Oregon players held a team meeting without their coaches this week following back-to-back losses.
Veteran players addressed their teammates on a practice field Monday, two days after the Ducks’ 41-38 loss at home to Colorado. The Buffaloes had not defeated Oregon since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.
“Those kind of things are almost always positive in the end, good in the end” coach Mark Helfrich said, referring to the players’ meeting during his weekly news conference. “And like a lot of things, there are words, and then there are actions and commitments that come out of things.”
Oregon, which played in the national championship game following both the 2010 and 2014 seasons and which has won at least nine games in each of the last nine seasons, was ranked No. 24 in the preseason and climbed to No. 22 with wins against UC Davis and Idaho State.
But the Ducks fell 35-32 on the road to Nebraska before last weekend’s loss to the Buffaloes. It is the first time in nine seasons that Oregon has dropped consecutive regular-season games.
There was some talk following the Colorado game that suggested players had grown complacent because Oregon has been among the nation’s elite teams for the better part of the past decade and because of the spoils that have followed that success — including flashy new uniforms every week.
“We’ve talked about that every year for many, many years here, I think going back to even coach Bellotti. We have a lot of great stuff here and a lot of great people here, and we have to earn it every single day. That entitlement, that whatever, cannot exist,” Helfrich said.
Receiver Dwayne Stanford told reporters he was encouraged about the state of the team following the players-only meeting.
“I feel it’s good. Guys are hungry. Upset about the loss and upset about their performance. Guys came out practicing hard, trying to change the outcome,” he said Tuesday.
He emphasized that it isn’t just the young players who should be chastised. “They aren’t out there by themselves,” Stanford said. “There are 11 guys out there.”
Quarterback Dakota Prukop, who threw an interception on the Ducks’ final series of the Colorado game, said he’d characterize the Ducks as “resilient.”
“It’s how you choose to respond. Do you let it bring you down or do you use it as a springboard to propel you forward?” Prukop said. “We came out today and we threw that exact ball that was the last play last game — a fade in the end zone — and we had a lot of success with it. So that felt good, kind of like officially wiping the slate.”
Cornerback Ugo Amadi said the players’ message harkened back to the Ducks’ mantra from the Chip Kelly era: “Win The Day.”
“That’s what we want to do every day, is Win The Day. Just go hard, give effort,” he said.
Up next is Washington State on Saturday in Pullman. The Cougars have struggled this season, too, with losses in their first two games against lower-division Eastern Washington and Boise State, before a 56-6 victory over Idaho on Sept. 17. The team had a bye last weekend.
The Ducks could see the return of running back Royce Freeman, who left the Nebraska game early and watched the Colorado game from the sidelines because of a lower leg injury.
The depth chart for the game listed Freeman “or” Tony Brooks-James. Freeman needs 96 rushing yards to move into second on Oregon’s all-time list.
Oregon has won the last three in Washington, but the Cougars upset the Ducks 45-38 in double overtime at Autzen Stadium last season.