This game went into garbage time, similarly to the Nevada and Montana games, after Oregon’s first drive of the second half. At that point the score was 31-3, the game was out of reach in normal play, and both teams’ playstyles changed notably, even though the starters remained in for some time thereafter. Only 13 useful possessions, of which several were 3 & outs or quick, explosive TD drives, means I don’t have an abundance of film to work with here. Since the outcome more or less speaks for itself, I’ll select some interesting (but still representative) plays that speak to the future.
Prior to garbage time, Oregon was successful on 14 designed rushes and unsuccessful on only four. What’s interesting is that, unlike Oregon’s run balance to begin the year, a large number of these weren’t RPOs or zone reads, instead they ran staight handoffs behind power blocking almost half the time, including several outside power runs we hadn’t seen much of before. Some examples:
(Reminder - you can right-click or long-press any of these videos to play them in ¼ or ½ speed)
- :00 - It’s impressive enough that every lineman hits his block, plus the tight end and both receivers on the perimeter, such that #7 RB Verdell isn’t touched until he’s 14 yards downfield, including a great pull across the formation by #75 RG Warmack to seal the backer. But reader, look at #58 LT Sewell throw two crushing blocks on this play.
- :13 - Here’s Oregon’s stretch zone we’ve seen throughout the last two years, and it’s beautifully blocked of course, but notice how there’s no tight end and four receivers are split out with trips to the field. That makes CU play a single high safety and a light box, because they’re expecting pass in this down & distance. We’ll talk later about the run setting up the pass, but this is an example of the other way around.
- :38 - Unlike the last time Oregon ran for a touchdown out of an unbalanced line, this time they run strongside, where Sewell, #68 LG Lemieux, and visiting #54 RT Throckmorton demolish the line and #48 TE Kampmoyer blocks out the OLB to create a huge hole for #33 RB Habibi-Likio to crash through. He’s two yards into the endzone before the safety makes contact, but he gives him a good hard shot to make him think about it anyway.
Oregon’s passing attack was above water, 18 successes vs 14 failures, but that’s less efficient than the rushing attack even if it was more explosive. I thought if anything the Ducks’ run-pass balance was a bit off and, loathe as I am to concur with a degenerate Husky on IHwW, found myself agreeing with the commentator on this game that they should have been running more. Of course, it’s hard to blame the coaches when #10 QB Herbert was hitting throws like these:
- :00 - This was Oregon’s usual plan against CU’s base zone coverage, and it takes advantage of the same thing I saw they were vulnerable against last week: putting the Buffs’ inexperienced DBs and slow backers into conflict. Here the OLB is frozen by play-action and can’t cover the throwing lane, and the safety has retreated too much expecting an in cut from #30 WR Redd, leaving him wide open when instead he flips outside. Watch Redd’s body control on his break and as he adjusts to the ball while staying in bounds, very fluid.
- :18 - Herbert doesn’t have a ton of time to make a decision because of the safety blitz off the edge, but slow this clip down and note when he pulls the trigger on this pass to #4 WR Pittman - he hasn’t turned his head and the DB hasn’t committed at all. That’s a degree of confidence in the receiver that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen out of this QB.
- :34 - Here’s the reverse of the second play in the above video - Oregon is in 11-personnel, it’s 2nd & 4, they had run on the previous three plays, and so CU has put 7 in the box (which they don’t like to do) … they’re expecting another rush. Instead Herbert pulls the ball out and pops it on the slant to #6 WR Ju. Johnson for a 22-yd gain against very little opposition.
- :45 - Oregon runs 4-verts, which makes every contest a footrace. Even with a 5-yard cushion Pittman just burns the DB, and Herbert puts a perfect back-shoulder throw on him. This is undefendable.
Five of Oregon’s failed throws -- about an expected rate for 32 passes -- I’d put on the defense just making a good play with tight coverage or beating a block (Oregon’s offensive line performed very well in this game, though I should say that the guy with the most errors was #66 RG Aiello, and that’s concerning because he was only playing half the time as he’s been alternating drives with Warmack for the past two games). Prior to garbage time I tallied four drops, which is the highest rate all year, though two weren’t great throws to begin with and one probably would have been a TFL had he caught it. But the biggest factor was five more bad throws by Herbert, who continues to perplex me as an enormously talented but still flawed senior quarterback. A representative sample of issues:
- :00 - This is something of a broken play, the first time around #26 RB Dye ran his motion at the wrong depth and Herbert had to politely ask him to go back and do it again, and it kind of gave away the screen pass. But the improvisation here was very Herbert-esque, throwing to a favorite target in #27 TE Breeland despite double coverage and #80 WR Addison standing wide open and somewhat chagrined two yards past the sticks.
- :10 - Here’s a similar blitz as in the last video, it comes later in the same drive but they’re still not picking up the safety, and I’m not wild about having Throckmorton punch forward on the end and Aiello try to drop to cut him off. A quick throw to the checkdown back on 4th & 4 is not ideal since he’s going to have to turn upfield and run through the DB, but this is still a well placed pass and there’s no excuse for Verdell dropping it.
- :19 - Good play design, great protection, #3 WR Jo. Johnson runs his route well and beats the DB with the safety well behind the play, this just requires a properly arced pass and he’d be in the endzone. But Herbert doesn’t have enough air under it and it bounces incomplete.
The defense played lights out, and even their excellent overall efficiency numbers -- 22 success vs 15 failures -- don’t tell the complete story. For one thing, it’s quite peculiar for a contest between lines of these respective calibers to feature zero holding flags on the opposing o-line. For another, as I noted last week CU’s offense is absolutely dependent on hitting enormous explosion plays and Oregon stifled those, only allowing two of more than 15 yards and none over 20 prior to garbage time.
Here’s a representative sample of rush defenses:
- :00 - The back sees some daylight here because #16 S Pickett has come down into the wrong lane, but #56 OLB Young makes a remarkable move to get around, behind, and then across the face of the right tackle to bring him down from behind to keep CU behind the chains on 2nd down.
- :08 - Oregon only has five in the box and so the Buffs like the run numbers with 11-personnel, but #50 DT Aumavae splits the guard and center to shut down the inside running lane and #14 DB Woods (who seems bigger than I remember) correctly reads the play and beats the receiver’s block to make a gorgeous tackle.
- :20 - This is what it took for CU to get about four yards: #99 DT Au. Faoliu double-teamed and pushed back a couple of yards and a last second twist by the back to fall for the extra yard against the four Ducks tackling him.
The passing defense is trickier to illustrate. Two of Oregon’s nine breakdowns prior to garbage time were on some very interesting interference flags that wouldn’t do us much good to litigate. Almost all of the rest came on Colorado’s second drive ending in a field goal, in which they were quick-snapping the ball almost every time and yet the Fox camera operators never caught on, giving us some real lousy shots and even missing some snaps entirely. On four of those I’m certain that Oregon did screw something up, in fact on one of them I’m fairly sure the quick snap had a lot to do with it, it’s just that I can’t figure out what it was (much less show it to the reader) because that error wasn’t on screen.
Happily, Oregon quickly fixed whatever the issue was, because pass defense thereafter was nearly perfect. Some examples:
- :00 - Colorado doubled their number of deep passing threats in this game when one of their stud receivers came back from injury, but Oregon was consistently shutting down their potentially lethal sideline throws with this kind of tight, physical coverage.
- :17 - Oregon had a perfect 4 of 4 record defending screen passes, largely due to good scouting of CU’s tendencies. Here, #41 ILB Slade-Matautia correctly identifies that when CU sends the offset back out pre-snap under multiple receivers like this it’s almost always a swing pass, and he bails on the formation showing blitz to blow it up.
- :36 - Here’s Colorado’s first sack in at least three games. It’s a long way to go on 3rd & 12 and that’s too much time for Oregon’s front, which effectively rushes only three and has senior #32 OLB Winston loop around and play spy while #5 DE Thibodeaux applies pressure from the otherside with an astonishingly fast jump off the snap. Stunts like these were why Colorado’s QB, normally a very effective improviser, had only one successful scramble on the night.
I think I did alright predicting this game. The real dumb thing I wrote was that either Laviska Shenault wouldn’t play or that he’d be pretty limited, and while he was clearly on a pitch count he was still by far their most effective player (although I think “the team isn’t necessarily built around him any longer” holds up). On the other hand my argument that the team lives and dies by Tony Brown getting big catches was borne out by Oregon completely shutting him down (5 receptions for 16 yards on the night) and the scoreboard showing likewise. The observations that CU’s offensive line continues to be a weak point despite improvement from last year and that the run game can get some efficiency yards but very few explosions also proved accurate. I thought we might see some trick plays but we didn’t, although I think they tried to run one but a bad snap caused the play to be broken. One thing that I have in my notes is that CU does like to quick-snap the ball before the opponent is set, we saw that on Friday and I regret not putting it in my article.
Colorado’s defense got quite a few of the guys back whom I speculated would be out or not at 100%, and some of those -- most notably the corner Delrick Abrams -- made a few pretty big plays. But for the most part that didn’t really matter, because my other observations about CU’s problems on the defensive line, lack of lateral speed by linebackers and misalignments in zone coverage, all showed up.