Note bene: I found this game to be the most schematically and strategically interesting one this season, as there were some fairly significant changes to the gameplan, a number of which we hadn’t seen at all before. I simply don’t have the time, given the short turnaround before the conference championship game on Friday, to give it the full breakdown that it deserves. Instead, I will offer here a short review with just the basics, and save a longer article for the offseason. That will let me get straight to work previewing Utah, including a great podcast interview with Kurt Kragthorpe of the Salt Lake Tribune.
I thought this was a pretty well-called game, marred by some redzone execution errors that left 18 points on the table. I found it very strange, when I came up for air after charting the game, to see Oregon fans calling for OC Arroyo’s job, given how many smart strategic adjustments I observed, and I wonder what Ducks think an offensive coordinator actually does.
#55 C Hanson was out for the entirety of this game, as he was the second half last week against Arizona St. The most significant schematic adjustment in the Civil War was that, probably as a reaction to the bad snaps in Tempe from #54 OL Throckmorton throwing off the crucial RPO timing, the coaching staff almost completely eliminated RPOs from this week’s playbook. Their use was a defining characteristic of Oregon’s far more explosive offense in the previous 11 games, and planning around their absence meant showing quite a few plays that we’d seen rarely if at all.
Oregon’s rushing offense was above water, 19 successes vs 15 failures, given the down & distance. I’m continuing to see improvement in the running backs’ vision and ability to make good cuts for extra yardage. The biggest culprit in Oregon’s rushing failures were #58 LT Sewell and #68 LG Lemieux -- normally the most reliable linemen -- having a relatively off night by their standards, and the issues we’re accustomed to seeing when #66 RT Aiello takes over on the right side when Throckmorton takes on snapping duties. 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 - You might need to slow the video down to catch it, reader, but watch #7 RB Verdell make a very smooth cut from Lemieux’s right to his left without losing any momentum to get around the DT tumbling into the original running lane.
- :06 - Just excellent blocking on this outside zone read, including #80 WR Addison on the perimeter, Lemieux at the second level, and Throckmorton using his great big butt to control a DT.
- :13 - Sewell gets too wide here for reasons I don’t understand, and the OLB just runs past him to make the tackle.
- :19 - Nice block by #48 TE Kampmoyer, who played another great game, but Aiello and Lemieux both lose control of their blocks on this stretch run.
In the passing game, Oregon went 12 successful dropbacks vs 14 failed ones. The Beavs relied on a lot of blitzing, which #10 QB Herbert is pretty hit-or-miss in responding to. As is (bizarrely) typical for him, he put some jaw-dropping throws on tape that sell the observer on his NFL potential. He also had at least six snaps where his throwing mechanics regressed to worse than a high school QB’s. I also saw at least four plays where I thought the receiver ran the route incorrectly or didn’t use proper technique catching the ball. Some examples:
- :00 - Great pocket presence, keeping his front foot forward and properly planted, quick decision and smooth delivery low (where only his receiver can get it) and splitting the defenders.
- :09 - On time delivery against the blitz, to a receiver who’s got three defenders around him.
- :28 - All the pocket that Herbert needs is there for him on this play, but the instant it starts to collapse his mechanics go out the window - he’s throwing with flat hips off his back foot and naturally the ball sails on him.
- :36 - Very nicely placed ball, but Addison has to reach out and catch this with his hands. Instead he lets it get to his body and that lets the DB get inside and rip it away.
Oregon’s defense played an excellent game against a strong offense, winning over 60% of their plays. In rush defense, the Ducks were successful on 15 snaps vs 10 failed ones, largely on simply dominating the Beavs’ offensive line. The biggest issue I saw was that on snaps where the safety needs to come down hard to stop the play, #16 S Pickett and #23 S McKinley were hesitating and allowing extra yardage. Some examples:
- :00 - Great reps here by #99 DT Faoliu and #93 DE Kava, but watch #34 DT Scott throw two interior linemen to the dirt on his way to the ball.
- :09 - An interesting wrinkle we haven’t seen much of before - #5 OLB Thibodeaux with his fist down inside of #47 OLB Funa upright. Thibodeaux’s explosion off the line is phenomenal, quickly defeating the LT and getting into the backfield for a TFL.
- :19 - A light box here as the Ducks are expecting a bootleg pass (a good read of OSU’s tendencies, given their field position and formation), and as such the linebackers stay closer to the boundary. This means when the play is actually a run, the instant the ball is handed off Pickett needs to fire upfield into the C-gap while #8 DB Holland maintains outside leverage on the TE to keep contain. Instead Pickett hesitates, and Holland tries to get inside to do it for him, allowing the back to bounce out for a big gain.
Oregon successfully defended 22 throws vs 15 unsuccessful ones. Again the defensive front got quite a bit of pressure, forcing OSU to either get the ball out quick or make plays outside the pocket. Early in the game, the Beavs were having success with both their naked bootleg flood concept, as well as a rub concept that I’m quite sure they legally executed every time. However, Oregon properly adapted to both as the game went on:
- :00 - Blink and you’ll miss it thanks to an overly tight camera angle, but OSU ran this play several times and this was the most successful one (they executed the rub itself even better on another play but the WR dropped the pass). Holland and #2 CB Wright run into each other as the Z-receiver crosses inside and the slot man gets wide open.
- :19 - Ten minutes later they try the same thing, and Oregon recognizes it - Wright gives the Z a good press and allows Holland to get by him to catch the receiver in the flat, and they both get him out of bounds before he can convert the 3rd down.
- :39 - Often the Beavs’ most successful passing play because they use it out of their heavy run formation, here all the linebackers flow with the line and take themselves out of the play. #35 ILB Dye retreats in time to cover the high read but there’s no way Faoliu will catch the TE on the low read.
- :58 - OSU tried this play on a few more snaps, and each time Oregon defended it better. Here’s the best one, late in the game while the Beavs are trying to pull even, and the defense doesn’t bite but rather keeps each receiving option well covered, exploiting the downside of this play by double covering each of the small number of potential targets.
I saw OSU’s starting QB Jake Luton hurt his arm last week at Wazzu, but I foolishly believed their press statements that he’d be playing and so didn’t mention the possibility that we’d see his backup instead. Joe Londergan of Building the Dam mentioned that OSU receiver Trevon Bradford, whom I really liked watching last year and specifically asked after on our podcast interview, would be back for this game, and even though I didn’t have any useable film of him, I regret not bringing it up in my article. Other than those two things I feel I predicted OSU’s offense pretty well, including their problems at offensive line, their run/pass tendencies in different formations, and their reliance on a single receiver for most of their production (DC Avalos appears to have noticed the same thing and locked him down, zero receptions in the first half).
OSU’s defensive front mostly performed how I expected - fast to the edges, a big threat to generate sacks, but otherwise fairly easily run over up the middle. I was surprised at how well their DBs played, however, and that’s happened two straight weeks now. I’m tempted to say this is just Oregon’s injury-diminished receiving corps making it easy on even underperforming secondaries, but I suspect something more is going on here that I’m just not able to observe since I’m restricted to the broadcast angles. It may very well be that most offenses have been attacking ASU’s and OSU’s secondaries in a certain way that they can’t handle, and Oregon is attacking in a different way that they can, I just don’t know. Not for the first time find myself wishing I had access to the all-22 so I could get to the bottom of it.