Everything was lining up quite nicely for the #FireHelfrich contingent of the fanbase (that is to say the entire fanbase). The Ducks were coming off a completely lifeless performance on Senior Day in which a tire fire offense that scored 5 points in a home game last month dropped 52 at Autzen and probably could have hit 70. Injuries and suspensions were piling up, with Rex Manu (injury), Ratu Mafileo (injury), Torrodney Prevot (suspension), Drayton Carlberg (injury), Eddie Heard (suspension), Canton Kaumatule (injury) all missing from the front seven going into a game against an opponent who should probably have been able to plow on the ground all day anyway. And finally, it seemed like the locker room may have been completely lost, as evidenced by an investigative report that seemed to indicate Pharaoh Brown had been getting away with just about everything except murder over the last few years (http://www.dailyemerald.com/2016/11/17/oregon-tight-end-pharaoh-brown-accused-three-acts-violence-since-october-2014/). Outside of Eugene, the Coaching Carousel landscape was pretty favorable, with momentum in Austin to keep Charlie Strong and in Baton Rouge to keep Coach O, meaning that all five other relevant Power 5 programs that looked like they might have vacancies at some point in the year (USC, Texas, LSU, Penn State, Auburn) now appearing content to stand pat, clearing the way for Oregon to have first shot at some big names who were otherwise probably out of their league (Tom Herman, PJ Fleck, Lane Kiffin lol). All was well as Oregon fans everywhere settled in for a late morning game that would probably be pretty much settled before lunch.
Then something very strange and unfathomably dumb happened. Oregon won. Impressively. In a not totally fluky way. The offense did whatever it wanted, especially through the air. The depleted d-line routinely won the line of scrimmage. DBs allowed zero separation all game long. Oregon scored touchdown on their last four drives (1 play 29 yards, 11 plays 96 yards, 8 plays 75 yards, 10 plays 75 yards), the last culminating in a game-winning TD pass with :02 left from Tha Gawd Justin Herbert to Darren “Probably Should Have Declared For The Draft Last Year” Carrington.
All things considered, it should have been a very encouraging performance. Oregon got major contributions from lots of young players on D, including Soph Justin Hollins (9 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack), Frosh Troy Dye (9 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack), and freshmen Gary Baker, Wayne Kirby, and Bryson Young. The young offense (frosh QB, 4 frosh o-linemen, a frosh and soph starting WR) was explosive against a great D on the road in a tough environment. None of this made any sense. You expect young players to get better as the season goes on, but they hadn’t been. The team was complete trash all year up to last week, and then came a week of bad PR and resignation to a bleak end to the year. This makes the performance on Saturday all the more confusing. It really had no reason to happen.
You’ll have to forgive Duck fans for being conflicted about the whole thing. The program is in a tailspin, with no indication that this was any more than an anomaly. That said, Oregon has one more game against a baaaad Oregon State team. Win that, they finish 5-7. That *could* give the AD the ammunition necessary to justify keeping Helfrich rather than paying his $11 million buyout. It’s a lot harder to pay a 5-7 coach to not coach than it is to pay a 3-9 coach to not coach. There really haven’t been actual signs of progress until this week, and a win over Oregon State wouldn’t necessarily be evidence of progress. But it could be framed that way, which might be enough for one more painful and program-decimating year of Mark Helfrich at Oregon. Additionally, the landscape is no longer enticing. Texas lost to Kansas which, in addition to “extreme pressure” (https://twitter.com/McMurphyESPN/status/800005401085296640), certainly signals the end for Charlie Strong. LSU lost oh so stupidly to a putrid Florida team, signaling the likely end for the Keep Coach O Club. Oregon won’t beat either of those school for any coach, least of which Tom Herman.
Oregon could very well lose to Oregon State. Nobody will notice one way or the other, but it could happen. That would be a solid nail in Helfrich’s coffin. But if they win. And if the tide continues to turn against other big school coaches. And if there are continued signs that the players haven’t completely quit on Helfrich (https://twitter.com/OregonDuckTix/status/800107317282754560) (https://twitter.com/OregonGridiron/status/800108651855810560). Then maybe, against all odds and against all reason, Mark Helfrich will be the Oregon coach next year. It would probably do more financial damage to the program long-term to keep him rather than just pay the $11 million and start fresh with a new coach. Building a program is a lot like getting in shape. It’s super easy to get out of shape. It is hard as hell to get back into shape. Mark Helfrich is not the man to get this program into shape. In fact, he’s the reason for the tire around the waist currently weighing down Oregon Duck football. But he may get the chance. And it will all be because of a completely stupid win that shouldn’t have happened and is probably not ever going to be replicated as long is Mark Helfrich is at the helm.