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Tuesday Morning Quarterback: Film review of week 1 vs BGSU

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There was a lot to like in Cristobal’s regular season debut.

NCAA Football: Bowling Green at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

This game officially entered garbage time with 3:47 remaining in the first half when the Ducks punched in their fifth touchdown to make it 37-10, and Oregon sealed the deal by forcing a three-and-out right afterwards. On what I thought was a questionable officiating decision, Bowling Green was awarded a turnover on this punt and used the short field to score a garbage-time touchdown. But on the next possession (the third snap after halftime) #7 S Amadi answered right back with a pick-six.

The majority of snaps in this game took place in garbage time, and while I know there’s some anxiety among Ducks fans hungry for answers, this game just didn’t provide much in the way of meaningful film to analyze. I know it’s tempting to sneak a look at players rotating in during such snaps, but I can tell you after years of breaking down film that the game changes in subtle but profound ways during garbage time and it’s always misleading to examine these plays seriously. So I’m just going to focus on the first half, when there was an actual contest.


Offense

#10 QB Herbert was 7 for 13 in his passes during the first half, three of which were for touchdowns and a fourth was a beautifully executed tunnel screen to #20 RB Brooks-James which he broke for 53 yards (film on that later). The completions were all what we’ve come to expect out of him: crisp, powerful throws right on target, and I think his footwork was solid on all of them but one (a tight end screen that was tackled for a loss).

The six incompletions included three that I thought were perfectly catchable but the receivers couldn’t handle: one by #30 WR Redd and two by #3 WR Johnson ... although I thought both redeemed themselves by getting really impressive touchdown catches later in the first half.

There were two more that were thrown well but into fairly tight windows and the defender just made a great play on them to knock the ball away (#6 CB Gregory, who had a great pick last year against EMU). There was only one that I thought was a bad throw by Herbert: he had #27 TE Breeland breaking wide open and heading for the endzone, but his pass was too high. Herbert was facing some pressure on that play from a pass rusher whom I think #58 LT Sewell could have handled a bit better, but it shouldn’t have affected the pass that much.

Herbert took only one sack in the 1st half when he’d dropped back to pass:

Here, BGSU pulled a stunt with their d-line, and I’d give the three interior linemen a B-minus grade in how they handled their block exchange. Nevertheless, this sack was on Herbert for holding onto the ball well after the three-second alarm should have gone off on his head to take off or get rid of the ball.

The Ducks were clearly still holding open tryouts for the workhorse back, with six different guys getting carries. What I can say after watching all of their meaningful snaps is that I never had a problem with any of them - none of them missed an open gap or failed to fight for extra yardage, and all of them were stopped either after a quality gain or because somebody else failed to make a block. I also didn’t see a single problem with any of the backs when called on to block in pass protection. But unfortunately, the rotation means there’s just not enough film on any of them to come to any positive conclusions yet. Don’t ask me who looked best - just not enough data at this point. I think the only useful takeaway is that the position isn’t settled yet, but there’s lots of options to work with.

Schematically, this was about a 50/50 mix of read-option runs (with the running back offset, just like Oregon’s been operating out of for decades) and the new pistol formation (with the RB directly behind QB). There were a couple of jitters with the pistol formation, but I thought it mostly worked fine and gave a whole new range of possibilities of gaps without constraining the passing formations at all. In the first half, I counted 15 successful rushes to just five unsuccessful, as I define them. Of the running plays that didn’t work, it was an acceptable mix of reasons: two were opening-day problems with pistol (a wrong way run and a trip), and the last two were blockers getting beat. The fifth was just a schematic problem that was fixed early on:

Here, the play design predicts that BGSU’s strongside backer will follow Breeland over to pursue the screen possibility. But instead he stayed home and was waiting for TBJ. Not much anybody could have done about it once BGSU didn’t go along with the plan (although that backside block by the guard could have been better).

I’ll also note that Herbert had a few pretty nice runs, including a keeper off a read option executed beautifully, and a scramble from a snap in the dirt with #9 WR Schooler coming back to make a great improvised (and legal, something he’d struggled with in 2017) block to spring him.

The offensive line was unchanged throughout the first half: the three returning starters from the past two years -- #68 LG Lemieux, #55 C Hanson, and #54 RT Throckmorton -- plus two new guys, the true freshman Sewell and the Alabama transfer #75 RG Warmack. I would say that Warmack is playing at replacement level for longtime starter Jake Pisarcik, so those four guys haven’t really changed at all from the past two seasons. Sewell is pretty interesting though: despite weighing in at 25-60 lbs (!) heavier than the rest of the starters, he was participating gamely in all the same zone-blocking that Oregon fans have come to expect.

While I didn’t see a whole lot of downfield blocking from any of these guys in the rest of the first half, there was a really great tunnel screen we can learn from:

The playside linemen are making some great chip blocks, then releasing to hustle downfield to block. But this play went to the offense’s right and Sewell stayed home to protect the backside of the play in pass-pro, and it went the same way early in the second half when the play was duplicated with #5 RB Griffin, so no indication yet of how he might look on the hoof. (Also check out Redd making the block at the end, nice hit for a guy his size and further redemption for his drops earlier.)

There were two more things I found interesting: first, Oregon was mixing up its zone- and power-blocking, and it wasn’t necessarily following the read-option vs pistol-dive run matches you might expect. Instead, Oregon sometimes zone-blocked the pistol, and sometimes power-blocked (with a couple gorgeous guard pulls) the option. There’s not enough data yet to tell if there’s a pattern here, but your dogged film reviewer will be watching for it in the future.

The other interesting thing was that we did see some of the offensive line rotation that Coach Cristobal promised, with #66 OT Aiello, #71 OG Capra, #72 OG Poutasi, and #77 OT Moore getting reps in the second half (I think ... my video is not quite clear enough to be 100% positive, shocking I know considering the enormous jersey numbers). I am quite certain, however, that we did not see any of the other 360+ lbs freshmen besides Sewell: #59 OL Lewis, #70 OL Jaramillo, #73 OL Johnson, #74 OL Jones, or #79 OL Randazzo - I confirmed this with the school, which is required to report these things for NCAA eligibility reasons.


Defense

Like most Oregon fans, I didn’t like seeing the Ducks go down 10-0 to start the game. But after reviewing the film most of my PANIC!!! subsided. For one thing, the defense really clamped down in the second half, and while this is garbage time and not worth reviewing on a play-by-play basis, I think the stats speak for themselves. Bowling Green had nine possessions after halftime; in them, they threw two interceptions, punted five times, failed one 4th down conversion, and had only six 1st downs total. They did break one touchdown, a 63-yard pass in which the third-string true freshman safety literally fell down on coverage, but outside of that put up only 126 total yards. Furthermore, while BGSU did get a short-field TD just before the half (as I said, this drive is also in garbage time), it’s worth noting that it took them 10 plays to move the ball just 43 yards, and six of them were for three yards or fewer.

The second thing that made me feel a lot more encouraged was something I didn’t see: any serious man coverage breakdowns from #4 CB Graham or #15 CB Lenoir. Readers may recall from my review series of Oregon’s 2017 film that I felt the corner opposite Arrion Springs was the Achilles’ heel of the defense and have been pretty worried the situation will get worse with Springs’ graduation. But in this game, they were playing nice and tight on every snap I was able to see. Similarly, I was a bit worried about who would replace Tyree Robinson at free safety, since the leading candidate, #16 S Pickett, was net-negative on my tally sheet last year … but Pickett played a great game as starter, repeatedly getting the clean-up tackle when the primary guy had missed.

The third thing I picked up when reviewing the film closely was that the defensive line and outside linebackers did their jobs on the line of scrimmage, on some plays brilliantly, and don’t appear to be having difficulty replacing Henry Mondeaux. I’m a bit concerned about injuries to #34 NT Scott and #32 OLB Winston, but I can say confidently that some early difficulties stopping the run were issues at the second level instead (plus a standout performance fighting for extra yards by #1 RB Clair, who jumped out at me for having a great freshman season last year).

However, the bizarre aspect about reviewing this film was that it was like Opposite Day on many of my favorite returning players from last year: of the ten failed defensive plays in BGSU’s only two non-garbage time scoring drives, eight of them came on players whom I had singled out for praise during the summer making a big mistake.

To wit: Amadi was a step slow in man coverage of slant routes twice (against #21 WR Miller, yet another standout from last year’s film). Lenoir, whom I had praised as being a great tackler despite being a true freshmen last year, missed a tackle with really bad form that set up the touchdown. Both #35 ILB Dye and #39 ILB Apelu screwed up their run fits once apiece and left a gap open, and each also had another play where they were gap sound but whiffed on the tackle. Dye also had a third play that I thought was uncharacteristic:

Here, he’s both correctly sniffed out the swing pass and motored over in time to be in position to drop the receiver for a big loss, but just plain blew the tackle.

The other two failures, though, were more forgivable to the players: #21 S McGraw, I believe coming in just for a nickel package, got put in a bind in zone coverage, but Pickett came down from his high spot to limit the gain. #90 DE Carlberg got flagged as offsides, but this was really because of a late substitution when he was hustling onto the field and probably isn’t his fault.

Once the preceding issues are isolated and accounted for, the defensive performance makes a lot more sense: the second-level defense made a bunch of uncharacteristic mistakes in the first two drives, then they (for the most part) stopped making those mistakes for the rest of the game, and got tighter as the game went on. The remainder of the first half performance after that second drive look just like what we’ve come to expect from DC Leavitt’s squad:

This 4th down stop was the pivot of the defense’s performance. The commentator highlighted Scott, who does a great job with middle penetration and cleaning up the play, but I think it’s made by the right side of the defense - #99 DE Faoliu getting low and inside to absorb both the guard pull and the H-back’s counter block, Dye staying on the tackle’s outside shoulder to clog the C-gap, and #11 OLB Hollins keeping edge contain to stop Clair’s bounce outside.

Hollins came through again to end the next drive:

Ever see a 1-5-5 defense? Faoliu is the only d-lineman in with his fist in the dirt. #32 OLB Winston is in the middle of the “line”, with Hollins on one side and #97 DE Jelks playing on the far outside of the other as a stand-up rush backer (something he was reportedly doing in fall camp for some situations). But as schematically interesting as this play is, it came down to very simple execution of Hollins’ typical job: he just beat the left tackle and blind-sided the QB.

The next three BGSU drives were shut down on more fairly simple assignment football, and as I said, put the game into garbage time. I think they speak for themselves so I’ll just let the film play:

One of these was so deep in BGSU territory that a misfired longsnap resulted in a safety.


Accountability Corner

Last week I highlighted #2 QB Doege’s mobility and cool decision-making, Miller’s great hands at slot receiver, and Clair’s ability to get big yards after contact. I also thought BGSU would struggle because they lost pretty much all their playmakers on defense. I think I did pretty well, how about you?