A U.S. flag fit for a battleship spreads out as a hodgepodge marching band replacement plays “America The Beautiful.”
The flag is in full display and, before the band plays “The National Anthem,” the announcer dedicates the game to the memory of Sen. John McCain.
It’s a great reminder that sports is politics.
Of course, that assertion can’t be debated anymore as former 49er Colin Kaepernick’s lawsuit against the NFL is about to go to trial and President Donald Trump continues his war against those who kneel in protest to police brutality.
In a way, the University of Oregon has chosen a political side by dedicating the game to a senator that, up to his deathbed, was a thorn in the side of Trump. Let’s not forget the warts of McCain’s legacy, though, which includes championing endless war and neoliberal values.
Maybe that’s why Oregon invited Bowling Green to the season opener. Perhaps it was a way to troll the Trump administration’s Kellyanne Conway and her “Bowling Green Massacre” lie.
These are the things popping into my mind as I sit in the press box. Sitting next to NFL scouts, I think to myself, “I don’t belong here and Oregon is going to revoke my press pass before the game is over.”
In any case, Oregon’s season opener is truly a Bowling Green Massacre. Based on the scoreboard, Oregon walloped Bowling Green, 58-24. But the reality is that Oregon played an uneven game, which exposed some of the team’s flaws that, if pitted against any Pac-12 team, Oregon’s post-season hopes could be jeopardized.
Season opener games are supposed to be squash games. It’s supposed to be a game where the Oregon Ducks can show off their strengths and rally the fans into thinking: “This is the year.”
But this wasn’t the case when Oregon squared off with Bowling Green (who went 2-10 in 2017).
Heir-apparent to Marcus Mariota, quarterback Justin Herbert became equal to past quarterbacks Joey Harrington and Mariota by joining the 4,000-yard passing club with just 16 career starts.
Herbert didn’t know he joined the club. During the post-game conference, he shrugged it off as just a “cool stat.”
Maybe he knows he has bigger things to deal with. He started the game by nearly dropping his first snap and couldn’t get into a groove until the second quarter.
He threw two interceptions during the fourth quarter — one of which was when Oregon had a scoring opportunity.
Herbert did have some good moments. He rushed for a touchdown. And proved his arm is capable of covering some yardage, as it did in the fourth quarter when he raked in a 48-yard pass to Jaylon Redd.
He demonstrated his ability to rack in the touchdowns, as well. He brought in five touchdowns, breaking the school’s record of most touchdowns in a season opener.
There’s no debating his talent. But right now it’s his unevenness that’s worrisome.
Sure, Cristobal jokes that he likes Herbert’s ratio of nine completions (out of 16 attempts) and five touchdowns — but the problem is that’s as unsustainable as fossil fuel.
When it comes to interceptions and other in-game mistakes, Cristobal said that Herbert can take the hard coaching on the sideline to get his head back in the game.
It wasn’t just Oregon’s offense that needs tweaking. The game started badly with Oregon’s defense allowing Bowling Green to take a 10-0 lead.
Oregon’s defense also seemed unable to completely contain Bowling Green’s offense, allowing them to rake in a game total of 389 yards.
Bowling Green’s rushing got past Oregon. In addition, Bowling Green’s 253-yards passed shows Oregon has a weak defense when it comes to defending passes.
Sure, Oregon was able to pull together to win the game 58-24. The blowout win on the scoreboard avoided any embarrassment of losing the season opener or winning with a small margin.
For Cristobal, it’s all about momentum, which, during the post-game conference, he called a monster in college football.
Momentum is really the rallying cry for Oregon. The team pulled it all together at the end of the first quarter and scored an amazing 44 points in the second and third quarters.
In the meantime, Cristobal is going to take the 1-0 record and 58 points and let the locker room enthusiasm run.
“The best part about it is there’s a team enthused about the victory, but not satisfied with what we could have,” he said.
However, there’s work to be done, and he and team are going to check in with the game’s film to see where they need to start.
“The precision has to be 100 percent, we have to get to work on that,” he said.
If Bowling Green were another team (like University of Washington), Oregon’s unevenness could’ve been exploited, leading to a worse outcome — like a loss.
If Oregon faces any Pac-12 team with this unevenness, it could result in — to quote the recently deceased McCain — a game of “drill, baby, drill” with Oregon getting one helluva whooping.
The Bowling Green Massacre ended up with the question of whether the hype surrounding this year’s team is real or just hype.
But Herbert could be the real thing. It’s saying something that he set an Oregon record on most touchdowns in a season opener.
He could be another accolade-winning, NFL draftee like Mariota. He’s got the potential — his teammates certainly think so.
I guess next week’s game against Portland State will show whether he not only has the right stuff but if he’s also got the right team around him.