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The Film Room: Oregon’s young wide receivers learning on the fly

Ducks’ offense trying to get back on track for Utah

Oregon v UCLA Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Following a game the Ducks should and could have won at UCLA, Oregon sets their sights on a defensive Utah team. Nevertheless, the offense can’t get down the field unless everyone is on the same page. Through three Braxton Burmeister starts, that has not been the case.

Over the first few weeks of the season, we evaluated the entire Oregon team and highlighted each player that stood out on game day. Now that it’s conference season, we will select an individual player/group to evaluate from the previous Duck game.

OREGON’S 2017 RESUME

  • (4-4, 1-4)
  • 34.8 PPG
  • 279 TOTAL POINTS
  • 30.3 PA
  • 30.2 MOV
  • 3,593 TOTAL YARDS
  • 449.1 TOTAL YPG
  • 204.3 PASS YPG
  • 10 PASS TD
  • 28 RUSH TD
  • 244.8 RUSH YPG
  • 4.9 YPC
  • 27:58 AVG TOP
  • 39-for-39 XP
  • 2-for-4 FG
  • 367.8 YAPG
  • 7 INT
  • 26 SACKS
  • 58 TFL
  • 44 PD
  • 4 FF
  • 6 FR
  • 1 SPECIAL TEAMS TD

Key Players: Royce Freeman (1,101 YDS, 10 TD) and Troy Dye (69 TKL, 8.5 TFL, 4 SACKS)

Oregon v UCLA
Braxton Burmeister is averaging 80.6 passing yards per game in his first three collegiate starts. That needs to improve drastically to stay competitive at the Pac-12 level, but his receivers running the wrong routes certainly doesn’t help.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
  • With the presence of Charles Nelson on the field, the Bruin defense split their focus between him and Royce Freeman. The jet sweep, whether faked or handed off to Nelson, has been Oregon’s most successful play since Burmeister took over.
  • UO is constantly placing the defense on ‘red alert’ when Nelson goes in motion. However, without a functional passing game, the defense can afford to focus on stopping individual players instead of the entire offense as a whole.
  • A fake can go a long way. Whether it’s a pump fake, jab step or a play action handoff, the defense must respect it. Burmeister does present a skill that Herbert is not nearly as gifted; running the ball. Therefore, Coach Tag has inserted more and more plays that suit his true freshman quarterback. Nevertheless, the passing game has suffered from the lack of success within the passing offense.
  • I really believe the opening-drive fumble by Darrian Felix changed the complexion of the contest. The Ducks were in control to open the game. UO’s defense made quick work of Josh Rosen and the UCLA offense to force their first punt. It looked like a brand new confidence had been instilled in the Ducks over the week.
  • UCLA is so bad against the run, the Ducks could manage the clock and dominate them on the ground with ball-possession football, something UO fans haven’t seen in years. Once the turnover occurred and UCLA’s offense turned it into seven points, you could see the air drained from the Duck sideline. Yet, Taggart and his staff rejuvenated their energy for a second-quarter comeback before halftime.
  • Dillon Mitchell needs to ‘consistently’ block downfield when the ball is in Freeman’s hands. On a few occasions, Mitchell was blocking as if the play was over. Of course, Freeman extended it to Mitchell’s area of the field where his defender made the tackle. It’s never understandable to not hold your block when you have a Heisman-worthy running back and offensive line.
  • Additionally, when blocking in the end zone as a wide receiver, DM needs to get deeper in his block. He can’t stop his route short and have his defender just three yards into the end zone, instead of the intended 7-9 yards. That is literally the difference between an offensive rushing score and a defensive stand short of the goal line. He needs to work on it.
  • On two runs in the first quarter, Burmeister was staring down a receiver that seemed to run the wrong route. Just when the QB was about to release the rock, he tucked it and ran with the ball. The play wasn’t designed to be a run, therefore it seemed awkward when it unfolded for a loss of yards on both occasions.

“It’s always concerning,” said Willie Taggart. “First thing you do as a coach, ‘are we doing too much? Am I doing a good job coaching it up?’ If he can’t do it, don’t put him in there. Everybody has to step up and play better. We’re not as talented as we’d like to make those mistakes. We have to continue working on our mental capacity.”

  • The horizontal jet sweeps used by Oregon’s wide receivers were highly successful for the most part on Saturday. Mitchell was cast in the ‘Nelson’ role on a sweep early in the second quarter. After a nice hesitation to allow his blockers to get down field, he gracefully danced 13 yards for the first down, exhibiting wonderful vision. It’s a great sign that UO can use both of their kick returners in the run game. It could certainly help the passing game open up.
  • On 3rd and 13 in the second quarter, Johnny Johnson III ran a quick hitch or even a quick stop sideline route, but the play was extended and he made a great adjustment. If Burmeister hits him in stride, Johnny is probably still running. UCLA was flagged on the play regardless, resulting in a first down.
  • I love everything about JJ3. His impact on offense with a healthy Justin Herbert is limitless. Not to mention, his blocking ability is top-notch. I love his passion for blocking. He’s physical at the point of ‘plastering’ but has soft hands when it comes to inhaling passes. Obviously, his growth has slowed a bit as Oregon’s offense struggles without their signal caller. He will continue to encounter single coverage until he figures it out.
  • Dillon Mitchell made one of the nicest catches you will see this season late in the second. Unfortunately, the catch was overturned because the ball hit the ground but he never let it out of his hands. It was impressive for him to just hang onto it the way he did. With another year of seasoning and hitting the weight room, Mitchell could really develop nicely.
  • On a 3rd and 5 play, Brenden Schooler absolutely shook his defender for his only catch of the afternoon. It was a simple 5-yard slant pattern that Schooler looked like a pro. Can you imagine the yards he would be collecting if Herbert was finding him in space? The numbers are an injustice to the growth of Schooler at wide receiver over the last month.
  • As far as running the wrong routes, I don’t think it’s always the receivers fault. It seems like there is a constant lack of communication from the quarterback. If you can’t hear him from the line of scrimmage, how can we expect the receivers to run the right routes? This will only continue until Burmeister learns to be more vocal. Then, if the WR’s are running improper routes, there will nobody else to blame.
  • Schooler is a devastating run-blocker when he lines his man up. It’s been impressive to watch him attack on certain run plays. He was extremely helpful on both Burmeister touchdown scampers in the first 30 minutes. Schooler will be more involved vs Utah.
  • Nelson was the lone Duck receiver with more than one reception vs UCLA. He caught four passes for 40 yards. Nelson is an exceptional talent and knows where he’s supposed to be all the time. He is a play-maker with an outstanding feel for the game of football. He’s one of the most impressive athletes I’ve ever witnessed.
  • Overall, whenever your receiving core has just eight receptions for 74 yards, it’s going to be tough to find the highlights. Yet, this was a game Oregon should have won. After the last two, you take solace from the fact that this team is getting closer to a win without Herbert.

Oregon (4-4, 1-4) returns to Autzen Stadium on Saturday for a clash with Utah (4-3, 1-3). Last season, the Ducks upset the No. 12 Utes in Salt Lake City a year after Utah beat UO 62-20 in Eugene. Kickoff is slated for 2:45 p.m. PT via the Pac-12 Network.

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