This will be another fairly short article. The game went into garbage time with the touchdown at the end of Oregon’s second possession of the 3rd quarter to make the game 28-6, and there were a number of 3 & outs and quick scoring drives. As a result I just don’t have much meaningful film to break down; however there are still a number of interesting trends from the season as a whole that this game highlighted, and we’ll examine those.
Oregon had 13 successful rushing plays vs 8 unsuccessful ones, given the down & distance, prior to garbage time. That’s about what we expected with both Oregon’s and Arizona’s numbers to date. The backs went for 4.85 yards per carry plus a touchdown, had five runs for 10 or more yards, and practically no negative yardage (two of the failed plays still went for about 5 yards).
Half of Oregon’s unsuccessful runs prior to garbage time were their first four carries, and that was largely an effect of Arizona deploying a different defensive front than they’d put on tape before. Halfway through Oregon’s third possession (a methodical, 14-play TD drive), they made the proper adjustments and enjoyed a 75% success rate thereafter. Here’s a representative sample:
(Reminder - you can right-click or long-press any of these videos to play them at ¼ or ½ speed)
- :00 - This starts as a strongside run, which both DTs crash onto, with the stacked backer supposed to flow to the weakside gap. But #55 C Hanson gets through to the second level and #26 RB Dye has made a couple of smart cuts - first to go weakside through that giant B-gap lane, and again to cut inside of Hanson’s block.
- :08 - Here’s the stack again, with the SAM concealed behind the 4i. No problem for #58 LT Sewell, who chips the DE for #68 LG Lemieux to seal, then turns and pounces on that backer to open the lane. Great perimeter blocks by #48 TE Kampmoyer, #3 WR Jo. Johnson, and #80 WR Addison allow #7 RB Verdell to put his foot in the ground on this stretch zone run and get upfield.
- :15 - Later in the game Arizona has gone back to their usual even-front 3-3-5. This zone run should look familiar to the reader by now - great blocks down the line in the direction of the run, with Kampmoyer coming backside to wham the end. Three great cuts by Dye this time - first to get on the other side of #75 RG Warmack, second to get inside of #54 RT Throckmorton, and the last to get leverage on the safety coming in for the tackle which earns him extra yards.
- :29 - This particular method of blocking the outside run has a relatively low success rate on my season-long tally sheet to date, and I think this camera angle makes it fairly clear why: the only way Lemieux is going to beat that WILL backer to the play is if he’s slow or inattentive, and these inside backers are neither (they were both freshmen all-Americans). I’d like to see it retired from the call sheet against more athletic defenses, and instead have the playside tackle seal him.
The passing game was slightly less efficient on a per-play basis -- 11 successes vs 9 failures -- but that was more than made up for by its explosiveness. On dropbacks prior to garbage time, Oregon had a 71.4% completion rate, averaged 11.41 yards per passing attempt, and got 18.7 per completion.
I’m sure fans recall #10 QB Herbert’s most dramatic deep passes, but I think he also showed some pretty canny command of the pocket in this game that jumped out to me in film study … as well as his typical handful of baffling plays. Some examples:
- :00 - Arizona is playing pretty aggressive man coverage here (amazingly so in the middle of the field), but with this much pocket time #6 WR Ju. Johnson is able to break free for just long enough to allow Herbert to fit the ball in perfectly on what is an NFL-caliber throw.
- :22 - Watch two things closely on this play: Herbert’s feet and Johnson’s hands. Both are textbook examples of how you’re supposed to do it - smooth drop, shuffle to buy time with the eyes downfield, quick weight transfer on the throw, and then locating the ball with the hands before bringing it in to the body to survive the hit.
- :31 - Really great pocket movement here, stepping up then out to buy time, then adjusting the arm angle while on the move. The body control to make this throw is incredible.
- :46 - Herbert makes this play far more difficult than it needs to be. When he comes out of the fake screen he sees the safety has dropped into the throwing lane. Acceptable options for Herbert include throwing at a shallow angle to Johnson’s outside shoulder (throwing him open) since the safety wouldn’t be able to make a play and the corner is blocked by the X-receiver, or since it’s 1st down and there’s a couple guys in the area (and he’s outside the tackle box anyway) just throwing the ball away. He does neither and takes a sack.
The strongest aspect of Arizona’s team is its rushing offense; Oregon held them below their average per-play rushing effectiveness, with 10 successful run defenses to 9 failed ones. That’s decent from an efficiency perspective, but the yardage numbers show how effectively Oregon shut down their explosive run game: 2.53 yards per carry, only one run of 10+ yards (the longest run by a back was for 12 yards), and four tackles for loss outside of garbage time.
More than half of Oregon’s failed rush defenses were what I code on my tally sheet as YACO plays, meaning “yards after contact only” … that is, the back was stopped short of the distance he needed to be successful, but then he pushed forward for the extra yard or so to flip it into the win column for the offense. From an efficiency standpoint, such plays are the only significant outstanding issue for this defense to address, because I’ve been seeing too many of them in every game since the opener.
Here’s a representative sample of Oregon’s rush defenses in this game:
- :00 - Oregon did a good job of taking away Arizona’s read option plays, by not presenting an easy read for the QB - avoiding going too far inside or outside, and therefore delaying the mesh and leaving the read man open to pursue either way when the QB finally makes a decision. Here, #32 OLB Winston keeps flat and his weight balanced, eventually inducing a give and an attempted spin by the back right into the arms of #6 CB Lenoir who’s had plenty of time to come down on the cat blitz.
- :08 - #34 DT Scott may not get a finger on the back on this play, but he’s the key to making it work for the Ducks - he absorbs a combo block from two linemen, and doesn’t allow the left guard to break free to climb to the second level as this blocking scheme requires. That means #35 ILB Dye is completely free to wrap him up, and keeps the back shallow enough for #56 OLB Young to get off his block and join in.
- :14 - Another good job clouding the read by #47 OLB Funa this time, who’s able to dive for the QB keeping the ball and change his trajectory to be more horizontal and give Dye time to come down for a minimal yardage tackle. But Dye stays too high on the tackle and the club on his hand makes it harder for him to wrap up, so he gives up the last couple yards to make this a failed defense.
- :19 - #5 DE Thibodeaux played a pretty good game but this type of run defense is something he needs to work on - he’s got contain responsibilities since this is cover-1 and he’s the farthest man on the front. That means he needs to be getting much wider to maintain leverage and trying to change the back’s angle on this outside run. As it is he has to flip his hips to pursue and by then it’s too late.
Oregon’s pass defense was excellent - 11 successes to 6 failures. Arizona only completed four dropback passes outside of garbage time and averaged just 2.98 yards per dropback (and that’s excluding sacks). Almost all of Arizona’s yardage on passing plays came from a couple of scrambles and a pair of well-blocked screens, very little by completing downfield passes from the pocket.
Multiple dramatic sacks and quick backfield pressures mean the defensive front will claim most of the glory, but I thought the DBs did their part making the front look good by taking away the easy stuff all night long. Some examples:
- :00 - This looks to be a pre-determined quick throw to beat the pass rush, but #2 CB Wright shows an impressive burst to wrap up the big receiver before he can get vertical to minimize the gain.
- :10 - The immediate pressure by #50 DT Aumavae and #90 DT Carlberg will get all the attention, but note the excellent man coverage on all five receiving options by the DBs and #41 ILB Slade-Matautia to take away any throwing option before they arrive, and also how Winston smartly closes off the QB’s escape lane.
- :18 - Reader, after you finish enjoying the complete domination of the offensive line by Scott, Young, Thibodeaux, and #99 DT Faoliu following the late and confusing line stem, go back and watch the mesh coverage by the DBs and ILBs to eliminate any of these quick crossing routes or checkdowns. There’s a lot of great communication in the zone assignments here that leaves the QB no option but to take the sack.
- :38 - Slade-Matautia simply underestimates the QB’s ability to quickly change his momentum and get past him when he takes the wrong angle on this scramble. This was Arizona’s best play of the night, and pretty much the only reason they made a QB change.
I correctly predicted which quarterback Arizona would start, although he only lasted three drives and didn’t return until late in garbage time. I’m not sure how valuable including tape of Khalil Tate would have been last week, since pretty much the only thing he did on Saturday was a couple of scrambles (some even in the right direction!) and every Pac-12 fan knows he can do that. Their offensive line, although impossible to predict the personnel, was just as roiled by injuries and substitutions as I wrote it would be. I think the commentary on the running backs’ habit of constantly cutting and seeking a new lane being both a strength and a weakness turned out to be apt, as some of the videos in this article illustrate. (I shared a few drinks and this insight with some Arizona fans Friday night; they expressed skepticism at the time but perhaps somewhere they’re reading this now in a new light …)
The effectiveness of the change to Arizona’s defensive front structure at the beginning of the game caught me by surprise, though it was somewhat gratifying to hear from Coach Cristobal’s post-game presser that the staff felt the same way. In hindsight, I probably should have written something about the possibility that a new defensive coordinator with an extra week to prepare would bring out something new and unpredictable, though by its very nature that’s impossible for me to preview. Happily, Oregon’s adjustment was pretty quick and effective, and from that point on the game went just as I thought: lots of yards on the ground, and lots of deep shot opportunities.