Rose Bowl 2012: Oregon's passing offense vs. Wisconsin's secondary

My New Year's Resolution is going to be for Josh Huff to be this awesome, all the time.

Darron Thomas is not a very good quarterback. Ask anybody. Despite Thomas being one of the worst quarterbacks in the Pac-12, he continues to start despite the presence of transcendent wunderkind Bryan Bennett on the roster. According to my sources, Bryan Bennett can throw a football 150 yards, and run fast enough to catch it himself. Unfortunately for him, he decided to play his college ball for Chip Kelly, a known crazy person and reverse racist, who refuses to play white players at any position but wide receiver. Coach Kelly has contracted a severely acute case of the Welkers and will only play guys at wide receiver whose skin is paler than Conan O'Brian's. It's easy to see why this team's never won a big game.

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Crap, sorry everybody. Had my browser set on "Grouchy and Uninformed Duck Fan" mode. I was using it to post some OLive comments last night, and forgot to turn it off. Let's try that again.

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Oregon is a run-first team. Even against washington the worst of pass defenses, the Ducks are not going to take the field and throw the ball 50 times. So what is the pass for Oregon, really? In 2010, when the Oregon offense was the more powerful scoring machine since handing the ball to Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl, the deep ball was deadly; the Ducks would run, run, run, and quick WR screen, quick WR screen, quick WR screen, then pump fake or play action, send everybody on a go, and someone (usually Jeff Maehl) would end up fifteen yards open. But this year, that hasn't happened. Why hasn't that happened? The answer is...complicated.

First reason: our wide receivers aren't very good.

Josh Huff. A mercurial force as a freshman; hobbled, inconsistent, and shoved aside by De'Anthony Thomas as a sophomore. Lavasier Tuinei was a fantastic #3 wideout in 2010, but he just isn't an elite talent. Rahsaan Vaughn, Justin Hoffman, and Daryle Hawkins showed flashes of competence, but could not conceivably relied on every Saturday. And Will Murphy was given a jersey, a set of shoulder pads, and a participation trophy. If it wasn't for David Paulson and the Mamba, the Oregon offense would be somewhere between Georgia Tech and a rugby team. The passing game output has dropped from 251 yards/game in 2010, to only 215 this season.

Second reason: opposing defenses are paying attention to it.

It's easier to defend something when you have an entire year's worth of film study and practice to call upon. That's why offensive coordinators innovate. So, the fake screen-all go is now merely a tool in Chip Kelly's giant garage, rather than a guaranteed touchdown every game.

Third reason: the pace.

The eye test tells us that Oregon's breakneck pace has slowed a bit in 2011. The Ducks can turn on the jets when they need it, but the overall pace has been slightly more relaxed. The 2011 Oregon offense is running, on average, three and a half less plays per game, and are averaging twenty less total yards per game. But they are averaging the exact same yards/play, and have actually increased their points per game. Granted, that increase is from 45.2 to 45.3, but still. My point is this: the go-go-go strategy lent itself perfectly to the deception of the all-go. This year, we're beating teams with execution...and LaMichael James.

Fourth reason: De'Anthony Thomas is fast.

Oregon's #1 deep threat this season has been Dendroaspis Polylepis. He's faster than any Oregon pass-catcher, possibly ever. He's extremely dangerous in space, and has no problem finding some for himself. Oregon's big passing plays have come from DAT gaining yards after the catch.

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In 2011, the Ducks have lacked a dependable deep threat in the passing game, and the half-yard drop in yards per attempt, from 8.1 in 2010 to 7.6 this year, shows that. And Oregon has had to rely on shorter routes that get their players into space. The quick screen is still a playbook staple, and jcgoducks has done some fine analysis of Oregon's other passing plays HERE.

Taking a look at the stats for Wisconsin's pass defense, and one thing immediately jumps out: Wisconsin plays in the Big Ten. Opponents are only attempting 26 pass attempts per game against the Badgers, eleventh least in the country, and surprising considering how much Wisconsin has blown out opponents this year. They're allowing 6.3 yards per pass, the same as Oregon, and are allowing almost a 60% completion rate. These numbers say a couple things: first, that the Badgers' D will try and prevent the big play; second, that running the ball 56% of the time won't necessarily open up the deep pass; and third, that Oregon receivers will have to travel farther to set up blocks outside, as Wisconsin defenders won't be playing up on the line of scrimmage.

So there's some symmetry here: Oregon doesn't have a reliable deep threat, and Wisconsin's defense has taken away the deep threat; Oregon runs 60% of the time on offense, something Wisconsin is used to. The key for Oregon's receivers is space. They have to create space with good route-running and quickness, and once they've got the ball in space, they have to make plays. Wisconsin's secondary is capable, but is far from an elite unit. The pass is a complement for the Duck offense, but it's one that has to be there if Oregon is to have a chance to win.

Badgers to Watch For

CB Antonio Fenelus - A first-team All Big Ten selection, Fenelus is their top cover corner. He has four interceptions on the season to go along with 46 tackles and five pass breakups.

FS Aaron Henry - Henry rises to the occasion on the big stage: in Wisconsin's two games against Michigan State, Henry recorded sixteen tackles, two pass breakups, and a tackle for loss, and added nine more tackles and a sack against Ohio State. Look for him to be busy both at the line of scrimmage as an extra run stopper, as well as dropping back into coverage.

CB Marcus Cromartie - Cromartie, the cousin of New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, has the pedigree to be an elite corner. But he's the guy the Ducks will look to go after. Cromartie has stepped into a starting role this season after CB Devin Smith was lost for the year against Oregon State, and has had an inconsistent season, he is yet to register a pick, had a terrible game in the Badgers' loss to Michigan State, and was partially responsible for the blown coverage that led to the final Ohio State touchdown a week later.

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