Nota bene: There were only 92 combined penalty yards on Saturday, an unusually low number for a game of this nature. That the officials mostly kept the flags in their pockets for both teams did, in my opinion, have an effect on some of the unexpected aspects of this game, such as the final score being higher than experts predicted. While I have done extensive film study of officiating, I find that discussing individual plays in this context is distracting and unproductive, so I won’t elaborate further. Please don’t ask in comments.
The game was won with an efficient rushing performance that kept the offense on schedule, ate up clock, and wore out the defense. Oregon was successful on 20 designed rushes vs 15 unsuccessful, at 5.41 yards per carry, with four runs for more than 10 yards, and no plays lost more than about half a yard. Three of Oregon’s failed rushes, given the down and distance, still got a borderline 3 yards on 1st down.
Like most games this year, the rushing attack was pretty balanced between inside and outside, although they tended more heavily toward runs up the gut after halftime (one 3rd quarter drive featured four identical inside zone plays). Somewhat unusually, though, almost the entire rushing offense was behind zone blocking, very little power blocking. Some examples:
(Reminder - you can right-click or long-press any of these videos to play them in ¼ or ½ speed)
- :00 - Just great edge blocking here by #58 LT Sewell and #68 LG Lemieux, and #7 RB Verdell plows through a lot of contact for extra yardage.
- :12 - A pair of combo blocks opens the hole here, and #75 RG Warmack climbs to the second level to wall off the backer. Also check out #26 RB Dye shedding the tackle of their best interior lineman.
- :20 - There are eight defenders in the box and not a single one is defeating their block, including those thrown by Oregon’s backup tight ends, #87 TE Bay and #48 TE Kampmoyer.
- :26 - It’s late in the 4th quarter on Oregon’s go-ahead TD drive, and look at how fatigued the defensive linemen are … they aren’t exploding out of their stances and aren’t getting any kind of push into the lane. #33 RB Habibi-Likio has an easy four yards before contact and then powers through the weakened linebackers for more.
I didn’t notice any real pattern in the reasons that Oregon’s unsuccessful rush plays were so. There were no notable vision issues for the backs or problems with predictability. Instead, as far as I could see, all such plays failed because a defender won a block up front … but even then, Oregon was still getting something and never going backwards:
- :00 - Here the Huskies’ big freshman nose tackle (he’s going to be a problem when his technique matures) gets a big push on #55 C Hanson, and Kampmoyer loses control of the OLB. Warmack’s block isn’t really a problem here though, he’s still walling off the lane.
- :07 - Kampmoyer needs to stay lower as he comes out of his H-back stance, he’s letting the OLB (who isn’t even ready for the snap) stand him up and walk him into the lane. The back has to adjust his footwork to get through it and that robs him of the momentum he needs to crush the backer and get more yardage … still, 3 yards on 1st down ain’t bad.
- :13 - Lemieux is slow in hitting the backer and he’s getting a free shot at the back, who adjusts but just runs into Bay struggling with the OLB.
The Ducks were held below their season-long efficiency numbers in the passing game, 14 successes vs 19 failures. That’s not a huge surprise given that it’s the strength of the Huskies’ defense, and that’s about the same success rate as their four previous conference opponents.
When watching the game live on Saturday, I felt that all of #10 QB Herbert’s twelve incompletions during meaningful play were his fault. After film review, I think he’s a lot less to blame: in my opinion only five of them were his mistake in whole or in large part (and two of those were under pressure due to some bad blocks). That’s still more than I’d like, but it’s not the horrible performance I’m sure some believe he turned in. The other seven I think boil down to the available Oregon receivers simply not being quite as good as the very talented secondary covering them, especially when they were allowed to play so physically.
Here’s a representative sample of unsuccessful passing plays:
- :00 - Last year when teams had to defend Dillon Mitchell on this comeback route, they gave him a lot more cushion out of respect for his speed if he were going to break down the sideline instead. But with #9 WR Schooler vs DBs of this talent, that cushion is entirely gone.
- :13 - Hanson’s blocking gets Herbert the expected three seconds but no more, and with a guy in his face he makes this throw that I don’t think #3 WR Jo. Johnson was going to get to even without contact. But the real reason I dislike this pass is that even with this much pocket time Herbert doesn’t see Verdell on the checkdown at the top of the screen without a soul between him and the endzone.
- :21 - This was the passing play that I think they missed injured #27 TE Breeland the most - it’s well designed to hit the soft spot in the zone coverage and the pass has to be this high to get over the underneath coverage, but Kampmoyer just doesn’t have the vertical to go get it.
But the passes he did hit were, as usual for Herbert, pretty astonishing:
- :00 - Here’s a (sadly rare) nice high angle of the Huskies’ zone defensive structure, and how the Ducks’ bunch formation and wheel route under it lets Herbert pick it apart - the high safety is pulled off by #4 WR Pittman heading deep, the backer won’t be able to take #80 WR Addison on the go route so the nickel and corner are both put in conflict and neither can commit to covering Schooler on the flag route.
- :10 - Look at the defensive formation; Oregon’s credibility at running in this situation has bought them a light zone in the midfield, and releasing five receivers on complex and crossing routes sends all the DBs deep, leaving two linebackers to cover three quick routes across the sticks. Herbert selects the tastiest.
- :18 - The throw is crisp to beat the unblocked end, and Addison’s downfield blocking is nice, but would you look at this flying block by Sewell? He’s 330 lbs.
- :35 - This was the most impressive throw all day. I don’t even really understand how it’s physically possible for him to have sidestepped that sack, re-gathered, and thrown an on-platform throw to Addison on the dig route in that amount of time.
The Huskies have the most efficient rushing offense in the league, and that continued on Saturday, where Oregon only defended them successfully on 13 designed runs vs 20 failures. The three most important factors were the Huskies returning to full strength at the offensive line, some incredible cutbacks and bounces by their starting back, and breaking their tendency for a heavy skew to inside rushing and instead running a lot more outside (which Oregon’s ILBs often overpursued). Some representative plays:
- :00 - This is just a very well blocked outside toss play, it’s very tough to stop if every blocker is in sync as they are here. The only thing you could ask for is if #6 CB Lenoir had recognized it a beat quicker, he might have beaten the WR to the play and limited it to only five yards.
- :13 - #90 DE Carlberg lets himself get run out of the play here, and while #35 ILB Dye and #41 ILB Slade-Matautia are in the right gaps, they’ve gotten way too far outside and can’t handle the back’s smooth cutback.
- :26 - Slade-Matautia loses his containment responsibilities here by drifting too far inside, so when the back bounces outside he can’t reverse in time to catch him.
Up the middle, however, Oregon was pretty stout - very few inside rushes (that stayed inside) got through. They also made an adjustment to the way they defended outside runs at halftime, and didn’t give up a single designed outside rush in the second half (although a couple inside zone plays that bounced outside still got around them):
- :00 - #47 OLB Funa single-handedly makes this play, fending off both the tight end and the pulling guard.
- :06 - Anticipating the guard pull and coming down hard lets #56 OLB Young redirect the back, and Carlberg somehow frees himself from the center to make the tackle.
- :11 - Here’s the adjustment on those outside tosses: first, the d-linemen stem down half a gap to make it tougher for the o-line to combo them; second, the backers align weakside and the safeties strongside. The latter are quick enough to slice through the traffic to get to the play before the blocks can develop.
In pass defense, Oregon managed to stay just barely above water on a per-play basis -- 16 success vs 15 failures -- although given how terribly inefficient the Huskies have been throwing the ball in conference play it was the biggest surprise of the game that they performed as well as they did. While the Ducks found themselves with a few key injuries (pass rush specialist #45 DE Cumberlander’s absence really hurt here in a way it didn’t last week, as his replacement appears to be #93 DE Kava who doesn’t have the same burst, and Lenoir left the game with an injury while Dye was playing through a broken thumb), the Huskies reshuffled receiver corps has somehow gotten stronger despite its injuries, as they’ve rotated forward some much more promising young players. Some examples:
- :00 - In an empty set with a non-running QB, Dye shouldn’t be hesitating to cover the tight end coming into his zone, but making matters worse is that he’s having a lot of trouble wrapping up with his hand in a cast.
- :09 - Here’s the advantage of the Huskies’ switch to going under center in their run formation: the QB gets a 10-yard drop that insulates him from the pass rush, and his strong arm doesn’t mind the extra distance. It’d be nice if #4 CB Graham could recover faster and catch a guy who had one previous catch this year, but the real problem is #16 S Pickett stepping up to cover the tight end instead of instantly gaining depth to help over the top.
- :27 - The ball is released less than two seconds after the snap, well before the pass rush could be expected to get to the QB, and #8 S Holland’s coverage is pretty tight. But there’s no defense for a perfectly delivered throw like this.
The only pattern I noticed in the failed pass defenses is a disproportionate number of errors from the less experienced players - the freshmen filling in for Lenoir made some costly coverage mistakes, while Slade-Matautia and #39 ILB Cunningham had some rough positioning problems on intermediate routes. But the veterans stepped up in a big way:
- :00 - #34 DT Scott gets great penetration (though somehow it doesn’t pay off), and Dye’s pass break-up is pretty heroic here, getting his timing just right to get his arm inside and knock the TE’s grip loose despite not being able to see the ball.
- :23 - This is one of three times we saw senior #32 OLB Winston bullrush an OT as though he were six inches taller and 50 lbs heavier.
- :29 - I can only imagine that Dye’s bloodstained jersey made his berserker charge over the back’s pathetic block all the more terrifying.
Reader, this game was quite the emotional roller coaster for your faithful film reviewer! The number of broken tendencies from the Huskies’ offense even made me question the value of performing film study at all. We saw them run the ball on 3rd & medium, balance their inside and outside rushes, and successfully complete some passes on the scramble drill, none of which they really ever did in any of their previous conference games. On the podcast I heavily criticized their top three receivers; two of them basically didn’t play and the last caught the second big pass of the game. Fortunately, just as many of their negative tendencies still showed up: screwy 3rd down playcalling limited them to just 3 of 13 conversions on 3rd down, stiff offensive linemen allowed a lot of pressure resulting in quick throws, and a rushing attack that lacks explosions meant almost every drive had to eat a lot of clock.
When the Huskies were on defense, I think my predictions did much better. They were a lot more vulnerable to runs up the middle than anything else, and Oregon essentially built its comeback on a strong inside rushing game. Their super deep safety and slow linebackers let nine intermediate routes (more than a quarter of all passes) go for over 10 yards and convert a 1st down, even as they almost completely shut down deep routes. The two things I regret not putting in my article are bigger mentions of their OLB Joe Tryon and converted ILB Ariel Ngata (filling in for the injured, but not nearly as badly as it seemed at the time, MJ Tafisi), who both played a pretty solid game.