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Thanksgiving Film Room: Breaking down every pass attempt from Justin Herbert’s return against Arizona

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The Ducks needed their QB in a bad way on Saturday

Arizona v Oregon Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Quarterback Justin Herbert returned to the fold on Saturday, as Oregon dominated Arizona 48-28 from Autzen Stadium. With the victory, the Ducks became bowl eligible for the first time in two years. Yet, head coach Willie Taggart wants more in Game 12.

I would like to wish everyone, including non-Duck fans, a Happy Thanksgiving from ATQ! All the best to you and yours at this time of the year. Please enjoy your day.

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

  • (6-5, 3-5)
  • 33.7 PPG
  • 371 TOTAL POINTS
  • 29.9 PA
  • 26.8 MOV
  • 4,875 TOTAL YARDS
  • 443.2 TOTAL YPG
  • 179.0 PASS YPG
  • 12 PASS TD
  • 35 RUSH TD
  • 264.1 RUSH YPG
  • 5.3 YPC
  • 28:30 AVG TOP
  • 50-for-50 XP
  • 7-for-10 FG
  • 373.4 YAPG
  • 10 INT
  • 31 SACKS
  • 78 TFL
  • 54 PD
  • 7 FF
  • 7 FR
  • 1 SPECIAL TEAMS TD

Key Players: Royce Freeman (1,497 YDS, 14 TD) and Troy Dye (95 TKL, 13 TFL, 4 SACKS)

NCAA Football: Arizona at Oregon
Sophomore starting quarterback Justin Herbert received medical clearance last week but head coach Willie Taggart wanted to give his QB the bye week before announcing anything to the public.
Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports
  • Clearly, not just the offense needed Oregon’s starting quarterback on the field. UO’s win against Arizona was their most-complete of the season. However, 13 penalties dampened the mood in the locker room. Regardless, Herbert was always the missing link and now that he’s back the Ducks have their juice back for the final stretch.

“We haven’t played our best, yet,” Taggart stated. “I thought last week was close. But then you put in the penalties (13) and it takes away from what we did. We got another opportunity to see if we can put it all together. I challenged our guys and I look forward to them doing it.”

  • Oregon is averaging 49 points per game with Herbert taking snaps. Meanwhile, they scored just 15 points per game with him on the shelf nursing a fractured collarbone. Let’s take a look at his fundamentals after not playing in a game since Week 5 vs Cal:
  1. Any great coach understands they need to place their guy back in the fire as soon as possible. It’s like a kid who falls off their bike. They have to get back on immediately or fear and doubt will start to creep in, which could be worse at times than an actual physical injury. On the first play from scrimmage, Herbert connected with Dillon Mitchell on a 10-yard passing completion. Herbert faked the wide receiver screen, adjusted his feet and shoulder angle toward the sideline and easily tossed one near the 40-yard line for a first down on his first attempt. Mitchell secured it nicely.
  2. His next attempt came on the same drive, but it was now 2nd and 17. Instead of forcing his QB to stay in the pocket waiting for receivers to get open, Taggart designed a bunch of quick-hitters that will keep Herbert safe. This was the case on his quick screen to Mitchell for another 10-yard connection.
  3. On their second possession, the Ducks only needed five passing yards on their 75-yard scoring drive. A majority of the load was carried on the ground, including Herbert’s highlight reel 40-yard touchdown run down the sideline. His first attempt went for no gain to Mitchell, who he found behind the line of scrimmage with the completion.
  4. The other attempt on the drive was completed to Mitchell for a gain of five yards. Herbert stepped up in the pocket brilliantly on his TD run. He was initially looking to extend the play, not run. But when he saw the open space, he had no choice. “It was a little surprising,” Herbert said with a laugh. “I didn’t see anyone in front of me so I took off and luckily nobody hit me on the way to the end zone.”
  5. This was a Royce Freeman drive. He had a few of them on Saturday. Herbert attempted just one pass and it didn’t arrive until the fourth play of the drive. His pass was incomplete to Charles Nelson, his first target of the day to someone not named Dillon Mitchell. It was a three-step drop, but the ball came out like a wounded Duck. Nelson had no chance as the ball fell yards shy of reaching his feet.
  6. On the second play of the next possession, the Ducks were leading 14-7 and near midfield when Herbert simply overthrew Nelson down the field. With a speedster like Nelson, timing is essential. Herbert was still trying to find his in the second quarter. Dane Cruikshank took the pass 64 yards to the house for an impressive run, but he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and the touchdown was negated.
  7. This was a short, jet sweep, toss to the wide receiver that is scored as a pass attempt in the stat books. It went for no gain, but the defense clearly struggles with a play like this because they can’t tell who has the ball initially. The next play Herbert was sacked, ending the drive prematurely.
  8. Oregon’s sixth drive of the night was executed nicely. After a few Freeman runs to start the possession, the Ducks had third and six in front of them. Herbert calmly completed the pass to Nelson for 10 yards and a first down.
  9. Following an 8-yard Freeman run, Herbert found Nelson on a play action wide receiver screen. The Wildcat defense continued to play closer to the line of scrimmage, not believing Taggart would open the playbook for him in his return game. Not so fast.
  10. Taggart and Herbert setup the defense to perfection. Following a cluster of nine short passes to open the contest, Herbert fooled the defense on a play action fake to Nelson. The Sheldon Irish star unleashed a perfect pass down field that Jacob Breeland caught in stride as he entered the end zone. The 39-yard pass illustrated his touch, alongside that cannon of an arm. In reality, the pass was in the air for 50 yards.
  11. On his 11th attempt of the game, Herbert was starting to get comfortable. After his TD pass to his tight end, the next pass was even better. With the defense breaking down, Herbert scrambled to his right and threw in one simultaneous motion with great touch. The ball lofted over the Arizona cornerback and just into the gloves of Nelson. He streaked down the sideline, finally coming down to conclude the 46-yard play.
  12. On third and long, Herbert made the intelligent play of the half when he threw to a double-covered Johnny Johnson III in the end zone. Neither Arizona player turned back for the ball, as the true freshman receiver drew the penalty flag and a fresh set of downs. That play led to yet another Freeman touchdown run.
  13. The third quarter opened and Oregon’s offense didn’t take the field until midway through it. However, leading 28-21 Freeman was really hammering the Wildcats and Taggart was not going to let off the gas. On third and four, Herbert rolled out right and found Nelson on the move for the nicely executed quick out and first down.
  14. Tony Brooks-James dropped a quick screen. Herbert hit him in the numbers. The Eugene product didn’t need to attempt another pass on the UO scoring drive.
  15. The next possession continued after a play action roll out quick pass to Cam McCormick who did the rest of the work with his 12-yard gain.
  16. Another quick screen to Dillon Mitchell. The wide receiver could not find any running room, as once again the defense was creeping closer to the line with every running play. They were trying to slow the running game, but had to respect Herbert.
  17. Herbert sat in the pocket on his 17th pass of the game. It was a 3-step drop but Herbert could have gotten in seven. Just before he was tackled from behind, Herbert tossed a high pass to his tight end from Bend. McCormick made one of the best catches of the year, snagging the 35-yard pass for an Oregon first down.
  18. Herbert and Mitchell failed to connect on a short passing play. Aidan Schneider finished off the possession with three.
  19. Maybe the most creative play of the season, Herbert handed off to Freeman who tossed it to Nelson who flicked it back to his QB for a modern day flea-flicker. Herbert then unloaded one of his finest passes of the season. No. 10 found his man Johnson 50 yards down field for the longest play of the game for UO’s offense. Unfortunately, JJ3 was down by contact one yard shy of the end zone. The Ducks scored on the next play. Guess who?
  20. The final possession of the game that Taggart would allow his QB to still throw. Herbert and Breeland failed to connect for the touchdown attempt on second down with 8:26 remaining in the Pac-12 game.
  21. Herbert’s final attempt of the day went to who else, but Dillon Mitchell? Taggart was trying to get the duo a score, but it just didn’t work out. Winding down in the fourth quarter, while in the red zone Hebert found his main man Mitchell. The receiver drew a team-high nine targets, but couldn’t come down with the catch on this wobbly pass. The drive concluded with another Schneider field goal.

Overall, Herbert completed 14-of-21 attempts for 235 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception. He rushed for 40 yards on four carries, including his impressive jaunt to the house. Nevertheless, he looked good in his first game back after a tough injury.

Not many recover in seven weeks from a fractured collarbone, let alone make themselves ready to start less than two months after the injury occurred. Just as important, the sophomore made the Ducks bowl eligible.

Next up for Oregon (6-5, 3-5) is their final regular season game of the 2017 campaign. Herbert and the Ducks are looking to avenge last years 34-24 loss to the Beavers (1-10, 0-8). Kickoff is slated for 4:00 p.m. PT at Autzen. You can watch The Civil War on ESPN2.

“It’s not about revenge. It’s about us going out and doing the things we intend to do from the beginning of the year,” said Taggart. “We said we wanted to win the first game of the year and the last game of the season. We got an opportunity to do that in our home.”

Stay tuned, if you want to; Twitter @TheQuackFiend Gram @eugene_levys_eyebrows