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The Film Room: Oregon’s Offensive Balance

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Taking a look back at the Ducks’ first game of 2017

NCAA Football: Southern Utah at Oregon Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

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 1 vs the Southern Utah Thunderbirds at Autzen Stadium. The Willie Taggart era is officially underway.

OREGON’S 2017 RESUME

  • (1-0, 0-0)
  • 77.0 PPG
  • 21.0 PA
  • 56.0 MOV
  • 703 TOTAL YPG
  • 281.0 PASSING YDS
  • 1 PASS TD
  • 9 RUSH TD
  • 11-for-11 EP
  • 0-for-0 FG
  • 2 INT
  • 5 SACKS
  • 7 TFL
  • 8 PD
  • 1 SPECIAL TEAMS TD
  • Key Players: Royce Freeman (200 TOTAL YDS, 4 TD) and Troy Dye (10 TKL, 1 SACK, 1 INT)

THE OFFENSE

Quarterback

Justin Herbert looked strong, physically. His added weight will certainly pay off more down the road but he does look a little bigger on the field this year. He still had the training wheels on last weekend, as Herbert was not looking to audible from the original play calls. It may take a game or two for him to make adjustments with Taggart calling plays. Nevertheless, his golden arm looks better than ever. He was dropping dimes early and often, including a perfect 50-yard pass to Charles Nelson. The game plan vs Southern Utah was very basic and vanilla. The Ducks didn’t want to get too complicated in the first contest but also didn’t want to leave Nebraska with too much information. The offense recorded 37 first down conversions, including 14 through the air.

Taylor Alie stepped in and showed out during his time on the field. He completed 6-of-6 passes for 74 yards and a rushing touchdown. It didn’t take very long to get warm on Saturday, as Alie quickly asserted himself into the game. The new husband looked like a senior; poised and under control.

Running Back

What else can we say about Royce Freeman? After a brutal junior year, the senior has returned on a mission. He is bigger and stronger somehow but he still possesses the same elite speed. This is as clear a top NFL back as you will see. Freeman has all the tools and then some. He does not wait to be hit, he attacks the defense. Southern Utah players could not tackle the workhorse without assistance. Not only was he physically imposing, but his vision allowed him to finesse SU with his shiftiness. He recommitted himself to the weight room during the offseason and it will continue to pay dividends well into the season. Freeman and his RB group helped UO amass 20 first downs on the ground.

He may be No. 3 on the depth chart, but RB Kani Benoit certainly doesn’t play like it. Taggart loves the luxury of having one of the deepest and most-talented backfields in the country. He rushed just seven times on Saturday, but efficiently amassed 107 yards and three scores. Benoit attacks the A and B gaps with a ferociousness that you usually find in defenders. You could not ask for a more-efficient performance. He looked crisp and fast after his conditioning the last month. Kani Benoit was strong but patient through the holes. When he kicked it to the outside, he showed an electric burst. He will be invaluable with TBJ working in the passing game and kick game.

Tony Brooks-James played his part in the running game but made his biggest impact on special teams. The great aspect of a running back on special teams is his vision. He opened the season on a perfectly executed 100-yard kick return TD. He could provide a crucial lift to the return ace Nelson, who could save his energy for the offense. Aside from two lost fumbles, TBJ looked dynamic with his hands on the ball in the passing and running game. He left the game with cramps, but was fine after.

Wide Receiver

Charles Nelson looked great, of course. He finished with five catches for 99 yards and that is pretty much my expectation for him every game this season from the slot. He is more athletic than every player who lines up against him. His explosion off the line is almost unfair to those trying to cover him. If he doesn’t catch a pass, it’s probably due to pass interference as we saw on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Southern Utah at Oregon
Charles Nelson plucks a beautiful 50-yard pass out of the sky from Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert. Nelson led the Ducks in receiving with five catches for 99 yards and a rushing touchdown in the season opener on Saturday evening.
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The true freshman Johnny Johnson III made his first collegiate start and looked like a veteran. It took awhile, but JJ3 finally caught his first career collegiate pass from Herbert. After the 2-yard reception, he made an incredible 37-yard snag near the goal line. This kid is ready for stardom. He was consistently blowing by his coverage on the outside. It’s only a matter of time before Herbert starts targeting him regularly.

I liked what I saw from Nelson’s backup Darrian McNeal. He rushed the rock twice for 17 yards and caught one ball for five yards. His 5-foot-9 frame is electric and reminds me of a young Charles Nelson. He has great hands, maybe a step below Johnson. If he gets to the edge this year, watch out. The sideline is his only defense.

Tight End

Jacob Breeland played a huge role in the first quarter of the game when he came down with two balls for 45 yards and a score. The sophomore illustrated nice hands, sharp route running and most importantly he looked healthy after sporting a cast on his hand throughout fall camp. Breeland will surprise a few defenders with his blocking ability on the run. He can also stay tight for max protection schemes. Nevertheless, it’s his receiving ability that sets him apart with sneaky downfield speed and awareness.

Offensive Line

The Ducks rushed the ball 52 times for 366 yards and nine scores on Saturday. Everything you watch on film during a game like this looks perfect. Clearly, it will only get more difficult for Oregon’s offensive line but this was a much-needed first performance. Left tackle Tyrell Crosby summed it up perfectly after the game.

“It reminded me of the first two years when we were a dominant o-line. Our run group did a good job.”

Jake Hanson, Shane Lemieux, Calvin Throckmorton and Jake Pisarcik played in unison alongside Crosby. The holes were enormous for the Duck running backs, so it’s not hard to imagine why Oregon rushed for 6.7 yards per carry. On more than a few occasions, Duck running backs scored a TD from 10 yards out or further without being touched. It truly is a great sign of respect to the offensive line when the running game looks that good. Last season was the first time in a decade Oregon didn’t possess a 1,000-yard rusher. That should change this season. At this rate, it could be done by October. This line has the look of the No. 1 Pac-12 rushing unit in 2017.

THE DEFENSE

Defensive Line

If you watched the game on Saturday, you couldn’t help but hear the name Henry Mondeaux. He was all over the field and creating some havoc with a basic game plan. On the other side of the defensive line, Jalen Jelks also showed signs of life. He blocked a field goal attempt, as well. The true freshmen nose tackle rotation between Jordon Scott and Austin Faoliu was interesting. Both seemed to use more energy sprinting on and off the field between plays. Scott just has so much interior strength when you watch him. Faoliu is going to be a force, as well. He is athletic and has explosive bursts that make you believe he could be dominant at times. Both will need to create pressure with a more expansive game plan.

Linebackers

I’m sure Troy Dye surprised nobody with his performance in Eugene. However, after watching the film again, I was blown away by how active he really was. He is literally around the ball at the end of every play. It doesn’t take a genius to understand why Leavitt trusts him in the middle. He is always pointing out something or altering teammates. He is especially beneficial to the freshmen.

Justin Hollins was impressive, but we were expecting that. He is a freak of nature on the edge and can create havoc by himself. If he can consistently force pressure from the edge, the defense will make some big stops. He has an array of skill moves that he used on Saturday to erase blockers.

Southern Utah v Oregon
Henry Mondeaux forces Southern Utah quarterback Patrick Tyler from the pocket on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. Oregon’s defensive captain was extremely active from the edge vs the Thunderbirds.
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Another linebacker that continued his incredible fall was Jonah Moi. He was all over the field on Saturday, but it’s his play recognition that is most impressive. At times, it seemed like Moi was in the Southern Utah huddle. He will be an impact player.

Secondary

There was far too much cushion given on the outside. During the Thunderbird opening drive of the season, they breezed down the field for a TD. Taggart said his corners thought ‘Randy Moss’ was on the other side. However, UO made adjustments for the second drive and started to play more physically. There were solid moments, but also lapses that made you cringe in fear for what’s ahead. The Pac-12 season is coming, so this defense needs a lot of improvement.

Thomas Graham Jr. may have had a (questionable) flag or two thrown against him but he showed great signs of being a future star. He has poise and composure, alongside a handful of physical gifts. He did not look like a true freshman. In fact, at one moment he tried a subtle push off on the receiver so he could grab the interception. Of course, the referees saw it and flagged it. Yet, you have to be encouraged by his maturity. That is a savvy veteran move for an 18-year-old.

Ugo Amadi started over him but I could see that changing if TG continues to improve. Amadi made a nice play on an interception, alongside a few other stops. He is a leader with scrappy tackling ability. Amadi embraces the physicality.

Arrion Springs started but struggled at times. The senior improved greatly over the offseason but seemed to revert to some old patterns on Saturday. He gave way too much cushion to the receivers on the outside. Last season, it was a similar story with most of his work being done after the receiver got the first down. A few missed tackles didn’t help his cause.

Once Deommodore Lenoir entered the game, there was a change. You could see it almost immediately. He has that something special. Aside from being a physical specimen for a true freshman, he’s starting to get it. You can NOT teach most of the gifts he possesses. Like I said this summer, give Lenoir some time to get acclimated. He missed the spring and only has the fall camp to work with. Yet, it shouldn’t be long before Graham and Lenoir are permanently patrolling the outside.

The safety play was solid, considering it’s Oregon’s deepest position. Khalil Oliver exited early and was replaced by Billy Gibson and Nick Pickett. Both players jumped off the film to me. It’s tough to catch everything live, but the film really illustrates who is doing what they’re supposed to. Gibson excelled at the start of camp and he continues to impress his head coach. His play recognition and change of direction are top notch. He has marvelous hands and athleticism. He has a great feel for the system and Gibson could really be special.

THE SPECIAL TEAMS

This unit was a highlight of the victorious performance. Tony Brooks-James wasted no time getting the bad taste from 2016 out of Oregon’s collective mouth. The scary part is TBJ is not the only talent that can return kicks on this team. Brenden Schooler was exceptional in setting up the opening score with a bone-crushing block to free Brooks-James. The scholarship-earning Kaulana Apelu was all over kick coverage as per usual. He made five total tackles and was around the ball on every kickoff and both Oregon punts. Kicker Aidan Schneider kicked off 12 times for a total of five touchbacks, averaging 65.1 yards per boot. He does not try to blast the ball aimlessly into the end zone like most kickers. Instead, Schneider places it around the 1-yard-line and forces the opposition to return it. He made all 11 extra point attempts.

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

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