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Tuesday Morning Quarterback: Film review of week 13 at Oregon State

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Runs, rains, and ruins

Oregon v Oregon State Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Offense

Oregon successfully rushed on 31 plays vs 9 failures prior to garbage time, and every word I write hereafter will be superfluous, because there isn’t a team in the history of college football to run that much and that effectively without winning the game. But, dear reader, for posterity’s sake we shall continue.

This game reversed the trend in the second half of the season where Oregon had been rushing with an offset RB on a slim majority of plays; on Friday, they ran out of the pistol 80% of the time, with slightly higher effectiveness on both a per-play basis and a yardage basis:

  • Offset Rush - 6 success vs 2 failure (75%)
  • Pistol Rush - 25 success vs 6 failure (81%)

The offensive line used the same lineup as last week, again with backup #71 RG Capra rotating in for starter #75 RG Warmack on every third drive. Capra continues to be a notable notch lower in performance. While #26 RB Dye and #34 RB Verdell had some nifty moves to pick up extra yardage, most of what we were seeing was the offensive line simply dominating a much smaller front seven (reminder - you can right-click or long-press any of these videos and slow them to 14 of 12 speed):

On the first play there’s nothing particularly technical going on, just the offensive line shoving the defense four yards downfield before Dye even crosses the line of scrimmage. On the second play (at :08), the entire d-line is washed in, but there’s a CB blitz, an unblocked LB, and a safety on top … but the first two take each other out and Dye embarrasses the last. The last play (at :27) was interesting - I believe this play is structured as an RPO, with the field ILB being read. He crashes inside, so backup #11 QB Burmeister should pull the ball and either run or, since the DB over #30 WR Redd is blitzing, throw the screen pass to him with #9 WR Schooler in position to block … but none of that happens, he just hands off to Verdell who takes on that unblocked backer and pushes forward for 4 yards and thus a successful play anyway.

Even Oregon’s poorly blocked rushes still got non-trivial yardage:

On the first play, Warmack and #3 WR Johnson both miss their second-level blocks pretty badly, and backup #66 RT Aiello is risking a holding flag, but Dye just runs for 3 yards with an LB draped on his back. On the second play (at :08), I believe Dye is supposed to be running through the hole towards the top of the screen, between #54 LT Throckmorton and #55 C Hanson, but Aiello misses his block and forces Dye to cut back outside where the unblocked defender is … but #27 TE Breeland is clearing so much room that Dye can still get 3 yards while he’s being tackled. The last play (at :14) is pretty fundamentally broken - Capra falls down and misses his second level block, Aiello is again courting a holding flag, and while I can’t be certain, I think either the line has the box count wrong or Burmeister is facing the wrong way, because he’s not reading the unblocked defender. But none of that matters because Verdell runs through two tackles and terrorizes the free safety.

By contrast, Oregon simply didn’t throw the ball that much, which was probably wise since they weren’t doing it very well: prior to garbage time, it was 7 successes vs 10 failures (breaking that down, it was 5 vs 6 in downfield passing and 2 vs 4 on screens; Burmeister only threw twice before garbage time, one downfield failure and one screen failure, though the latter wasn’t his fault). That few passes is just not enough to pick up any meaningful in-game trends other than the obvious fact that they just didn’t want to throw it that much. However, there were several passing plays that reinforced season-long trends I’ve been writing about, so they’re worth examining:

The first play we’ve been seeing a lot more in the back end of the season - Verdell stays in pass protection long enough to verify they’re not blitzing more than five, then leaks out just as #10 QB Herbert is finishing his progression to get the easy checkdown pass, and with some help from a great improvised block by Schooler, runs it in for a touchdown. On the second play (at :19), we’re seeing a variant of the “super flanker” screen where Breeland is positioned to effectively block two defenders at once, but this time #80 WR Addison (apparently done with his suspension) pulls out one DB and blocks another -- legally, since this pass is behind the line of scrimmage -- meaning they’ve blocked four defenders with just two receivers … a super-duper flanker screen? I’ve got to come up with better names for these. The last play (at :27) is pretty zany and usually I don’t include those as unrepresentative, but here it illustrates a problem Herbert was having a lot last year and I had thought he’d gotten over, which is trying to blaze the ball through underneath coverage before they can get their hands up … here the backer does and the ball is tipped, though miraculously it lands in Breeland’s hands anyway and he gets a big gain. This is an interesting play design, it’s a fake screen to a downfield pass and the commentator, in one of his few lucid moments, accurately described it as a likely touchdown if Herbert had put a little more air under the ball.

Each of the failed passing plays, while again, not that numerous, featured some bad habit I’ve written about before - some drops, some misfires, a few missed pass-pro blocks by backup linemen, etc. A few examples:

The first play shows Aiello taking a bad angle and letting a defender through, as well as Dye not taking on his block as well as he should, but this sack is also partly on Herbert for holding onto the ball too long - he should have identified the flat-footed DB over Breeland and released the ball instantly. On the second play (at :20), everybody’s doing their job properly on this screen -- Throckmorton and Aiello are blocking the edge rushers well, Hanson and #68 LG Lemieux are hustling downfield to make blocks, and Herbert is backpedaling then delivering a nice throw to Dye -- except Warmack blows the key block and Dye is almost tackled for a loss (though he heroically survives it and gets a surprising amount of yardage). On the last play (at :31), #13 WR Mitchell has burned his man (he runs 35 yards in 3 seconds by my stopwatch) and Herbert has plenty of protection, but he just plain airmails this ball.


Defense

I was surprised at how little OSU rushed the ball, just 15 plays prior to garbage time. Oregon was mostly effective at defending them - 9 successful plays vs 6 failures, and even those failed defenses mostly just gave up the bare minimum for me to count them as such. Here’s a representative sample:

The first play is I think mostly on backup #55 ILB Niu getting out of the middle lane, since it’s an open field behind him and he should be trusting the safeties to have the edges. On the second play (at :07), just about every Oregon defender on the field wins his block - #34 NT Scott and #7 S Amadi are the first through, but Niu is the man who shoots through and gets the TE out of postion, clearing the way for #51 DE Baker to make sure he doesn’t get this short pickup. The last play (at :15) is well designed defense - the read is of unblocked #11 OLB Hollins, who stays outside and so the QB hands off, but Niu blitzes in under him and gets the TFL in a flash.

The pass defense was significantly worse - only 11 successes vs 16 failures, and they were giving up chunk gains as well, with all three of OSU’s leading receivers getting at least 5 catches and averaging over 14 yards per reception. Oregon was playing mostly single coverage and the secondary was getting beat pretty often by these talented wideouts:

I trust these don’t need explanation … the saving grace is that these are also representative of the DBs making pretty solid tackles immediately after the catch and these receivers had close to zero yards after the reception.

There were, on the other hand, quite a few encouraging plays and very few where I thought Oregon’s defense just got lucky:

On the first play, #32 OLB Winston gets a good drive on his man and then a great swat of the ball, and Amadi and #4 CB Graham got sorted out their coverage of this switch route which had burned them two plays earlier. On the second play (at :06), Niu and #45 DE Cumberlander get some pretty nice penetration and force the quick checkdown, and Hollins pulls out from inside the line to cover the back (I don’t recall ever seeing this before), and does a pretty impressive job running him down and making the TFL. On the last play (at :14), I’m not sure how but Niu correctly identifies the slot receiver this pass is going to prior to the snap, Winston and backup #56 DE Young get a good push into the backfield, and the secondary is showing tight coverage across the board … and since Amadi knows that #8 DB Holland is over the top, he makes a play on the ball and almost comes away with the interception.


Accountability Corner

Last week, I wrote that OSU had shifted its offense away from relying on their star running back and that trend certainly held up, though I had commented they were counterproductively obsessed with the off-tackle power run and they only ran it against Oregon once. I thought their offensive line was a weak spot but that they had a QB with a good arm, no legs, and three quality receivers, and while I think all of those things were borne out, it does make DC Leavitt’s decision to only blitz rarely pretty puzzling to me. I had been writing in the past several weeks that Oregon’s DBs were surprisingly improved, but that sure came crashing down in their last game.

Regarding OSU’s defense, I said that I thought their rush defense was well coached but lacked the bodies to make plays, and while the second part definitely showed (even more than I expected), I’m not sure if we got any evidence one way or another on the first part. I’ve been writing for a while now that the pistol formation is equally effective as the offset (and I’m sure the data from this game will cool the febrile imaginations of its detractors), but even I was pretty shocked that they switched to this much pistol running. I really laid into OSU’s secondary for coverage breakdowns, so in that sense Oregon’s pretty anemic passing game against them looks pretty bad … but on the other hand, it’s not like I was seeing really great coverage in this game, this looks more to me like a combination of self-inflicted wounds from the usual suspects in Oregon’s passing attack plus a strategic decision to just press their enormous advantage in the run game given the conditions and possible injury issues.

Lastly, I said to watch out for OSU pulling out all the stops to win, including trick plays and aggressive 4th-down attempts, and we sure saw those … though there was at least one the Beavs would like to have back.