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The Film Room: Justin Herbert’s Progression

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Oregon’s sophomore quarterback still needs seasoning

Oregon v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Welcome to The Film Room Mr. Justin Herbert! We have been waiting to evaluate you. Oregon’s sophomore quarterback had a tough weekend in Tempe, but it’s not easy without your No. 1 wide receiver and go-to target.

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 to evaluate each week from the previous Duck game.

OREGON’S 2017 RESUME

  • (3-1, 0-1)
  • 50.7 PPG
  • 203 TOTAL POINTS
  • 26.5 PA
  • 33.3 MOV
  • 2,228 TOTAL YARDS
  • 557 TOTAL YPG
  • 313 PASS YPG
  • 8 PASS TD
  • 20 RUSH TD
  • 244 RUSH YPG
  • 5.1 YPC
  • 27:56 AVG TOP
  • 29-for-29 XP
  • 0-for-1 FG
  • 349.5 YA PG
  • 7 INT
  • 14 SACKS
  • 33 TFL
  • 26 PD
  • 1 SPECIAL TEAMS TD

Key Players: Royce Freeman (669 TOTAL YDS, 10 TD) and Troy Dye (32 TKL, 2 SACK, 1 INT)

Oregon v Arizona State
Herbert lost his first Pac-12 contest of the season last week. Nevertheless, the Eugene product is already on a faster pace to the record books than Marcus Mariota. It took Mariota 15 games to reach 3,000 passing yards, while Herbert touched the 3G mark after just 13 collegiate games.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

THE PROGRESSION OF JUSTIN HERBERT

GOOD

  • Brenden Schooler did not help out his quarterback on the very first play from scrimmage against Arizona State. Herbert’s deep shot was placed perfectly 40 yards downfield right into his wide receiver’s breadbasket.
  • Unfortunately, Schooler could not hold onto the catch. That play was followed by the first Jake Pisarcik false start of the evening before the drive concluded with a punt. It was a sign of things to come.
  • Taj Griffin looked great on his fly sweep to the right sideline. Once again, a Duck penalty negated the huge play but Griffin looks more explosive than he did last season. He looks comfortable at any position on offense and will provide explosiveness for his QB.
  • Herbert calmly overcame mistakes to lead his team into the end zone. A gigantic third-down connection with Dillon Mitchell kept their second drive alive. The next time he found Mitchell was in the end zone with a perfectly executed back shoulder TD toss. It was one of the best offensive possessions of the season.
  • Missing Nelson and his 15 receptions for 243 yards and two total TDs is critical to Oregon’s offensive attack. Not to mention, Herbert’s training camp roommate is his security blanket. Yet, Herbert battled with a young receiving core around him. Look for tight end Jacob Breeland to be Herbert’s No. 1 target if Nelson misses extended time.
  • Ironically, his best pass of the night came on an incompletion. In the fourth quarter on 3rd and 7, Herbert backpedaled from pressure and threw off-balance into the flat for Freeman. The pass was low where only his back could catch it, but Freeman dropped it. Honestly, it was one of the best passes I’ve seen from Herbert, period.
  • Herbert’s running elusiveness is impressive for someone his size. He has better speed than he’s given credit for but he will never be confused for Randall Cunningham. He had a career-high 10 carries for 36 yards (3.6) and a score on Saturday.
  • The Eugene kid provides enough athleticism to keep the defensive front honest. Herbert can grab those first downs with his legs in third and short situations. That will be monumental as the season moves forward.
  • I’ve been continually impressed by Herbert’s ability to throw on the run. When he’s forced right and throws while in motion, the pass seems to roll off his fingertips effortlessly with precision.
  • It’s encouraging to watch his mobility in the pocket. He has a great feel inside it.
  • The progression through his receiving options has always been above average. He rarely stares down a receiver or his first option, plus he spreads the wealth. Herbert usually doesn’t force the ball into double coverage and he does a nice job of finding the open man routinely. His precision and arm strength on the out and comeback routes (NFL-type passes) is next level.
  • When he’s on his game, his passes are steaming with smoke and accuracy. He has one of the best arms in college football and it will take him to the NFL. When it eventually “clicks” for him, the Duck offense will be almost impossible to slow down.
  • On five separate occasion vs ASU, Herbert found a receiver deep down the field. Instead of lofting up a 50/50 pass, Herbert fired a frozen rope. Now, it may look normal to most since they can achieve the same on a video game, but this is not normal behavior.
  • Herbert finished the game with 281 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air. Herbert completed 19-of-35 attempts (54 percent) in a comeback effort. The sophomore amassed a total of 317 yards and four tallies.
  • For his age, he’s one of the calmest quarterbacks I’ve witnessed at the college level. His relaxed demeanor is comforting for teammates but also illustrates how under control he is during games. Without disrespecting the former Heisman Trophy winner, the Mariota-Herbert comparisons will continue for Herbert’s entire career.
Oregon v California
Justin Herbert saved his best college performance for the California Golden Bears during his true freshman season. The Eugene native registered six passing scores and 258 yards in Oregon’s 52-49 double overtime loss.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

BAD

  • The score of this game dictated Oregon’s approach a great deal. Herbert picked apart the Sun Devil secondary when he wanted. Yet, he fell in love with the deep pass in this contest, especially late. Instead of taking what the defense was giving him, Herbert forced vertical passes early and often.
  • He has a magnificent arm but needs to harness it at times. Due to defensive pressure, Herbert was forced to throw off his back foot quite a few times vs ASU. When that occurred, the ball always sailed over the head of his intended receiver. He needs to demonstrate that he can manage to make passes under pressure.
  • He needs to step into his throws instead of rushing with indecisiveness when rushed. When he shuffles his feet before the throw, it creates problems for his accuracy. This is typical for most quarterbacks, but Herbert has the arm strength to make plays that others simply can’t make.
  • Another issue that scares me is Herbert’s game management style. Maybe I’m missing something but I’ve never seen him call an audible. Maybe his adjustments are more subtle, but it seems like he takes the play and calls the play.
  • Even when the defense indicates a full house blitz from all angles, Herbert simply just snaps the ball and throws to his first read. More times than not, it’s unsuccessful.
  • Of course, I understand the coaching staff is keeping it simple for Herbert. He is a quiet sophomore who is still trying to find his way. Slowly but surely, he’s growing into the leader role Willie Taggart envisioned, but it’s taking time.
  • The audible issue is something that may be done more for desire than necessity. I’m sure we would never get a straight answer about that because it provides so much insight to the opponent. However, it’s something worth keeping an eye on.
  • Or does Herbert not see anything at the line of scrimmage worth audibling for? That is really the question here.
  • Royce Freeman’s minimal usage heavily contributed to Herbert’s inefficiency. With only 15 carries for their workhorse, Herbert was forced to throw routinely. Without using the running game, there was no need for play action. In turn, ASU was playing with great freedom on defense.
  • If a team gets a read on their opponent, they can exploit it continually. ASU had no fear of the Ducks running the ball, enabling their defensive line to pin their ears back and rush Herbert at full tilt.
  • It’s possible the Oregon coaching staff is going by his numbers in a play action situation versus regular passing scenarios. Herbert is completing 65 percent of his passes with the play action fake but is unquestionably better without it at 79 percent.
  • I would like to see more check downs, especially late in games. When defenses are focusing on taking away the big play, Herbert must take the yards being given to him. First downs and clock stoppages are vital to Oregon’s offensive success.
  • If Herbert was older, maybe he would audible and force the defense to make a decision. He certainly has the arm strength to make someone pay for overpursuing.
  • When the QB has time to throw, he’s brilliant. Herbert throws a nice, tight, clean spiral with plenty of velocity. Yet, he’s a different animal when under pressure. The game in Tempe was the best and most-recent footage of this.

NEXT

Last season, Justin Herbert matched a program record with his performance against the Bears on the road. He tied five others on an impressive list for the most TD passes in a single game in Oregon program history: Danny O’Neil (‘94), Joey Harrington (‘00), Darron Thomas (‘11), Marcus Mariota (‘12) and Vernon Adams (‘15). The Eugene product will be looking for similar success in his own backyard.

That night in Berkeley, Herbert completed 22-of-40 attempts (55 percent) for 258 passing yards, six TDs, and one interception. Herbert will need to be more efficient than 55 percent passing with a turnover this time around.

We will break down the next player on Thursday after the California game this weekend!

Next up for Oregon (3-1) is a meeting with California (3-1) at Autzen Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. PT via FS1.

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