Back in black, I hit the sack
I been too long, I'm glad to be back
The last few weeks, this weekly breakdown has been pretty negative. After squeaking out a win against Washington State and a home loss to Arizona that left everyone questioning whether or not Oregon is an elite team this year, the Ducks seemed to have somewhat righted the ship with a win at UCLA this past week. The final score of 42-30 isn't a fair analysis of the game, with UCLA storming back from a 42-10 deficit in garbage time. That's not to say Oregon was perfect this past week, far from it. However after a couple down weeks, this week's breakdown will be nothing but sunflowers and puppies with rose-tinted glasses. Let's get to it.
Royce Freeman 20-yard rush
For the first time all year, Oregon was able to establish a quality running game against UCLA. Coming into this week, the Ducks had yet to register a 100 yard rusher in a game and had only been averaging 3.8 yards per carry in Pac-12 play. Against UCLA the Ducks ran the ball 41 times for 258 yards, averaging out to 6.3 a carry, due to some creative play calling and finally some solid blocking. Take the play below as an example.
This play begins like a read option, with Mariota seemingly reading the unblocked end circled in blue. However as the ball is snapped, Pharaoh Brown - lined up off of Jake Fisher out left - pulls like a down lineman in run support. He picks up the unblocked end, which allows the right tackle Matt Pierson to get to the second level of the defense and seal the inside lane for Freeman to run through.
Another thing to notice on this play is the fake screen the Ducks set up at the bottom of the screen. It sets up like a screen to slot receiver Keanon Lowe, with Devon Allen and Dwayne Stanford setting up blocks for him. This draws in three UCLA defenders, who have to respect Mariota and the Ducks passing game.
The only thing left is for Freeman to outrun the safety and weak side linebacker, which he is easily able to do because he gets through the line so cleanly. A great play design by Frost and even better execution by the offense leads to 20 easy yards.
Tony Washington strip sack of Brett Hundley
Two weeks ago, every Oregon fan and their mother was calling for Don Pellum's head after his scheme to stop Washington State failed about as badly as anyone could have imagined. For most of the game the Ducks rushed three defenders and dropped eight into coverage, only to see Connor Halliday pick them apart. They almost never blitzed, instead playing more of a dime, prevent defense. That changed (even if only a little bit) against UCLA.
On this play, Oregon lined up like it has for most of it's games, with three down lineman and a fourth floating in and out. The only difference with this look is that Tony Washington, who usually on or near the line of scrimmage, is dropped back over the slot receiver in what looks to be coverage.
Pellum brings both Washington and Torrodney Prevot off the edge on blitzes, and sends nose tackle Tui Talia back into zone coverage. UCLA prepared for Prevot coming off the left side and had the back chip him on his way out of the backfield to buy Hundley some time, but they left Washington with an open route right into Hundley.
Hundley has his back in the flats for the check down, but he never sees Washington coming. Poor pocket presence from Hundley and even worse blitz pickup lead to as easy a sack as Washington will probably ever have.
Oregon's defense needs to play more like it did in this game than it did versus Washington State a few weeks ago. While they have never had a truly dominant defense, the spread-era Ducks have always been excellent at forcing game-swinging turnovers. The gambling, "bend but pray for a couple turnovers" defense is a much better option than the drop eight, "let teams have whatever they want underneath" scheme Pellum has been running early on this year.
Marcus Mariota 31-yard pass to Pharaoh Brown
With Oregon already up 35-10 heading into the fourth quarter, the Ducks were looking to add another score to put the nail in the UCLA coffin. On 2nd and eight, Mariota found Pharaoh Brown on a backside screen for a huge gain that set up the score.
The play begins with a rollout to the right side, including the entire line sliding over with Mariota. On that side of the field Byron Marshall and Dwayne Stanford ran routes to the right, to accompany the rollout. Brown picks up the weak side end before turning to set up for the pass.
The rollout fake works, as the entire UCLA defense slides right to defend the routes. Brown is able to sneak out the backside where he has Allen and Jake Fisher setting up blocks for him. We have seen this route/block Allen runs on this play before, its been a staple of the Oregon offense. Allen lets his man jam him into the middle of the field, where he stops to block the linebacker; this essentially takes to UCLA defenders out of the play.
The weak side end realizes the screen a half second too late and Mariota is able to loft the ball over his outstretched arm. Brown does the rest and sets the Ducks up with a first and goal inside the ten yard line.
Plays like this show a level of creativity that Frost's offense has been missing at times this year. Arizona ran nearly this exact play against Oregon last week for a touchdown, and it's nice to see that Frost is willing to adapt and add things to the offense, that he isn't too stubborn to make changes.