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Sunday
Apr032011

History of Oregon Quarterbacks in the Autzen Era, Part 1 

Often considered a “passing school,” in reality Oregon has historically suffered from erratic quarterback play. For every Dan Fouts or Dennis Dixon, there are two or three Norv Turners and Brady Leafs (leaves?). 

And, seemingly, more injuries than a team should have to bear.

To my knowledge a systematic review of Oregon’s QB play in the “modern era” (for Oregon, this is defined as “not at Hayward Field”) has never been undertaken. There is no precedent, so, I’ll set one. 

***

1967 –

From the Media Guide:

QUARTERBACKS – The important signal calling position appears to be in good hands as triple threat sophomore whiz Tom Blanchard has gained the starting nod. Blanchard will be backed up by smooth-passing Eric Olson, a junior. Another junior, John Harrington, is also available.

Game By Game

Opponent

Result

Started

Injured?

Others

Cal

L

Blanchard

Y

Olson

Colorado

L

Olson

Y

Blanchard

Utah

L

Blanchard

N

Olson

Ohio St

L

Blanchard

N

Olson, Harrington

Washington

L

Blanchard

Y

Olson, Harrington

Idaho

W

Olson

Y

Harrington, Shea

USC

L

Olson

N

Harrington

WSU

W

Olson

N

Harrington (final play)

Stanford

L

Olson

N

 

OSU

L

Olson

N

 

 

In February, new head coach Jerry Frei kicked projected starting senior QB Mike Barnes and two other players off the team for “failure to abide by the rules.” There was no further explanation. A dual-threat option, Barnes had over 1000 yards in total offense and led the Ducks in passing in 1966 after switching to the offense from the defensive backfield in mid-season. Frei’s lone returning passer, Eric Olsen, had thrown 16 passes in mop-up duty. Nobody else had taken a snap with the varsity.

9/17 – Tom Blanchard earns the start at QB for the young Ducks. In the opener, at Berkeley, Blanchard sprains his ankle in the first quarter, an unfortunate loss considering Blanchard was also the punter. Eric Olson steps in at QB, throws two picks, and Oregon loses, 21-13 after giving up two 4th quarter TDs.

9/23 – Against Colorado, in the first game at Autzen, Olson and Blanchard split time at QB, combining for a single-game record 301 yards in a 17-13 loss to the heavily favored Buffs. Ducks are done in by nine turnovers, including six interceptions. Olson has five of those picks, but hooks up with Denny Shuler on a 27 yard TD pass in the third quarter for the new stadium’s first touchdown. Blanchard establishes himself as the QB of choice, as long as he isn’t injured. This would prove to be a difficult qualification for Oregon to get past.

9/30 – At Utah, Blanchard and Olson take turns being sacked for big losses in a 21-0 blowout. The offensive line – dubbed “The Thin Green Line” – is getting thinner, with multiple injuries resulting in a patchwork depth chart. Sadly, All-Coast guard George Dames can’t play five positions at once.  You could say the line is “balanced”; it can’t protect the QB, or open holes for the running game.

 

 

10/7 – “Dedication Day” at the new Autzen Stadium. The guests, Ohio State, choose Duck blood as the libation of choice for the blessing of the venue, pounding their hosts 30-0. Blanchard’s first two passes are intercepted off deflections, leading to a 13-point deficit five minutes in.  The three-headed monster of Blanchard, Olson and John Harrington, father of you-know-who, combines to go 6-19 for 47 yards and four picks.

10/14 – 33,500 fans welcome the first appearance of Washington in Eugene since 1924. The scoring drought continues another week, as the Huskies feast on more Autzen hospitality, winning 26-0 with the help of five Oregon fumbles in the first half.

Blanchard is finally – perhaps mercifully – knocked out for the season with a torn ACL.

10/21 – Beating Idaho doesn’t mean much, even in 1967. But coming off three straight shutouts, it was a happy day in Eugene. The 31-6 win over the Vandals is the first at Autzen, stops a five-game slide, and the players carry Frei off the field on their shoulder pads. Olson, ineffective at first, then injured, gives way to John Harrington, father of you-know-who, and Harrington is all the Ducks need at QB in this game.

10/28 – Against #1 USC, Oregon is a five-touchdown underdog. A 28-6 loss is seen as encouraging, as is the defensive effort in holding future homicidal sociopath Orenthal James Simpson to 63 yards on 23 carries, despite only having two players on defense weighing over 200 lbs. But the offense is once again anemic, with 141 yards on just 57 plays (the Trojans take 94 snaps).

Frei can’t seem to decide between Olson and Harrington.

11/4 – The Battle for the Bottom, pitting winless WSU against once-victorious Oregon, lives down to its billing; a late goal-line stand preserves the 2nd win for Frei’s beleaguered troops, 17-13. Eric Olson finally gets the helm for an entire game, and shows some improvement, going 8-21 for 130 with a pick. But it’s the ground game that wins the day, with halfback Claxton Welch barreling through the weak Cougar front for 138 yards.

11/11 – Frei sticks with Eric Olson at QB for the balance of the season. Another spirited effort goes for naught, this time at the Farm, as Stanford gets a late touchdown on a broken play to pull out a 17-14 win.

11/18 — The Civil War looms for the 2-7 Ducks, as Dee Andros and his “Giant Killers” – with three wins over top-5 teams, including the previous week against #1 USC – come rolling into Autzen carrying a #8 AP ranking. Rivalry games being what they are, this one is close. Once again Frei’s defense plays out of its collective head; LB Kent Grote recovers three fumbles and DE Cam Molter blocks two punts. Oregon takes a 10-0 lead into the 4th quarter, but two late rushing TDs give the #8 Beavers the victory, and ends Oregon’s season at 2-8.

 

“We’ve gotten better every week … tell the whole world to get their heads up, because here we come … This is the last time were’ going to have a sad dressing room.”

– Jerry Frei, postgame

1967 Passing Stats

Eric Olson                 51-123-16    840 yds    7 TDs     LG 42
Tom Blanchard         21-46-3        211 yds    0 TDs     LG 26
John Harrington       10-33-1        160 yds    2 TDs     LG 41
Alan Pitcaithley         0-5-1             0 yds       0 TDs     LG 0

Post-season QB Honors

None

 

Most Duck team pictures I’ve seen have been laid out in jersey number order. For some reason, this one isn’t.

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