Sept 18, 2020: Montana turned out to be a pretty solid opponent, all things considered: they made it to the playoff quarterfinals and finished ranked #6 in the FCS Coaches Poll. In the final Sagarin algorithm (which ranks all 256 Division-I teams, FBS and FCS combined) they came in ahead of the previous week’s opponent Nevada plus 43 other FBS teams, including six Power-5 teams. Simply being a well balanced, better coached, and more conservative team than the Wolfpack limited the damage the Ducks could inflict on the Griz ... and turning the ball over three fewer times didn’t hurt either.
The defensive performance was as stifling as we’ve come to expect, and this was one of what would turn out to be five opponents that Oregon kept out of the endzone entirely.
Offensively, the pattern of offensive line dominance and the RPO game putting opposing defenses in binds continued. However there’s one pattern I can see clearly in hindsight that was starting to become evident in this game but I had written off at the time: mediocre 3rd down conversion numbers. The Ducks were 6 for 13 total and 4 for 8 prior to garbage time in this game; that mirrors their season-long 41.8% rate which was #44 nationally and 7th in the Pac-12.
This will be another short article, as again we only got about half a game’s worth of usable film. This game went into garbage time after Oregon’s first drive of the second half ended in a touchdown to go up 28-0; thereafter both teams started bringing in bench players and noticeably changed their playstyles.
This game featured another dominant performance by #10 QB Herbert, and the second week of clear direction from the coaching staff for him to have more faith in his deep-field receivers. We also got some nice high camera angles on well designed plays that put the defense into conflict. The result was 21 successful passing plays to just 7 failed ones (of which 6 and 1 were screen passes, respectively). Some examples:
(Reminder - you can right-click or long-press any of these videos to play them in ¼ or ½ speed)
- :00 - This is an NFL throw: Herbert pulls the trigger the instant he sees the DB has his hips inside and before #27 TE Breeland even begins his break, and fits the ball into a narrow and collapsing window at a sharp angle.
- :16 - Here’s Oregon’s occasionally deployed shotgun split-back. Sending the backside RB in motion playside, plus Herbert’s sweet pump fake, create assignment confusion in the secondary: both field safeties collapse on the swing possibility and leave Breeland uncovered on the wheel.
- :31 - No flag on this play, although I think you could make a case for either OPI or DPI. At any rate, it represents a deep ball thrown to a receiver in tight coverage, and Herbert is giving #80 WR Addison more time to gain separation (he should have pulled the trigger when they clear the 40-yard-line, instead he lets them get about 10 yards further downfield) instead of hitting the wide open but shallower Breeland.
The rushing offense continued to be quite efficient, 16 successes vs 7 failures, plus two more borderline 3-yard gains on 1st down. Interestingly, Oregon’s rushing balance has tipped and they ran slightly more outside than inside in this game, with many of those inside runs reserved for short-yardage situations. Some examples:
- :00 - I think this is what Coach Cristobal sees when he closes his eyes at night: an unbalanced line (tackle-over left) with two tight ends, one of whom is #82 TE Aiello redressed from his OL position, pure power up the middle and a huge push into the defensive front.
- :14 - You need to watch this play in slow-motion to catch it, but it shows why #26 RB Dye’s vision is translating into significant carries despite his stature: #54 RT Throckmorton can only get in a shove of the 2i before moving up to block the SAM, so Dye makes a quick inside move to hit a hole that hasn’t yet opened up, dodging a TFL and turning this into a 1st down conversion.
- :22 - Great blocks across the o-line as expected, but check out Addison blocking two DBs at once to spring Dye for a big gain. I’ve got excellent perimeter blocking by the WRs up and down my tally sheet which may explain the increased confidence in outside rushing.
Oregon didn’t have a single negative-yardage play prior to garbage time, the most important hallmark of this offense. There were several chunk plays in addition to the high efficiency numbers, though somewhat less explosive than last week (mainly due to a number of incredible shoestring tackles by Montana’s fantastic backer, Dante Olson), with the three biggest runs being 8, 8, and 14 yards. Here are some of the issues:
- :00 - Olson shoots the gap and then bends back to make a great tackle, but I think Herbert should have kept the ball on the RPO component of this play due to the safety blitz: look how open this leaves #3 WR Johnson on the slant route into the endzone. Still, #33 RB Habibi-Likio gets 3 yards.
- :06 - This is a vision issue for Habibi-Likio: if he had cut inside between #55 C Hanson and #68 LG Lemieux’s excellent blocks he could have walked into the endzone.
- :12 - The reverse angle here gives a good view onto the difficulty of blocking against a stack defense, where the line has to make split-second decisions depending on which direction the backers cut. Here, #87 TE Bay and #75 LG Warmack both think they have the SAM, and it interferes with Throckmorton handling the 7-tech.
As expected, Montana abandoned the run fairly quickly, and Oregon defended it 7 times successfully vs just 3 unsuccessful. I was seeing a pretty dominant defensive front, but also much better play by the safeties in run support:
- :00 - Montana didn’t show this formation (offset-I, 22-personnel, QB under center) in their week 1 film at all, so good job adapting by the defense here with a 5-man front and a loaded box, and the second level flowing to the play nicely, especially #16 S Pickett.
- :20 - #90 DE Carlberg wrecks the pulling guard, bouncing him into the ballcarrier in the backfield, with #47 LB Funa killing the outside lane then doubling back to clean it up.
- :28 - A presnap shading change correctly anticipates the outside run, #8 S Holland identifies the receiver shift then keeps outside leverage against the fullback’s block to force the ball back in, and #41 LB Slade-Matautia makes a beeline for the tackle.
Montana only attempted two deep passes prior to garbage time because the QB had very little time to throw, keeping the passing game to pretty short, one-read stuff and resulting in 15 Oregon successes to 8 failures. I didn’t get very good film to use on the few coverage problems, but they were mostly linebackers out of position rather than DB issues. On the other hand, the pressure on the QB was incredible, just physically outmatching the o-line.
Other than the QB switch deep into garbage time, no real surprises this week, and I think I had this team fairly well described on Friday. Montana wanted to run the ball but couldn’t and switched away from it, their QB is pretty accurate and nails the short throws to some quality receivers but doesn’t have much of a deep game, and a highly disciplined and well coached team that refused to quit even when they were down big kept the game from being a crazy blowout. (Interestingly, the Sagarin rankings that used to be part of the BCS formula and evaluate all 256 Division-I teams has Montana as a better team than Nevada.)
The only defensive video I made for Montana last week was highlights of Dante Olson’s play, and I could have made another one this week from his performance in this game. He single-handedly caught at least three runs and one screen that had clear shots at the endzone with a last-second tackle coming around from the other side of the field. Nice to see a kid from Medford playing a great game in Autzen.