FanPost

Here's an idea: this Spread Offense thing isn't so simple.

Nate Costa's first career start took place yesterday, October 10th, at UCLA. Costa's play was unspectacular yet serviceable and effective. His only marked "mistake" came on a rollout in the back of his own endzone, where he threw a ball directly into the flattened hands of a blitzing linebacker. The LB, Akeem Ayers, leapt and made a spectacular play, the video of which can be seen here. As you can see, this play is made once in about 100,000 games. Nonetheless, it was an interception and effectively a pick-six. Costa cannot be blamed for this play, but it was the type of situation Costa would find himself in multiple times throughout the day.

Starting at the beginning of the game, Oregon came out passing - as always. Chip Kelly's lesser-understood philosophy of setting up the run with the pass was again present, and came out somewhat successfully initially. Costa's first pass, and the first play from scrimmage, would go for 14 yards and a first down to Drew Davis. His next pass would be a soft, well-placed touch pass over the middle to Ed Dickson for 5 yards. This play would be followed by an incomplete pass, and Costa and the Ducks would face a first down. True to the gameplan and for the situation, a pass play was called. However, it was quite obviously a downfield pass play and there was no outlet for Costa to go to in the event of a blitz - which is exactly what UCLA brought. Costa would be sacked for 9 yards and the Ducks would be forced to punt. The young Oregon line could not suppress the blitzers and Costa would have nowhere to go with the ball. This play would not be Costa's fault - and it would also be a microcosm of the first half of the game.

Costa's line on the day read just as his day for the most part went: 9/17 passing, 82 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. His one touchdown was an tunnel screen pass to Jeff Maehl, who broke tackles and took it to house from 20 yards out. With the game handily in control at a 21-3 score, the Ducks would run the ball mostly from then on out. In the next two drives, the passing game was a net-loss for the team, totaling in 2 passes for one Intentional Grounding penalty and the aforementioned interception in the endzone near the end of the 3rd quarter. Oregon would not attempt another pass for the remainder of the game.

Oregon's first and second downs for the first half - and even the game as a whole - would be fairly successful, averaging 7.3 yards/play on first and second down, not counting non-plays like false starts, which were rampant. [Side note: Cadence issues must be addressed.] Conversely, Oregon averaged 1.5 yards/play on third downs, converting (only?) 4 of 14. 

With a different QB at the helm, Oregon's offense was stymied and could not get on a roll. Encouraging plays would be seen, especially in the running game, but the passing game would be quite unhelpful.

It wasn't until this morning that I realized something about QBs in our offense, which you may or may not agree with.

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Costa's starting debut line, UCLA 2009:

9/17, 82 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Masoli's averaged lines through Utah game, 2009:

9/21, 126 yards, 0 TD*, 2/3 INT

Masoli's numbers are averaged between the Boise State, Purdue, and Utah games, thus the 2/3 of an interception. *denotes rushing TDs; Masoli had 4 in the three games. Costa had none Saturday.

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The first half of Saturday's game versus UCLA was offensively, well, quite like the first half of the Boise State game. And this was a feeling that I think we all know has no place. The passing game was lost, the running game was hardly shown, and the quarterback looked uncomfortable. Costa was taking unnecessarily deep drops like Masoli was at the Boise State game, and the line was not creating a pocket consistently. Costa was throwing a nice ball and showing off his arm strength, but it was not good enough to render a first down, more often than not. Third down passing was our valve and the valve was not admitting us.

Just as the "Where is the Spread Offense?" chatter began to resurface like it did a long month ago, the LaMichael James show came on, and all those remotes hit the coffee table like hammers. On the first offensive drive of the 3rd quarter, Chip Kelly opened to the section of the playbook labeled "Short Guys Plays" and LaMichael James, Remene Alston, and Kenjon Barner were off. James would rush for 10 yards and a 1st down on 2nd down. James and Alston would rush for 2 and 3 yards, respectively, netting a 3rd and 5 that had given Oregon fits earlier in the game. Costa would scramble, very handily avoid the blitzing Bruins, and eventually find David Paulson in the flats for 10 yards and a 1st down [note: an excellent catch by Paulson]. Barner would carry for 2 and 3 yards the next two plays, and Oregon would again face a 3rd and 5. Then, the playcall of the day. Oregon would run a tunnel screen to Jeff Maehl who would shed and outrun tacklers en route to a 20-yard TD. This was the very play Oregon had discovered and executed so well since the Cal game. This was the play Oregon QBs must love to run. After reviewing the play design, Costa also had an option to toss it to Barner who was in the flats behind Maehl. The playcalls that give the Oregon QB safety valve after safety valve are our new bread and butter. 

At the beginning of this year, and even the mid-section of last year, Oregon got mediocre, if not bad performance from their quarterbacks, one of which we later ascertained was just getting his feet wet on the offense and needed gestation, and would bloom into a true star. This still may be true, but after the Boise State game, and witnessing Costa's somewhat dampening but competent performance, I am willing to say that Oregon's spread offense is totally about continuity and recent exposure - and is not about just raw experience. Masoli's 2008 learning period in the middle of the season was thought to be a one-time deal, but his performance at Boise State seemed to indicate his ultimate 2008 performances were either flukes and anomalies, or were unsustainable performances. After sleepwalking through the first three games, Masoli and the crew came out gangbusters versus Cal. And repeated their dominance against an albeit weak Washington State team.

For this reason, I present my case: If Costa were to start for the remainder of the year, in lieu of his raw experience in the system, it would take at least two games for him to get into the offensive rhythm - the achievement of which could bring the offense to heights such as we'd seen during Arizona '08, Oregon State '08, Oklahoma State '08, Cal '09, and Washington State '09.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of SB Nation or the Addicted To Quack Moderators. FanPost opinions are valued expressions of opinion by passionate and knowledgeable Oregon fans.

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