Throughout the offseason we debated and argued and questioned what some of the weaknesses were going to be for this team. Now that we've seen a game, let's talk about some of the problems and how they can be fixed. I've already watched the LSU game a couple of times, so I'll get you guys started. I'm only going to point out problems that I think can be addressed in practice or in the film room. Problems like our recruiting needs to get better, we need more experience or we need to schedule easier first games aren't things that can be fixed now. Here we go:
1. Wide receiver play - This was probably the most glaring problem on Saturday night. It effected every other aspect of our offensive game plan. If you can't stretch the field, the DBs don't have to be kept honest and can cheat up on the zone read. Key drops stall and end drives. Inability to block on the edges closes off lanes for the running game. Our wide receivers on Saturday were completely ineffective and that bled over into other aspects of the gameplan. Because Oregon was forced into more long yardage situations, they had to pass more, because they couldn't pass effectively they had to punt. It was a perpetuating cycle that really stalled Oregon's offense.
2. Offensive line - At first glance it looked like the offensive line played a decent game. Darron Thomas never got sacked, and when he did drop back he wasn't hurried very often either. And while all of that is true, when I watched the game the second time I realized our offensive line was completely ineffective in the running game. Grasu and Golpashin never got a push up the middle. Because we couldn't run on the edges, we needed to use the inside zone read more often. Unfortunately, that never got going either because our big boys up front weren't able to get the needed push or create lanes.
3. Game Plan - I understand having to go to the pass to keep LSU's defense honest, but 54 attempts? I thought Oregon was a rushing offense (especially with this WR corp). LaMichael had 18 carries. If he's your heisman RB, you have to be able to put these types of games on his shoulders and run with him to the victory. It looked like in the first half, Oregon was hell bent on doing any but. I also thought Oregon used tempo and misdirection to keep defenses off balance. What was that I saw on Saturday? Tempo? I saw only one drive where Oregon rushed to the line, made its read on the defense, snapped the ball, went after LSU, got up and did it all again within 15 seconds. Most of the time, Thomas did his fake snap, looked to the sideline and let LSU catch its breath. We never had them under pressure defensively and that allowed them to gamble more and attack. Lastly, where were the misdirection plays? It seemed like Oregon used them too much against the last SEC Tiger team we played, well I think Oregon used them too little against this one. If you're going to let LSU attack off the edges with their speed, and not take shots deep, you have to use some misdirection at least. I can only remember 2 misdirection plays the whole game. One was the option shovel pass that went for a first down to LMJ and the other was the DAT in motion play that resulted in the Huff TD.
4. Veteran mistakes - These guys have to know better. Barner's not a rookie anymore. It was cute when you were playing hot potato with the punt return as a Freshman. It's not cute anymore, make a fair catch or let it go. If the ball bounces at the 9 and LSU stops it on the 1, that's a hell of a play by them. If you either get Oregon stuck deep in their own end, or end up turning it over and giving them points, that's on you. Finally, Eddie Pleasant has to figure this thing out. You can't be relying on Boyett (14 tackles) to cover up for all your mistakes. I get that Oregon was playing a Cover 1 mostly and bringing EP up to the line for run support, but then there is no reason to get completely blown out of plays like he did. He's a former linebacker too, and should know better. The crucial pass interference call, or letting a WR block you out of the play and then release for the longest pass of the game was unacceptable. This is a very young team, but the veterans that are here can't make those types of mistakes either if they want to win games.
5. Darron Thomas - This was one of Thomas' worst starts in his career. In the first half he looked too fired up and missed easy throws or put too much heat on short throws. That long interception was actually a good read but was a piss poor throw. Which by the way is what I think Thomas' greatest strength is; his ability to read the defense. Rarely does he make bad reads on the zone read or in the passing game. If he puts that pass toward the sideline Huff has a chance to make a play since he's gotten separation from his corner. Instead he throws inside the numbers where the defender has leverage. He was throwing behind guys most of the night. Lastly, this was one of the first games where I saw Thomas get into Jason Fife mode (staring down his receivers). Last year, Thomas would consistently drop back and scan the field to find the open guy. This game he locked on as if he was waiting, waiting, waiting for his guy to get open (ok, maybe he was waiting).
None of these things are things the Ducks can't fix, but none of them are things the Ducks can wait to fix either. These are the areas I'm going to be concentrating on when Oregon takes on Nevada this weekend to see what improvements the coaches were able to make in this young team. There will be a lot of learning going on this year considering the youth, and don't be surprised if Oregon struggles more than it did last year (even in easy games). There is definitely tremendous talent on the Ducks but it is going to take games like LSU (and hours and hours of film) for some of these guys to understand what it takes to be a back to back defending Pac Champ.