For the fifth time in nine games, Oregon is uncertain which quarterback it’ll face tomorrow. For most of the season the starter has been #7 QB Thompson-Robinson, who has clear athletic gifts but is clearly a freshman. He was injured in the second quarter two weeks ago and hasn’t played since; prior to that point I recorded five successful downfield passing plays vs six failed plays (he was 13 vs 13 against the Huskies in week 6, you can brush up on his performance by reading the defensive section of my article on them, it’s the last two videos).
The replacement for the last game and most of the previous one is #3 QB Speight, who’s a grad transfer from Michigan. In those games I counted 25 successful passes vs 33 failures. At first glance that makes Speight look like the inferior passer, but I’d rate them about the same in overall effectiveness, with some senior decision-making compensating for lesser athletic talents. Speight took the majority of snaps I watched against the far more aggressive Utah pass rush and his receivers had a few drops, whereas Thompson-Robinson only played the first part of the Arizona game and faced the Huskies’ famous lack of a pass rush (and their weird decision to play a soft cover-3 in that game), and I think that accounts for most of the difference in their performances. Some examples of his nice play:
On the first play, UCLA rolls the pocket and Speight makes a tricky throw on the run to #14 WR Howard who’s beaten the DB off the break on this out route. The second play (at :12) is a nicely designed bubble screen where the play-action draws off the MIKE and #86 TE Asiasi gets in a good block of the DB to spring #9 WR Lee. The last play (at :18) shows off Asiasi’s speed releasing downfield as he just burns the DB to the flag.
I’m also impressed with Speight’s ability to scramble and make a play. The offensive line is pretty poor in pass protection - I counted 41 instances of some kind of defensive penetration or pressure on the passer in 68 dropbacks (both QBs combined), which is over 60% of the time. He’s got a few good runs when he’s flushed from the pocket, but he can also make fairly accurate throws even under really tough conditions. Some examples:
It’s hard to overstate how difficult the first play is, passes attempted more than seven seconds after the snap have a comically low completion rate, and this one is on the roll to a moving receiver sandwiched against the sideline. The second play (at :20) is even tougher, he’s on the move and throwing back across his body, and he still hits the receiver in the hands (this play also shows off one of the Bruins’ several drops last week). The last play (at :36) is flat out astonishing, Speight beats the underneath coverage by about a millimeter with a linebacker draped on his back, and Howard makes an incredible catch in midair.
The rush offense is more effective now that they’re getting the ball to #27 RB Kelley. I counted 24 success vs 19 failures in the last two games before garbage time. The offensive line isn’t a whole lot better in run-blocking to my eyes, but they’re dealing with that by using a staple of Chip Kelly’s Oregon offenses - the inside zone read:
The first play is a read of the unblocked fieldside end, and even though the DT gets into the backfield and #55 LG Alves isn’t making his second-level block, Kelley is slippery enough to pick up the 1st down. The second play (at :07) is reading the safety, and even though #77 LT James doesn’t seal off his man, #73 RT Burton (the backup for #74 RT Murphy, lost for the year to a knee injury against Colorado) gets a nice driving block on the SAM to clear some running room for Speight’s keep. On last play (at :12), the read is again the safety, who’s coming down and leaving the middle of the field wide open, and all it takes is #76 RG Murray’s valiant attempt at a cut block to clear the MIKE and Kelley does the rest.
The line doesn’t block power as consistently, but when it does it can set up pretty big plays:
The first play relies more on Asiasi and #39 WR Fernea’s blocks on the outside, and Kelley’s ability to power through a tackle for extra yards. On the second play (at :07), the initial motion gets the defense to put six guys on the field side with no high safety, even though this is an unbalanced line with the tackle over to the field side … James and Burton don’t maintain their blocks for long, but Kelley slips past their guys’ arms and Murray hangs on long enough for Kelley to hit the open grass. On the last play (at :17), Murray gets beat pretty badly and Kelley is chased down from behind, but a couple nicely executed pulls from Burton and #75 C Tagaloa (returned from a 3-game suspension to start the year) open the hole for him to make the 1st down.
The rush defense was pretty bad - 25 successes against 45 failures prior to garbage time, although 13 of those failures came on plays where it was clear to me that defense was exhausted close to the end of meaningful play from being on the field too long, and I won’t make videos of those. Because there wasn’t a whole lot of fancy run plays in these games, vast majority of these run defenses are schematically uninteresting -- they were either able to defeat a block, or more often, weren’t -- but I found a few worth discussing:
On the first play, #11 LB Lucier-South is the read defender on this zone read and he stays outside which forces the handoff, but he’s still almost able to run down the play from behind … unfortunately, #14 LB Barnes has peeled out to cover the fake sweep but #25 LB Thompson doesn’t spill over to maintain the edge and gets caught in the wash. On the second play (at :06), the defense is caught off-guard by the quick snap and none of the linebackers or safeties are in position to contain a powerful back - this is the most severe example but I saw something like this quite a bit. On the last play (at :14), Lucier-South correctly gets wide to prevent an outside bounce, but switching onto the TE lets the WR through and he walls off two UCLA DBs at once, who are both pursuing an aggressive outside angle uselessly, and leaving Lake to try and catch the back from behind.
However, this unit does pretty decently in pass defense, on the strength of a bunch of talented DBs. On opponents’ downfield passing attempts, I recorded 28 successful defenses vs 23 failed, though that number is a bit inflated because I watched them play a backup QB in one game and a QB who wasn’t throwing deep (or really anything) very often. Some examples of nice coverage:
On the first play, #1 CB Holmes shows a quick reaction to the receiver’s break on the out route and an impressive pass breakup while avoiding a flag. On the second play (at :12), #4 DB Blaylock reads the QB’s eyes well and gets a jump on the RB coming out of the backfield … he doesn’t get the tackle himself but slows the back down enough that #22 CB Meadors, who hasn’t gotten run out of the play by the sideline route, can get back and wrap him up to get the 3rd down stop. The last play (at :21) is one of the few deep shots I saw; #6 S Pickett is running stride for stride on a post route and almost comes up with an interception (this ball is a little underthrown but he’s well positioned to make a play on the ball even if it were at the proper depth).
The difficulty comes when the pass rush doesn’t get home promptly -- which is fairly often -- because there are inevitable coverage breakdowns when the DBs are left out there too long. Some examples:
On the first play, UCLA brings five plus a late blitzer but Arizona picks it up pretty well, the QB has time to step up in the pocket and the receiver finds a soft spot in the zone coverage, while #9 CB Gates loses the ball and overruns the receiver. On the second play (at :20), UCLA brings six but this leaves a big hole in the middle of the field, giving the receiver time to gather himself and get out of both #37 DB Lake and #92 DE Odighizuwa’s tackles and pick up an improbable 3rd & 15. On the last play (at :38), this four-man rush gives the QB an absurd amount of time and Pickett eventually breaks down in coverage.