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The Film Room: True Freshman Thomas Graham Jr. Excelling in Secondary

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The Rancho Cucamonga product has a nose for the football

Nebraska v Oregon Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Welcome to the film room! Every Thursday, ATQ will take a look back at the week that was. This week, we re-watched the film from Game 2 vs the Nebraska Cornhuskers and head coach Mike Riley at Autzen Stadium on Saturday

OREGON’S 2017 RESUME

  • (2-0, 0-0)
  • 59.5 PPG
  • 28.0 PA
  • 31.5 MOV
  • 1,269 TOTAL YARDS
  • 634 TOTAL YPG
  • 360.0 PASSING YPG
  • 4 PASS TD
  • 12 RUSH TD
  • 28:26 AVG TOP
  • 17-for-17 XP
  • 0-for-1 FG
  • 363.0 YA
  • 6 INT
  • 7 SACKS
  • 14 TFL
  • 16 PD
  • 1 SPECIAL TEAMS TD
  • Key Players: Royce Freeman (362 TOTAL YDS, 6 TD) and Troy Dye (21 TKL, 2 SACK, 1 INT)

THE OFFENSE

Quarterback

Justin Herbert was one of the highlights from last weekend. The sophomore gunslinger from Eugene was clocked at 94 mph during the Nebraska game. The answer to the second half scoreless drought was complacency plain and simple. It’s a young team that thought the game was over at halftime when they were leading 42-14. It’s a valuable lesson learned without actually losing a game. With every victory, the national media attention will grow. Not to mention, the NFL Draft talk has only just begun to gain steam. Wait until he defeats a top-ranked team. We need to temper expectations right now, but Herbert doesn’t look phased by anything. Additionally, it’s not often you see a QB with a golden arm like his that has accuracy and touch down the field. Herbert is the total package of passing excellence. However, I was more impressed with his ability to tuck the ball and run for a first down or two vs the Huskers. He showcased some of his basketball abilities and quickness from high school. If Herbert can provide a consistent threat in the run game, opposing defenses will have no answers to stop this offense. Literally, none.

Running Back

It hasn’t taken Royce Freeman long to find his rhythm in 2017. Clearly, the man is on a mission to prove that last season was a mistake. With every huge chunk of yardage he amasses, Freeman further distances himself from 2016. Right now he stands at six scores and over 350 total yards for the year. Yet, that is not what motivates him. He wants to win at the end of the day and Freeman is a big reason why the Ducks are 2-0. Nevertheless, when watching him this campaign something is just different. He is hitting the holes and not being touched through them. He is attacking defenders as if they stole his lunch money. Not to mention, Freeman has the speed to distance himself from others after he escapes the first line of defense. He did make his first mistake of the young season when he fumbled in the second half. The turnover could have been costly but Oregon’s defense bailed him out, as he has done for them so many times during his career. Regardless, he looks faster and stronger but has the same elite vision as before. He is a game plan nightmare for opponents. Freeman is my No. 1 overall running back prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft class.

Wide Receiver

Brenden Schooler’s adjustment alone on his touchdown grab to conclude the first drive of the game was beyond impressive. It was a veteran-savvy maneuver. Herbert fired a third-down pass into the end zone. If Schooler doesn’t redirect his path and come back for the ball, he's going to run out of real estate. He stops on a dime, finds the ball like a good receiver does and he attempted to high-point it. While he didn’t snag it at its peak, it was close enough. For a first-year receiver to adjust like that while the ball is in the air is beyond encouraging. Not to mention, he was a full-time safety as of a month ago. That was his first career TD catch and he made it look like he’s been doing it for years. The amount of athleticism it takes to make that play at that time of the day with the sun squarely above him was remarkable.

Speaking of remarkable athletes, Johnny Johnson III continues to make a name for himself. Another week, another SportsCenter Top 10 worthy catch. If you missed it, find the 9:38 mark of the second quarter and enjoy this encore.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Oregon
Cue the SportsCenter intro music, Johnny Johnson III did it again last week. In the second quarter vs the Nebraska Cornhuskers, JJ3 inhaled a jaw-dropping 51-yard pass from Oregon QB Justin Herbert. The play setup the Ducks for one of their six first-half scores.
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Seconds later, Johnson caught a deflected pass in the red zone. Not only are his hands great, his blocking aptitude and awareness is next level. The kid loves to play the game and you can see it on every down. JJ3 is one of the Top 5 most-impressive players I’ve seen this year. With each passing week, he’s growing more comfortable in the college game. It’s only a matter of when he becomes a star, not “if” any longer.

Charles Nelson is one of the most electric athletes in the country. But it was his flawless wheel route that secured him a touchdown against Nebraska. It’s impossible to mistake the talent he possesses. We have seen the amazing returns, breathtaking catches, and inspired scores, yet there is something else in his portfolio that bears reminding. If he catches at peak acceleration, nobody is catching him. Sometimes I’m astonished that Herbert even finds his blurry moving target. Watch Nelson on a play when he DOES NOT receive the ball. His work-ethic and precise commitment to his route is relentless. It’s fun to watch him work to beat his man after initially being jammed or rerouted. He’s not great because of his physical tools, Nelson is great because he knows how to use those tools at an unimaginable rate of speed. At the end of this campaign, his numbers are going to be gaudy.

Tight End

Jacob Breeland has been impressing since the spring, but Cam McCormick made an appearance on Saturday. The freshman from Bend caught a nice 22-yard pass from Herbert. The 6-foot-4 tight end caught the eye of his head coach Willie Taggart during fall training camp. Oregon’s lead man will give him more opportunities to shine, as long as he continues to play like this. Ryan Bay dropped a critical fourth down pass that could have scored the only points of the second half for the Ducks. The sophomore turned into the sun and lost the perfect pass from Herbert, which ended up caroming off his hands just yards from the end zone.

Offensive Line

Once again the O-line dominated a game. Freeman rushed for 153 yards on 29 carries, amplifying his total yards to 362 this year. Jake Pisarcik and Jake Hanson highlighted another solid effort in the trenches. On more than a few occasions, they destroyed their gap assignments for Freeman to accelerate through an untouched hole. When Tyrell Crosby received a play off, Brady Aiello entered the mix. The sophomore replaced Crosby at times last season when he was dealing with an injury.

THE DEFENSE

Defensive Line

Scott Pagano and Malik Young were suited up in their kid-created uniforms last weekend. These are two players the Ducks desperately need with a shallow roster on the defensive line. I really would like an extended look at both before the Pac-12 opener next week. Hopefully, each will have an opportunity to make an impact on Saturday in Laramie. Freshman Jordon Scott made his presence felt once again. His greatest impact occurred on the final two drives vs the Cornhuskers.

Jalen Jelks continues to jump off the film during moments. He has all the ability but needs to harness it within the defensive scheme. He will continue to make plays, but it’s critical that he absorbs double teams and pressures the quarterback first and foremost. He had a few plays that stood out without registering a statistic for his efforts.

Linebackers

Jonah Moi was everywhere. If he’s not making the play himself, he’s setting up others. On the first defensive play of the day, Moi deflected a pass along the sideline for Tyree Robinson to intercept. It’s his understanding of the Duck defense that sets him apart. Moi read the play from the snap and followed the receiver down the sideline, even with Robinson defending him. Instead of trying to make a tough pick, Moi deflected the pass to his readily-available teammate. Whether he’s pressuring the quarterback, swarming a running back for a TFL or tracing a wide receiver/tight end 30 yards down field, Moi is always in the right place at the right time. It’s not a coincidence.

Nebraska v Oregon
Brenden Schooler is tackled by his quarterback Justin Herbert after his first collegiate touchdown catch. Oregon’s opening score placed them ahead 7-0 vs Nebraska from Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

It’s like Freeman on offense, what else can you say about Troy Dye that hasn’t been said already? He’s a man amongst boys as only a sophomore. Dye leads the team in tackles with 21, alongside two sacks and an interception. Every time I watch the defense, he flashes. Dye makes it look easy, but that’s because he works so hard at his craft. This guy is on pace for 120 tackles this year.

Justin Hollins continued to disrupt opposing pass attacks. He added another sack to his season total (2), tying him for the team-lead with Dye. Hollins also forced a fumble during Nebraska’s second to last drive. Unfortunately, they recovered it. Opposing offensive linemen have not had an answer for him in the early stages of 2017.

Secondary

There was nobody in the secondary that showcased more ability than Thomas Graham Jr. on Saturday. Even with Nebraska picking on him, he picked Tanner Lee, twice! The true freshman is in a different class of talent. He not only intercepted his first collegiate pass, but he added another one to seal the victory in the fourth quarter. Additionally, he finished with seven tackles. Don’t look for many teams to attack him continuously like the Huskers. However, I’d rather have a player drawing flags than allowing a 10-yard cushion. Graham’s physical gifts, alongside his awareness and understanding of the game, will carry him to a future in the NFL. Yet, his attention to detail, passion, aggressive nature and fearlessness will make him a legend of this game. It’s almost hard to resist imagining what he could have in store for his sophomore season.

Nebraska tried to avoid Ugochukwu Amadi on Saturday. The junior cornerback intercepted his second pass in as many weeks. Amadi does not shy away from contact like some defensive backs in college football. He embraces the physicality and Nebraska actually stayed away from his side of the field for the most part. Alongside Robinson, Amadi is an instrumental leader in the secondary.

It was nice to have Tyree Robinson back in the fold on Saturday. The dimension he provides Oregon from a leadership perspective is priceless. It also doesn’t hurt to have the senior intercepting a pass on the first defensive play of the afternoon. He’s always around the ball and helps place guys in the right spot to make plays. Robinson was on the field for more plays than any other Duck last season. After missing Week 1, he’ll be looking to make up for lost time in the coming weeks. Robinson’s guidance and experience will only help this defense build chemistry and mature as a young unit. Sometimes the best plays aren’t highlighted by touchdowns or flashy stats.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Brenden Schooler is a machine. On the kickoff following Oregon’s second score of the day, the wide receiver paced the unit down field. Then, he was the first to upend Nebraska’s kick-returner at the 18-yard-line. No matter the position, Schooler is a football player and a very good one at that. It’s only a matter of time before he begins to play a bigger role in the offense. His overall impact has been immeasurable.

We will break down the Wyoming film next Thursday. After a Duck win, hopefully!

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