EUGENE — It really isn’t fair to compare what happened to Oregon Saturday night to a Thursday evening last October. 

Then, the No. 2 Ducks were upset, shocked and stunned by an unranked Arizona Wildcats team. It was a loss the brought more questions than answers. Could Oregon rebound from an early season loss? Could the offensive line stitch itself back together? Did the Ducks have the leaders to regroup and make a run toward the College Football Playoffs? 

The answer to all of those questions eventually came out as a yes, and though the Ducks have plenty up in the air after Saturday’s 31-28 loss to No. 5 Michigan State, the comparisons don’t really hold weight past that. 

Last year, it was an upset. This year, Oregon went toe-to-toe against a favored Michigan State team, on the road with a quarterback in his first month with the program. A tough loss for sure, but not the shocker that momentarily derailed the Ducks a season ago. 

The hurt afterward might be the only parallel, and it’s also what’s driven the Ducks forward in the past. 

“I hate losing,” senior receiver Byron Marshall said. “I’m a sore loser. I don’t do well with losing. It don’t matter who we played, how early we played them. The goal was to win and we should have won and we didn’t. So we just got to make sure we don’t feel like this ever again.” 

If anything, it sounds like a starting point. The one thread that holds last year’s and this year’s loss together is the players’ distaste for losing. It’s something that’s rarely been felt in this era of Oregon football, and Saturday’s loss was just the fifth time it happened in Mark Helfrich’s tenure as head coach. 

What banded the Ducks back together last year was a strong leadership group. Players like Marcus Mariota, Hronis Grasu, Jake Fischer and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu held the group together. They kept a promised season from falling apart, rallying the troops to victory in a must-win game over UCLA the next week. 

Saturday night, you could see the pieces. Marshall and Bralon Addison said they would take leadership roles, as would DeForest Buckner, Jeff Lockie and Tyler Johnstone. No one took more responsibility for the loss than Vernon Adams Jr., who threw for 309 yards and a touchdown, but his two interceptions and several key misses late stymied the Ducks’ comeback bid. After the game, Adams repeatedly said the game was his fault. His teammates disagreed, but on Sunday evening, Mark Helfrich said that Adams did what any fifth-year senior in that position should do: He took accountability. 

“Absolutely that will resonate with guys,” Helfrich said. “The biggest thing is for Vernon, or for me, or for every other person in our program is to individually look at yourself and how you can solve the problem. He took the initiative to step up and admit the fault in those things and hopefully that will motivate everyone else to improve.” 

Oregon’s ability to process a loss, learn from it and forget about it is part of why the Ducks haven’t lost consecutive games in a season since 2007. Adams, of course, hasn’t been with the program for more than a month, and might not have the rapport yet for a rousing, “Rah, Rah” speech. 

“Not necessarily a kick in the butt, but a tap on the butt,” Adams said Saturday. “Let them know it’s all right…I’m putting this game on myself. I’m letting people know we have a long season ahead of us.”

And that’s the thing: Oregon will likely be favored in every game it plays the rest of the regular season. The Ducks return home this week for Georgia State (1-1) before opening up Pac-12 play at home against Utah. Adams’ finger injury that limited him on Saturday will likely heel, the running game will likely find the traction it lacked Saturday and the defense can attempt to build off a strong final quarter against the Spartans. Everything the Ducks hoped for at the start of the season is still alive — that is as long as Michigan State is used as a learning experience, and not a dwelling point. 

“You learn from it. You take inventory of it. You write it down. You look at it. You don’t turn the page yet. You read the page. You digest it. You fix it,” Helfrich said. “And maybe you burn it and move forward.”

— Tyson Alger
[email protected]
@tysonalger 

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