For the past few years, being an Oregon fan has been an overall very pleasant experience. Not to say that we are fans of any certain team because it's easy, far from it. However, as emotional distress rooting for college football teams usually goes, Oregon has kept our lives pretty peaceful. Last Thursday was not one of those nights.
Take comfort in your friends
Don't throw your hand, oh no
Rich Rodriguez and his Arizona Wildcats came into Eugene last Thursday night and took down #2 Oregon by the score of 31-24. Coming off of a bye week and a scary close game at Washington State, most Oregon fans were a little nervous about Arizona coming to town - especially with the game being played on a Thursday. Weird stuff happens on Thursdays. The worries were centered around a ragtag offensive line that has struggled to keep Marcus Mariota upright, and a defense that has not lived up to the individual talent shown throughout the Duck's first four games.
The debate leading up to the game seemed to be split into two distinct mindsets. Either everyone was overanalyzing the struggles against Washington State and Oregon just needs to get healthy, or Oregon has true weaknesses that can keep this team from competing for a national - and maybe even Pac-12 - title. After the Arizona game we still don't have a definitive answer, but it seems like the latter is a little closer to the truth.
Now let's look at how Arizona was able to outplay the Ducks using Rich Rod's patented spread offense, and the 3-3-5 defense.
Oregon's 3-and-Out Late in the 2nd Quarter
Against Arizona, there were times were Mark Helfrich, Scott Frost and company were simply too predictable for most of the night. With the banged up line, it's understandable that Oregon might steer clear of running anything too crazy or complex. But after an Arizona touchdown put the Wildcats in the lead in the 3rd quarter, Oregon came out and ran the ball three straight times for a three and out that barely let the defense catch its breath on the sideline. This also took the ball out of the hands of the best player on the field for an entire possession. Not great.
You have a Heisman trophy candidate and you hand it off 3 times in a row. What?— Addicted To Quack (@AddictedToQuack) October 3, 2014
The first down play was a good run from Byron Marshall, who picked up six yards to set up a 2nd and 4. The second play had Royce Freeman sweeping out to the left, where he was tackled for a two yard loss. With the 3-3-5 scheme Arizona bases its defense out of, Oregon believes it has enough blockers to set up the run for Freeman.
However right before the snap Arizona drops a seventh man down into the box, the defender at the top of the screen. Their is a disconnect between the line - who does not account for him with a pulling lineman - and Devon Allen, who thinks he is responsible for picking up the deep safety.
The extra man is able to make a nice open field tackle and drop Freeman for the loss. The next play, where Frost elected to run again on 3rd and 6, is perplexing to say the least. It's unclear whether left tackle Tyrell Crosby missed his assignment, Mariota made a incorrect read, or Freeman hit the wrong hole, but no matter what the issue was, Arizona was able to bring down Freeman short of the first down and end the Ducks possession.
I hope this Rich Rod gif bothers you as much as it bothers me.
Anu Solomon 34-yard touchdown pass to Nick Wilson
After that poor 3 and out from Oregon, Rich Rod and Arizona were on the offensive.
After a play earlier in the game where Oregon lost an Arizona back swinging out of the backfield, Rodriguez drew up this look. The play begins with a rollout look for Solomon to the right side. Arizona really sells the play by pulling their left guard on the rollout and having all of the receivers run their routes to the right side of the field.
Well, every receiver except Wilson, who runs a wheel route on the backside of the play after the play action. Oregon is sending a blitz and leaving their defensive backs in man coverage, with Derrick Malone as the lone man to patrol the middle of the field. He buys into the rollout and breaks on a receiver in the right flats, leaving Wilson all alone out to the left. By all alone, I mean all alone.
The rest is just Wilson dropping the Madden '06 Truck Stick on Ekpre-Olomu and then walking in for the touchdown.
Terris Jones-Grigsby 24-yard run on 3rd and 20
On the pivotal drive with the game tied late in the game, Oregon forced Arizona into a 3rd and forever after a Solomon intentional grounding penalty. What followed was probably the biggest play of the game.
Arizona surprises Oregon with a run play on 3rd and 20, catching the Ducks off guard. I mean just look at the hole the Arizona offensive line is able to open up for Jones-Grigsby. The saying "the whole was so big, you could drive a truck through it" is overused, buy it might literally apply here.
There are a couple reasons Arizona is able to open up such a lane for Jones-Grigsby to hit. The first is that Derrick Malone, who is responsible for the back on this assumed pass play - lines up out right to the side Jones-Grigsby is lined up on. This leaves him out of position to cover a run up the middle. Another reason is the coverage Pellum called because of the assumed pass. Oregon ran a man-to-man with two deep safeties. The math is easy to follow - six defensive backs is greater than four receivers. But once the play starts and Malone isn't in position to make the initial tackle, there is no one in the middle of the field.
The last reason this play is able to happen is Oregon's inability to bring down Jones-Grigsby. So far this season, Oregon has been an atrocious tackling team, constantly missing open field tackles. On this play, three Duck defenders get a hand on Jones-Grigsby before he reaches the first down marker and none are able to wrap him up.
Arizona would go on to run a few more minutes off the clock and (after the Tony Washington bow call) punch in the winning touchdown.
I apologize for making you re-live the pain of this game with me, but just remember:
Everybody hurts, sometimes