Gold: Oregon's Dan Lanning keeps a pitch-perfect perspective after definitive win at No. 13 Utah
Judging by the guns a sleeveless Kyle Whittingham bared on Friday in a surprise visit to ESPN’s Pat McAfee Show, the No. 8 Oregon Ducks had to know they would be in for a fight on Saturday on the road at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Whittingham was the star of the show Friday, riding onto the set on a Harley, challenging the similarly sleeveless McAfee to an arm-wrestling contest. And winning.
The No. 13 Utah Utes have been dealt blow after blow this year, most glaringly with the season-ending injuries to arguably their 3 best offensive players — quarterback Cam Rising, tight end Brant Kuithe and running back Micah Bernard — but Whittingham’s Utes don’t know the definition of the word quit.
So Dan Lanning and the Ducks knew they’d have to be particularly feisty against the claw-your-eyes-out Utes.
It wasn’t too much of a surprise, then, to see them choose to receive the opening kickoff.
What happened next? A surprise.
Oregon drove the ball 75 yards on 6 plays for a game-opening touchdown, then went 75 yards for a score on their second extended drive. Next, after picking off Utah QB Bryson Barnes on the Utes’ third drive, the Ducks capitalized with a 30-yard scoring drive to take a 21-3 lead.
It was over by then. Oregon ultimately scored a 35-6 road win to move to 7-1 on the year.
“We don’t generally take the ball. But we felt like this was a game we talked about bringing the fight, right?” Lanning said. “We knew this was gonna be about a 15-rounder, and we wanted to set the tone early. We felt good about our openers, we felt good about our team and we said, ‘Let’s go be aggressive.’ And you know, that’s the way the game started. And I think that just really set the tone for the rest of the game for us.”
Dan Lanning gets the biggest road win of his career. Dude is feeling it. pic.twitter.com/NiEGLCjw1E
— Zachary Neel (@zacharycneel) October 28, 2023
Facing a Utah defense that has made opposing offensive lines look downright silly at times this year, the Ducks never once folded. Somehow, a unit that lost 4 standout starters from a year ago may be even better this year, even if they’ve allowed a few more sacks.
They surrendered 0 on Saturday, even going up against arguably the league’s most talented front seven, with current Pac-12 sack leader Jonah Elliss neutralized.
“I thought this was our most complete game,” Lanning said. “We played a 4-quarter game. From start to finish, we faced moments of adversity, our guys never flinched. It was really complementary football from offense, defense, special teams, field position. And again, I thought we played our most complete game, since I’ve been head coach here against a really good team that we expected to be a battle. We talked about winning in the trenches, we talked about winning the takeaway battle, and that showed up today.”
Oregon outgained Utah, 390-241, won the 1st-down battle 18-13, and held the Utes to 5-of-15 on 3rd down.
Bo Nix went 24-of-31 for 248 yards and 2 scores and also added a rushing touchdown, and Troy Franklin caught 8 passes for 99 yards and a score.
“I’m going to say it again, Bo Nix is the best quarterback in the nation just to be really clear,” Lanning said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. And again, it’s not just the plays he makes on the field, I think a lot of people talk about chasing stats and all these things, this guy just plays consistent. He gets us in the right calls, he comes to the sideline and helps us through adjustments. He tells us what he sees. He’s an unbelievable person. When you have a good team like we have, and we have a quarterback like we have, that’s a special recipe for success.”
Defensively, the Ducks’ recipe included a heavy serving against the run, Utah’s strength despite musical chairs in the backfield.
The Utes managed just 99 yards on 36 carries, a 2.8 average, with no rusher topping 40 yards.
“To ever have success you have to stop a team’s strength,” Lanning said. “Obviously, the run game has been a strength for them. We wanted to try and make them play left-handed and felt like hey, if they want to try to throw up in the air, that gives us the best chance. They had some success there at the end of the second quarter. You know, unfortunately for us, but I thought the rest of the game, our players played some really tight coverage and were able to get off blocks. Football is really simple. Get off blocks, make tackles. On offense, protect the ball block well, move the line of scrimmage and our guys did that today.”
It’s enough to make you wonder just what the capacity is for these Ducks.
And speaking of capacity: Few coaches across the country have the bandwidth to focus on anything but their programs and the task at hand.
But from Whittingham’s guns to our nation’s fascination with firearms, Lanning struck an emotional but important chord on Saturday, one that will endear him to his players and to parents across the country who wonder just when is enough?
His post-game remarks on the tragedy in Lewiston, Maine, this week were a reflection of a coach with his priorities straight, even as his program flies toward a Pac-12 title game appearance.
Those words, in full:
“I want to take a quick second to say something that’s important to our players. And I wouldn’t normally hop into this but I want you to understand that this is not political in any way. But as a dad of three kids, a 13-year-old, a 12-year-old, a 10-year-old, you know, I see at times what’s going on in this country. I know I have a platform that is worth saying something about. And what I’ll say right now is, where’s the respect for human life? I think there’s a lot more to this. I mean, people can say, let’s make it about guns, and let’s make it about mental health. Why can’t we use a common sense approach and make it about everything?
“And this isn’t me taking a stance, but our players told me this spring that gun violence was really important to them. And I just want to ask everybody, what are we doing about it? We continue to sit around and expect different results. And don’t think I’m sitting here talking about gun control. Don’t think I’m not talking about mental health. I’m talking about all of it. And we got a lot of smart people in this country, how about we do something to fix it?
“I know that means a lot to our players. It certainly means something to me when I send my three kids to school and expect to see them come home. And I think enough’s enough. But at some point, we got to look at ourselves, take a hard look in the mirror, and figure out where can we support the people who are having problems with mental health in this country. Where can we support making sure that people that shouldn’t have weapons don’t have weapons and support, our law enforcement to where they can help handle situations when situations arise? So, again, I’m not trying to be political, but I do care about everything in life. I do care about human decency. I’m hoping that, at some point, we can take a stand and do something about it. Thank you guys.”
I was a fan of Lanning before.
I’m a bigger fan now.
Whether or not the Ducks win the Pac-12 or make it to the College Football Playoff is of no matter.
They’ve already got a winner at head coach.
And he didn’t even have to flex his biceps.