Another week, another win riding a dominant rushing performance. Oregon was successful on 24 runs vs 14 unsuccessful, given the down and distance. It was both explosive and efficient: seven of those rushes were for 10+ yards, and none lost more than a yard … even the failed runs still averaged a gain of 1.64 yards. Some examples:
(Reminder - you can right-click or long-press any of these videos to play them in ¼ or ½ speed)
- :00 - The late stem changes the blocking angles here, including by the TE, so #7 RB Verdell is already going to lose his lead blocker through the A-gap. He waits for two things: the OLB to crash hard inside and the field safety to bite, then bounces outside to get easier angles against the defense and breaks four tackles.
- :24 - #68 LG Lemieux misses his second-level block and the linebacker has a free shot, but Verdell sidesteps him neatly.
- :48 - The defense knows what’s coming and has nine men in the box with six on the line. Tremendous strongside blocking clears half the defense, then #48 comes underneath to seal the backside, and the backer is iso’d with #33 RB Habibi-Likio coming right at him on a halfback dive out of the pistol, so he never had a chance.
- 1:00 - The Ducks appear to have stolen the Huskies’ outside toss play from last week, along with the logic for it: using a penetrating defense’s aggression against it. Here #48 TE Kampmoyer escorts the OLB out of bounds, #6 WR Ju. Johnson de-cleats the ILB, and Habibi-Likio vaults the safety.
I didn’t see any particular pattern in the failed rushes, it was just a little bit of each from the usual causes. A representative sample:
- :00 - The stem to align far outside mixes up the zone assignments, and it looks like the right side of the line doesn’t adjust properly. #75 RG Warmack should now be blocking the SAM, #54 RT Throckmorton the WILL, with the pullers blocking the end and OLB.
- :10 - This one’s tricky. I believe that Lemieux is supposed to chip the DT then shed him to Kampmoyer and move up to the backer, but Kampmoyer instead helps Warmack with his man so Lemieux returns to his original man to prevent the TFL. Verdell sees that the unblocked backer now has leverage on him and there’s nothing to do but put his shoulder into him and fight for what he can … which is a decent 4 yards.
- :17 - Here’s another well iso’d backer one-on-one with the back and Verdell tries to run him over, but even though his vision is getting a lot better he’s still at the same mass and he can’t quite go through a wrap-up tackle.
The passing offense, on the other hand, was slightly underwater at 17 successes to 18 failures (including 5 vs 5 on screens). For the first time this year we saw a return of the problem that plagued last year’s offense: the 2nd-down “doughnut hole” in which 1st downs are highly efficient but Oregon doesn’t capitalize on the easy 2nd down with a wide open playbook in the passing game.
Unfortunately, there was a pretty clear pattern in the predominant cause of Oregon’s failed passing plays: poor decision-making by #10 QB Herbert. Here’s a representative sample of his mistakes:
- :00 - This is the second week that Herbert has done this, make an inexplicably low throw on a screen that #30 WR Redd catches on his knee.
- :12 - The whole point of this play is that Kampmoyer doesn’t block the OLB so he gets a free release and an easy completion, or if it’s not there to throw it away because it’s early in the series. Herbert does neither and takes a sack, dooming the drive.
- :26 - This is Herbert’s career in a nutshell. The play action in the pistol puts his back to the defense and sucks up the backers so he has a clean look at the midfield, the protection is great, and on the broadcast angle this looks like a great throw for a first down. But the skycam shows that he’s locked onto #18 TE Webb the whole way and makes a tough throw through traffic after waiting on him to slide over, and completely ignoring the easy touchdown throw to #3 WR Jo. Johnson on the post route.
However, on the other side of the doughnut hole is a great 3rd down conversion rate, including several clutch throws by Herbert, as well as the o-line coming through with stellar blocking. A representative sample of successful passing plays:
- :00 - No problem with the blocking here, it’s a scramble by choice caused by a traffic jam and #80 WR Addison taking the OLB to the ground with him after their collision.
- :20 - Verdell gets crushed in pass-pro here and Herbert is under pressure, but he makes a nifty little step with his eyes downfield and a perfect throw to Redd right on the O.
- :37 - The downfield blocking by the o-line here is excellent, but to get it they have to let through the pass rush and that means Herbert has to get the ball out fast. Watch his motion on the pivot and throw on the reverse angle, just smooth as silk.
- :52 - One of several impressive catches by Johnson, this is a good improvisation against the coverage and just watch him go up and snatch the ball out of the air.
Oregon was perfectly even on overall per-play defensive success, 35 vs 35. Of course, with the amount of chunk yardage they were giving up on those failed defenses, that efficiency only tells part of the story.
Before we get to specifics, I should note that about a third of those failures came on plays that I think of as “nothing you can do” - either they’re essentially undefendable if the QB is going to make a perfect throw even if you cover it appropriately, or something else was going on, and you just have to take your lumps as inevitabilities when playing this team in this conference.
Screen and rush defense is where it got particularly rough. As I said in last Friday’s preview, these types of planned deviations are how Wazzu tries to take advantage of your coverage. Rush defense was okay, 5 successes and 5 failures, but screens were abysmal at 2 vs 8. A representative sample:
- :00 - Great run fit here by #16 S Pickett, who recognizes it instantly and beats the block, and there’s a swarm of Ducks to clean up.
- :17 - The inside run lanes get thoroughly clogged up (especially by the right guard who gets quite a jump on his block), so the back bounces outside. #55 ILB Niu and #47 OLB Funa both get into the backfield with impressive speed but miss the shifty back. Pickett meets him before the goalline, but as Coach Cristobal put it in his post-game presser, allows him to “roll off the table.”
- :37 - This should have been a successful defensive play with a minimal gain, as both #8 S Holland and #23 S McKinley get off their blocks and have the ballcarrier in their arms, but as with nine other plays in this game, they allow him to drag the scrum far enough to flip the play into the loss column.
Interestingly, downfield pass defense was significantly above water in per-play effectiveness, 28 successes to 22 failures. A substantial chunk of those failures were from, as mentioned above, uncontrollable factors you just have to live with, but another big chunk was from problems with the safeties and the backup inside linebackers playing in the absence of #35 ILB Dye.
Unfortunately, the nature of this offense is that you can’t spare a lot of over the top help and you need your safeties in primary coverage, so if they’re a weak spot on the team (and I’ve been worried all year that they are), you tend to get exposed on the plays that do break through. Some examples:
- :00 - On the reverse angle, play it in slow motion and watch when the QB decides to make the throw - it’s just when backup #54 ILB Mathis transfers his weight to his right leg, having drifted too far over and unable to get into the throwing lane - rookie mistake for the Juco transfer.
- :14 - Covering this receiver was always going to be a tough ask, he’s got such a combination of speed and size. Even if #6 CB Lenoir had instantly reversed on this and played right through him, I don’t know that he’d be able to jar this ball loose.
- :22 - This throw is just nuts, I’m not sure how you could better mitigate the odds of him making it while staying defensively sound on the rest of the options. The window the QB has to put this ball into that avoids #39 ILB Cunningham’s jump and fits into the crossers is maybe a hundredth of a second.
- :35 - #34 DT Scott breaks through and the underneath coverage on this route is pretty good, but McKinley isn’t doing enough to get over it once it’s clear the RB is staying in to block and the sweep isn’t turning into a wheel.
I found the commentators complaining about Oregon’s supposed lack of a pass rush to be pretty baffling (especially since the first time they mentioned it was while the QB was flushed and scrambling for no gain). I think it’s a mistake to call the pass rush ineffective just because it only produced one sack. On Wazzu’s 49 dropbacks, I tallied the following as a direct result of pressure:
- 7 throwaways
- 4 QB scrambles for minimal gain
- 7 hurries that resulted in an incompletion or minimal gain
So 39% of all dropbacks were defensive successes due to the pass rush - that’s a pretty good number. Combined with a few strategic switches into man coverage and some good recognition of play design by the veterans, they generated a fair bit of negative yardage:
- :00 - One of two back-to-back holding flags that #32 OLB Winston earned on this drive, limiting it to a field goal. The reverse angle shows why - tight coverage across the board.
- :19 - Here’s a combination of steady pressure and underneath lane-blocking working how it should, with #41 ILB Slade-Matautia getting the swat on a throw that has to be placed just on this line if the QB hopes to beat the coverage.
- :32 - This is designed to be a screen pass to the field and the line cut blocks everybody, but #5 DE Thibodeaux isn’t taken in and maintains coverage, forcing the QB to turn and try a desperation throw to the sideline.
- :48 - Here’s one of a few switches into man coverage and a blitz. It’s a high risk proposition but Pickett is up for it and breaks up the quick pass.
I think I nailed the description of Wazzu’s defense. They simply don’t have the bodies to stop pounding runs up the middle and Oregon wisely attacked that vulnerability. I thought their frequent stemming created a risk for unorthodox QB pressure, but would also result in them running themselves out of the play, and we certainly saw both quite often. When watching the broadcast I was concerned that my description of the Wazzu secondary as being overmatched was going to ring false, but when I got ahold of the skycam footage it was fairly clear that the lack of deep throws was just more Herbert being Herbert.
When I outlined Wazzu’s offense, I said that Oregon would have to play disciplined and accept a certain amount of short completions that they’d need to tackle quickly. We saw one part of that, but the quick tackling was missing a lot of the time. I also thought Oregon would make use of a moderate number of blitzes to get pressure, especially on the left side of the line, and that turned out to be very accurate. What left me puzzled was how many intermediate and deep routes we saw Wazzu attempt, since that was something of a deviation from their last two games and well above the accuracy I was seeing from their QB previously. I don’t have a great explanation for this that doesn’t rely on psychological or external factors. The best I can think of is that they were willing to take higher risk throws for bigger yardage potential because they didn’t think they could march the whole field with short passes against this defense, but that seems entirely too self-serving.