Nota bene: The final two drives of regulation and both overtime possessions are excluded from the numbers in this article, as I consider them to be garbage time.
Oregon leaned heavily on the run in this game, which shouldn’t have been much of a surprise since RB coach Mastro, who’s also the Run Game Coordinator, was calling plays in the absence of OC Moorhead, and because Stanford’s rush defense was significantly weaker than its pass defense.
The Ducks were very effective running the ball - 27 successful designed rushes vs 11 unsuccessful ones, given the down & distance, or 71.1%. They picked up three rushing TDs and had five runs go for 10+ yards, with an explosive rush rate of 21%.
The absence of starting center #78 C Forsyth didn’t seem to bother Oregon much in the rushing attack - #53 OG Walk snapped the ball very well, and the new addition to the rotation, freshman #58 RG Powers-Johnson, only had a couple run game issues. The closest thing to a problem I noticed is that every other drive #74 OL S. Jones moved from RT to RG, and his run-blocking error rate is higher there than as a tackle on my tally sheet - I don’t think it’s his natural position.
Here’s a representative sample of Oregon’s rush plays:
(Reminder - you can right-click or long-press any video to play it in ¼ or ½ speed)
- :00 - Nice blocking here - #71 RT Aumavae-Laulu helps seal the end then up to the second level which lets Jones get his hat playside, and great pull by #56 LG Bass and slice by #19 TE Ferguson to open a hole between the backers. #7 RB Verdell gets extra yardage running through multiple tackles.
- :09 - Oregon ran a few sweeps with #6 WR Redd this game, taking advantage of their edge in skill talent speed. #2 WR D. Williams is throwing a great block on the corner, one of many on the day, but #4 WR Pittman doesn’t so Verdell takes that man instead; it’s likely a touchdown if all three defenders get blocked.
- :24 - We’ve seen this RPO where the back presents his numbers to the QB for a shovel option a couple of times now, though not the actual shovel yet - here the backside backers are effectively pinned by the threat so #13 QB A. Brown takes off instead. #18 TE Webb is covered so Brown keeps again and gets to the edge.
- :34 - Only a handful of plays had OL blocking breakdowns as bad as this one, but even those were usually salvaged somewhat due to great vision and cuts from the backs - #26 RB Dye makes a very timely cut and bounce outside here, then picks up some yardage through contact.
The passing game was underwater, however - just 12 successes vs 14 failures, or 46.2%. Oregon moved the ball pretty well when they connected, with the longest play of the day of 66 yards coming on a pass, and an 8.4 yards per attempt average (and 13.9 yards per completion). Some examples:
- :00 - Almost every successful pass on my tally sheet looks like this - the proper read of the defense for an easy pass that gets intermediate yardage and/or a first down. Here the CB has backed out for fear of getting burned down the sideline and the OLB has dropped way out of the throwing lane when Williams breaks out.
- :14 - Mastro used far fewer RPOs and pre-snap motions than Moorhead typically does but we still saw a few, including the somewhat new shovel option wrinkle - the OLB bites hard on the back even though he gets no fake handoff at all, and with no one covering him it’s an easy toss to Ferguson. Great blocks by Redd and #14 WR Hutson.
- :25 - Great protection allows a nice calm read of the defense, and eventually checking down to the back. Three guys are for some reason chasing the tight end, a not uncommon coverage error I noted in Stanford’s defense last week, leaving plenty of grass to run into.
- :36 - Another easy read of the defense as the safety and inside backer aren’t handling this mesh concept well, leaving Redd open to get downfield.
The major problem was six 3rd down stops on passing plays, which included three incompletions and Brown’s first interception of the year. Some of the problems in the passing game are to be expected without a top-5 OC calling plays and missing the center to call out blitz protections. But the larger issue is what we’ve been seeing from Brown the last several games - he can’t hit the deep ball and he’s not operating the offense at the 95% read accuracy that the coaches have articulated as the standard.
Here’s a representative sample of failed passing plays:
- :00 - I have a few incompletions like this one on my tally sheet, where it’s shared responsibility for what goes wrong. The OL isn’t switching up to deal with this twist very well so there’s some pressure coming for Brown, the ball isn’t particularly accurate even so, and Webb isn’t adjusting well on the ball considering the corner who’s coming off.
- :12 - After throwing an interception on this exact play to this exact OLB in the first half, I was surprised that Brown made the same mistake again.
- :24 - Another bad pickup of a backer by the new guys in the OL, Walk as center and Powers-Johnson in his customary RG spot, but we’ve seen better pocket presence from Brown in the past - his hot route is to his left and he should be taking off that way for a toss or scramble.
- :36 - Stanford’s only rushing three here and Brown has plenty of time to make a decision, there’s no need to force this ball quickly to a well covered tight end.
Given that all the passes he did hit are ones that should be expected from any QB, and he seems to be losing the edge from being a savvy veteran without raising what was expected to be a modest ceiling going into the season, the case for Brown keeping his job compared to a higher ceiling freshman has never been weaker. I can’t predict what Oregon will do at the position because the error rates of the other QBs in practice is unknown (it could be pretty high, for all we know - I only have some garbage time and part of an FCS game to go by in terms of film, and it wasn’t perfect), but the balance may be close to tipping.
One of the reasons the end of the game was so shocking was that, prior to garbage time, Oregon had effectively shut down Stanford’s passing game. The Ducks mixed in some blitzes, but this was mostly generated by pressure rushing four and backing out the coverage on the outside receivers to delay the QB’s read and force him to check down. The return of #5 OLB Thibodeaux was a big part of that, but the entire defensive line and OLB groups had a very good day in the pass rush, and the structure of DC DeRuyter’s defense worked as intended - they took away single-read deep passes and were willing to allow underneath throws if that bought time for the pass rush.
Outside of garbage time, Oregon successfully defended 19 dropbacks vs 11 unsuccessful ones, a 63.3% success rate. Nine dropbacks, or 30%, resulted in a sack, scramble, or throwaway, and twice penetration generated a 10-yard holding flag. As expected, the Cardinal was highly dependent on explosive passing plays for their yardage, with more than half of Stanford’s pre-garbage time yards through the air coming on just four plays of 15+ yards, but none went over 25 yards.
Here’s a representative sample of the pass defense:
- :00 - I did my best to warn readers last week that Stanford’s QB has an almost superhuman ability to hit accurate passes while under pressure, and so most of their successes looked something like this - #91 DT Kr. Williams is hitting the QB as he throws and Sewell is well positioned underneath, but he makes the throw anyway.
- :17 - My entire tally sheet is filled with the DL getting into the backfield, making it tough to select clips. Here #12 DE DJ Johnson and #3 DT Dorlus are instantly in the QB’s face, and because both corners have backed out in sideline coverage he doesn’t have his first read to hit. He scrambles a bit and checks it down to the back, but #46 ILB Heaukulani has stayed disciplined and gone out with him, blowing him up immediately.
- :34 - Thibodeaux takes on a tackle and a guard simultaneously and wins. Dorlus is crushing the center on his twist, and #95 Ware-Hudson is working over to the back who’s leaking out. Nice pursuit to the sideline to contain the scramble. Reader, also note at the beginning of the clip how far back the DBs are playing.
- :52 - Stanford is passing out of 12-personnel, something of a tendency breaker, but Oregon is on it by dropping both outside backers when the TEs release and rushing the inside backers. Freshman #21 ILB K. Brown takes the center into the backfield and Sewell blows through the RB for a sack.
The rush defense finished slightly above water outside of garbage time, with 13 successful defenses of designed rushes to 12 failed ones, or 52.0%. While Oregon prevented the full-field touchdown runs that Stanford got three times in their first three games, they still gave up three runs of 10 to 25 yards and a rushing touchdown, and from a per-play efficiency standpoint, Stanford did somewhat better rushing than they have against previous opponents.
There are a couple of factors here: first, as I noted last week Stanford has been more effective at zone-running than the heavy I-formation power runs that dominated their 2020 and early 2021 seasons, and in this game Stanford mixed in much more of them than before. Second, Oregon’s inside linebackers had a rough day in run-stopping, both because of issues with the deep backups whom the Ducks are fielding due to injuries as we’ve seen the last few weeks, and because #1 ILB Sewell was uncharacteristically hesitant on a few plays in this game. Some examples:
- :00 - The interior of the line and #47 OLB Funa are doing their jobs collapsing the line and forcing a bounce outside. The DBs need to be maintaining outside leverage instead of getting inside, however, and Sewell needs to keep his shoulders square to the line to flow to the play as it changes.
- :09 - Make sure to catch at the beginning of the clip how far back #23 DB McKinley is playing against what’s going to be an I-formation run - that’s a strategic choice to play a lighter box than previous Stanford opponents have because they’re more interested in containing a play-action deep pass than stopping an efficiency run on 1st down. #19 DB Hill effectively takes out both the RT and FB with his dive, but Sewell is having a hard time getting over it - he gets one hand on the back but it’s not enough to bring him down.
- :25 - Dorlus and #50 DT Aumavae are both earning double-teams, leaving McKinley a free shot in the backfield, but he misses it. Sewell needs to get in the hole earlier than this, it’s the only outlet the back has and I’m not sure why he’s holding back.
Overall, though, Oregon’s rush defense did what most teams have done to Stanford, which is stuff them or string them out:
- :00 - Another line collapse by Aumavae, Dorlus, and Funa. This time the DBs set the edge properly and Sewell cleans up.
- :09 - Here’s the full 23-personnel I-formation Stanford has terrorized certain other Northwest defenses with lately. The FB’s first step gives the direction away as usual and Ware-Hudson gets inside the RG’s pull and has the RT diving for him, tripping the back and giving Funa a free shot.
- :15 - Thibodeaux was pretty effective in the run game as well, earning a TFL chasing the back down from the opposite side, and on this play splitting the guard and tackle and shoving the ballcarrier into the backfield. Nice job by #7 DB Stephens to take away the outside bounce and Brown to get off his block to clean up.
Cold comfort though it may be, last week’s preview of Stanford was pretty accurate. I think I described their inefficient but explosive passing attack as well as the QB and his nearly undefendable wide receivers pretty well, including a clip of #81 WR Tremayne defeating perfect coverage with a hand inside his guard in pretty much exactly the way he did to #2 CB Wright in this game. The injury that took Tremayne off the field was pretty gruesome and I hope he’s getting the best care; his loss definitely impacted Stanford’s passing game. The Cardinal offensive line and running backs played about as well as I expected, and though I was surprised they switched to so much zone running it was something I commented last week that I thought they should do more of.
I raved at length about the brightest spot in Stanford’s defense, #17 CB Kelly, and although it wasn’t very clear on the broadcast he essentially had his side of the field locked down - though that may be a more of a reflection on Oregon’s deep passing game. I noted that their second best defender was #90 OLB Reid, and he came away with a pick and nearly another, as well as a few good stops, so I think that held up. Otherwise, as predicted, Stanford didn’t do much to stop Oregon; most of the Ducks’ offensive problems were self-inflicted, in my opinion.