proved his worth in the passing stats, including for the only touchdown.

Oregon bounced back with a 38-29 success over rivals Oregon State to setup the championship playoff with the Utes before succumbing to an agonising second defeat against the same opposition and ending the reign of coach Cristobal.

The team have hired Dan Lanning to take the reigns, the former Georgia Bulldogs defensive coordinator proving a surprising choice and a deviation from the previous run of offensive-minded coaches over the years.

After decades of being led by coaches with offensive backgrounds, starting with Mike Bellotti in the 1990s to Chip Kelly in the 2000s, it is hoped the appointment of Lanning will be the change of tack required to progress to the next level after two successful years previously.

After the Ducks missed out on a Rose Bowl return following the playoff defeat, Lanning’s first task will be to mastermind an Alamo Bowl victory on Dec. 29 against Oklahoma – a fixture in which the odds-makers are setting the 10-2 Sooners as favourites for any fans looking for free NCAAF picks to use on this game.

Oklahoma opened up as 4-point favourites because of the Ducks’ seemingly big-game blowout in the PAC-12 title decider, plus the fact that they will be without star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux.

As of December 9, however, the spread has moved to -4.5 for the Sooners, with the total opening at 62 then dropping a half-point to 61.5. Oregon meanwhile was just 5-6 against the spread (ATS) and the home/away splits are also of interest being more profitable away from home (going 3-2 ATS compared to 2-4 ATS at home). All this despite a winning overall record this season.

Oklahoma has the predicted edge when it comes to their offense against the Ducks defence, scoring better in rush success, pass success, big play and finishing drives but interestingly when we flip it to the Ducks offense against the Sooners defense, the stats are in favor of the men in green.

Lucky mascot? The Oregon Duck will be cheering on (source: watchstadium.com)

With this in mind, the Alamo Bowl promises to be an intriguing fixture as long as new coach Lanning can get his team to forget their stage fright. At least they will be glad to see the back of Utah for this one.

The match on Dec 29 gets underway at 6.15pm PT and is already close to being a sell-out.

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