Oregon used an efficient and explosive rushing attack to control the game - 28 successful designed rushes vs 13 unsuccessful ones, given the down & distance, or a 68.3% rushing success rate. Even though that’s a championship-caliber number in my experience, it’s actually down from the previous four weeks when they were rushing at a 75% rate (any two rushes flipping from failure to success would have gotten that number back up, for example eliminating the two fumbles after 16- and 10-yard runs).
The Ducks ran for 6.6 yards per carry on designed rushes outside of garbage time, and 22% went for 10+ yards, which are both excellent explosive rushing figures. Other than an offensive line performing at a high level in run-blocking, the main factor was a well designed RPO gameplan which took advantage of Wazzu’s defensive tendencies in terms of how the defensive ends crash inside and linebackers come down to deal with run spills, by putting those backers in conflict with pass tags. Here’s a representative sample of Oregon’s designed runs:
(Reminder - after pressing play, you can use the left button to slow any video to 1⁄4 or 1⁄2 speed)
- :00 - There were thirteen designed rushes by #13 QB A. Brown, some of which are keeps all the way but most of which had an RPO element to them. On this play, motioning the back out pre-snap reveals the coverage and lightens the box as one of the backers follows him, giving Oregon a blocker for each box defender. Nice blocks by the freshmen too, #8 TE Matavao and #11 WR Franklin.
- :08 - The Ducks went to 12-personnel on about 10% of their snaps (11-pers for the rest). Wazzu doesn’t have the roster to put in extra linemen or backers and so their “heavy” box has four DBs in it, which the Ducks are handling pretty well. A better block by #77 LG Moore and #26 RB Dye would have gone to the house, since they have no high safety in. Again, nice blocking by the freshmen Matavao, #19 TE Ferguson, and #10 WR Thornton.
- :14 - This was the worst blocked play of the night, it’s not representative in that sense but just to show that each of the linemen had at least one bad rep and those — rather than poor QB reads, RB decisions, or playcalls — were the main reason for Oregon’s few failed rushes.
- :23 - Tired of getting run over, Wazzu has brought two safeties into the box and the linebacker makes a guess as to which gap the run is going to. He’s wrong, and there’s no high safety, so this time it’s a touchdown for #21 RB Cardwell.
Oregon’s offensive line used a similar pattern as last week, with the same tackles and center each snap - #56 LT Bass, #71 RT Aumavae-Laulu, and #78 C Forsyth. They used a three-man rotation at the two guard spots on a drive-by-drive basis, with #77 LG Moore, #74 RG S. Jones, and #70 OL Jaramillo switching between both sides. Wazzu’s light, quick defensive linemen gave them the most trouble in complex outside runs in which the backside tackle or guard needs to get inside of a d-lineman to seal him off and prevent him from making the tackle downfield - Jones and Aumavae-Laulu both have a number of dings on my tally sheet on plays that were still successful, but could have gone bigger if they were quicker at setting those blocks.
The passing offense was less efficient, though still above water - 14 successful designed passing plays vs 12 failed ones, or 53.8%. Due to the success of the run game and a strategy of burning down the clock, pocket passing was relatively rare in this game, only about three-quarters of dropbacks.
Specifically, 7 passes were screens or an adjunct to the rushing offense through RPOs, with a 4 vs 3 success rate and gaining about 3.7 yards per play, and all but one of them coming on 1st down and mostly just being an efficiency play to set up 2nd and short or medium.
The other 19 dropbacks ended in four scrambles (three runs and one pass to Franklin on which the officials curiously ruled his toe out of bounds), a sack, and 14 pocket passes. Those 14 averaged 7.9 yards per attempt on 10 completions, with three for over 15 yards and one an 11-yard TD.
Much of the passing offense in this game focused on efficiency plays, trying pick up 1st downs, or manipulating the defense for run plays, and so the Ducks had seven pass completions for gains of under 10 yards but which I nonetheless graded as successful plays for keeping the chains moving. That kept the overall per-pass yardage pretty modest, just 6.2 yards per attempt outside garbage time. However, the Ducks still maintained a pretty good explosion rate, with 15% of all dropbacks resulting in a gain of 15+ yards.
The dozen unsuccessful passing plays fall into three even categories of four plays apiece: mistakes which I think can be attributed to the quarterback through either inaccuracy or a bad decision, some breakdowns in pass protection or downfield blocking on a screen pass by the offensive line, and a third category which I will call “frustrating plays” and leave it at that. Some examples:
- :00 - I think this is a proper read of the defense and this is the right throw to make, but there’s no need for Brown to place it this high - that lets the backer make a play on the ball. Instead it should be lower and to the outside, away from the defender’s leverage.
- :22 - The defense’s E-T stunt could be handled by the right side of the line a lot better here. They should be dropping back more (like the left side is), which would allow Jones to take over the end when he turns inside and the tackle disengages, so Aumavae-Laulu could take that tackle going outside. I think the throw is hurried by the pressure; it’s completed but it’s unlikely Matavao could have gotten much yardage.
- :30 - The Ducks are playing this conservatively on 3rd down in their own territory instead of trying the deep shot to #2 WR D. Williams, which I think is fine but that’s a subjective opinion. What shouldn’t be subjective is where the ball is spotted.
Overall I think this was a pretty successful outing by Brown with the usual limitations due to his accuracy, and I think Oregon’s passing stats are mostly, though not entirely, explained by Wazzu’s obvious vulnerability to the run and a couple of adverse calls. The successful passing plays also fall into three roughly even categories: high quality pocket throws for significant yardage, improvised plays by the quarterback, and proper operation of the RPO offense, each of which speak well to Brown’s performance. Some examples:
- :00 - Not an easy throw against an unblocked blitzer in his face, 14 yards downfield from the opposite hash to outside the numbers is about 33 yards through the air. Williams gets six more.
- :12 - I think there’s probably a throw to be made here before the pressure gets home, but the mesh-sit has cleared out the defense and there’s a pretty wide swath of turf to run into. Each of Brown’s three scrambles were successful, all gaining either a 1st down or touchdown.
- :21 - This play is the RPO complement to the first clip in this article - the back motions out pre-snap but this time the backer doesn’t follow him out of the box. That creates a three over three to that side with the safety far enough back for a good gain on the screen pass. Good perimeter blocks by #6 WR Redd and #4 WR Pittman.
Wazzu threw the ball even more frequently than their season-long average, which already favored the pass - it was a 4:7 run-pass balance until last Saturday, when went to 2:5. Oregon played a 6-man box for most of the game, and although the Ducks often rushed only three and dropped the rest, the initial box count seemed to dissuade Wazzu from running the ball since their preference going into this game was mostly to run only against a pretty light box. It’s also probably significant that the Cougs were playing from behind every time they snapped the ball except the opening two drives, which only lasted six plays total.
On a per-play efficiency basis, Oregon had one of its best nights of the season against the pass: they successfully defended 24 designed passing plays vs 15 unsuccessful ones, or 61.5%. The broadcast, in addition to being appallingly low resolution and muddy, was also excessively tight and so we didn’t get to see much in the way of downfield coverage. But from what I know of Wazzu’s passing tendencies I expect it was a simple binary: either they had the first read covered or they didn’t. In the case of the former, the pass rush got home before the QB could get to his second read and the play was over. Some examples:
- :00 - Showing blitz here gets all of the guards’ plus the back’s attention, but the Ducks back out and only rush three with the backers in throwing lanes. That means that #50 NT Aumavae gets quadruple blocked, but #3 DT Dorlus and #5 OLB Thibodeaux get one-on-one with the tackles, and that’s no contest.
- :13 - The pre-snap stem gives the back some indecision about helping against #93 DT J. Jones or Thibodeaux. That’s enough of a delay for Jones to collapse the guard into the QB’s lap and Thibodeaux to hurry the throw. Note how #1 ILB Sewell is pointing to indicate that #33 ILB Bassa should take the slot’s crosser while he covers the over coming in behind him and gets a nice tip.
- :32 - Oregon used several different linebacker configurations, including moving Thibodeaux around quite a bit. Here’s he’s lined up as an inside backer next to #23 DB McKinley in Oregon’s dime package, with just one down lineman and Sewell, #29 OLB A. Jackson and #44 OLB Swinson on the line. The back has to take Jackson, giving one-on-ones to Thibodeaux and Swinson which they win easily.
Virtually all of Wazzu’s passing yardage came from either screens or downfield passes when the first read wasn’t covered, and true to form some of those were pretty explosive. The Cougs averaged 8.4 yards per pass attempt outside of garbage time and 15% of their dropbacks resulted in a gain of 15+ yards, both above the Ducks’ season-long figures. Wazzu’s passing offense was very hot and cold - they either hit a big play or they got very little at all, and almost nothing in between.
There were two long passes on which Wazzu played the QB’s favorite targets in the slot and Oregon had a safety over him instead of a corner, and they couldn’t lock down a speedy athlete. The far more common breakdowns, however, were the usual ones we’ve seen all season from the Ducks: an unsuccessful blitz creating a coverage void, a backup ILB out of position, or a well executed screen. Some examples:
- :00 - McKinley doesn’t have the leverage here to cover the crosser, he’s trying to take away the deep ball in case the slot man bends it into a go route and hoping the blitz gets home. The QB finds the void in the coverage for a short pass and McKinley and #0 CB James prevent the 1st down - I read this playcall as a philosophical choice about what to allow and disallow.
- :12 - By contrast, I think this is a coverage misstep by Bassa. He’s got his eyes out of the backfield and not getting into the throwing lane as he should in this zone coverage. There’s nobody in the flat on his side (the back having stayed in to block) and so he shouldn’t get wider than the hash.
- :24 - I think #32 DB Happle’s leverage is correct here - he’s preventing the back from immediately getting downfield. But James should be using outside leverage against the blocking lineman, to keep the back from getting to the sideline and instead forcing him back to #21 ILB K. Brown.
Oregon’s rush defense performed significantly better than their season-long averages: 10 successfully defended designed runs vs 6 failures, or 62.5%. They limited Wazzu to just 3.75 yards per carry outside garbage time, and just three runs went for 10+ yards, with a long of 17. Rushing isn’t a particularly effective aspect of the Cougs’ offense; still, Oregon defended them about 9 percentage points and .85 yards per carry better than their other FBS opponents on average.
Here’s a representative sample of all rush defenses:
- :00 - The main advantage Oregon had in this game is that their defensive front is simply more talented than Wazzu’s o-line. Here they’re winning across the board, and Sewell playing zone means he has leverage against trips to the field in case this is play action, but can still hustle over to draw the LT, freeing #47 OLB Funa to get in the final hit.
- :08 - By far the most successful rushes Wazzu had were these surprise draws, including this one on 3rd & long. #91 DT Kr. Williams is bullrushing the RT blindly and not playing this as a possible run at all, and Swinson — interestingly backed out to depth — is caught a little flat-footed.
- :22 - Thibodeaux and Happle are playing this exactly right. Once the LT goes in to combo #95 DT Ware-Hudson, that means the puller must be for Thibodeaux. He takes the downfield angle to force the back upfield, and Happle triggers to just where the back has to go to get the TFL.
- :34 - It’s subtle, but the discipline here by Thibodeaux and Sewell makes this play - neither is committing to either side of the LT or getting too far upfield, and that strings the play out instead of allowing the back to make a cut and get downfield. Neither the LT nor the slot WR are happy about letting go, but eventually they do and #19 DB Hill strings it out further and McKinley finishes it off.
Despite the challenge of Wazzu’s grab bag of a scheme, I think I described their offense pretty well in last week’s preview: philosophically, that they strongly prefer the pass over the run, and that their pass game is explosive but not efficient. I described their QB as frequently his own worst enemy — prone to panic, often locked onto his first receiver, and a wonky deep throwing motion resulting in interceptions — and I think that was borne out. I noted that their offensive line is prone to breakdowns, particularly their left tackle, and even the commentators were able to observe that. On specific plays, I documented their affinity for screens, rub plays, and draw runs, all of which we saw frequently on Saturday. My biggest regret is that a severe audio glitch broke the podcast we recorded with Michael Preston of CougCenter, since we had a pretty productive conversation about Wazzu’s offensive scheme that would have been even more helpful, I think.
Defensively, I described the Cougs as fairly pedestrian but with one major factor keeping them in games which was forcing fumbles, and those certainly affected the game. I noted that their rush defense was their poorest quadrant of play and the Ducks seemed to agree with that assessment, especially by frequently getting the play outside and taking advantage of their predictable method of setting the edge. I thought the edge rush was the most effective unit of the Cougs’ defense and while there was only one sack in this game, I think there were plenty of instances of poor throws resulting from pressure off the edge. The problems I noted in Wazzu’s secondary seemed apparent to me on Saturday, but I think their linebackers overall played a better game than I was expecting them to. I admit that having watched them for half a decade and never really being impressed has caused me to dismiss their potential impact on a game, but there’s something to be said for seniority.