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Duck Tape: Film Review of Week 13, 2021 vs Oregon State

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Come quietly or there will be trouble

Syndication: The Register Guard Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard / USA TODAY NETWORK

Offense

Oregon beat OSU at their own game — ball control — by keeping possession for 20:26 of the 1st half. The Ducks scored on each of their first four drives (three touchdowns and a field goal) and punted only once in the game. Their third drive lasted 7:18 and squeezed OSU’s final possession of the half to 30 seconds ending in an intercepted hail mary.

The key to doing so was sustaining drives, with the Ducks going 8 for 11 on 3rd downs outside garbage time, plus 2 for 2 on a late TD drive to kill the clock and a 4th down conversion on the opening possession. That made up for a fairly mediocre performance on 1st downs, with the Ducks only getting enough yardage to stay ahead of the chains a little more than half the time. The offense stayed patient and won 75% of their 2nd downs, setting up manageable 3rd downs at which they then executed a well called gameplan.

Once again, Oregon’s single most important player to both its offensive successes and failures was #13 QB A. Brown. He operated the RPO scheme at a high level, ran the ball well on designed rushes, and five of those eight 3rd down conversions came on passes he nailed. The Ducks had 19 successful designed passing plays vs 9 unsuccessful ones, or a 67.9% success rate given the down & distance. They passed for 9.2 yards per attempt outside garbage time, their highest average of the season, and 18% of their dropbacks resulted in a 15+ yard gain.

Here’s a representative sample of Oregon’s successful passing plays:

(Reminder - after pressing play, you can use the left button to slow any video to 1⁄4 or 1⁄2 speed)

  1. :00 – Here’s an RPO combining a QB power run with a slant pass. The linebackers are effectively pulled down on the run threat and there’s no underneath coverage on the throw to #14 WR Hutson, who had his most productive game as a Duck.
  2. :07 – OSU’s corners were giving pretty big cushions on the outside in man coverage all day long, giving free access to several out patterns for chunk yardage like this one to #2 WR D. Williams so that they didn’t get burnt on any deep routes.
  3. :15 – Relatively late in the game, OSU finally got their alignment wrong when the RB motioned inside. They dedicate two defenders, the OLB and nickel, to the zone read run, but are missing the third necessary to cover the TE on the triple option. The OLB crashes, the DB stays on the QB, and he tosses the ball into empty grass. Nice blocks by Hutson and the linemen downfield, legally because the ball is caught behind the line of scrimmage.
  4. :33 – Pre-snap motion reveals man coverage, and Oregon deploys man-beaters with a shallow and deep crossers. Yet another clean pocket lets Brown get up to the deeper throw (watch his helmet indicate the progression), and #26 RB Dye throws a block after the catch to help get a few more yards.

Of those nine failed passing plays, three were screens where the blocking wasn’t effective, one was a completed pass short of the sticks on a rare 3rd & 17 but possibly was a deliberate setup for a field goal, and one was a pass in which it seemed like the targeted receiver was getting held (the commentators disagreed but the broadcast unhelpfully declined to show a replay). The remaining four were, in my opinion, just inaccurate passes from Brown. While he completed 82% of his passes on the day, not being able to reliably hit the deep ball remains the single most significant issue in the passing game. Some examples:

  1. :00 – True freshman #11 WR Franklin has their best corner beat deep on a nice move off the line – the reason they’d been otherwise playing with big cushions – but Brown overthrows him by a couple steps.
  2. :19 – Oregon gets the man coverage they want and a clean pocket to throw from, Hutson has beat his DB off the break, this ball just needs to be placed ahead of him to lead him up the hash and into the endzone, but instead it’s behind and the DB comes away with the PBU.
  3. :35 – This is a double screen and Brown is selecting the correct side to throw into the void created by the ILB rushing, but the nickel is just too fast for the linemen to get to him before he reaches Franklin.

Oregon used two offensive line configurations in this game, switching every other possession. The first used #77 LG Moore and #71 RT Aumavae-Laulu, with #74 OL S. Jones at right guard. The second moved Jones over to right tackle, the first time he’s played there this month, with #70 LG Jaramillo and #58 RG Powers-Johnson back from injury. #56 LT Bass and #78 C Forsyth played every snap at those positions. Everyone graded out pretty well on my tally sheet, and this was Oregon’s best performance in pass protection all season with no meaningful QB pressure outside garbage time.

OSU did better than most defenses containing Oregon’s rushing attack, particularly the Ducks’ zone-blocked runs at which they gave the offensive line the most trouble by correctly guessing the direction of the play and slanting immediately off the snap. Oregon had 19 successful rushing plays vs 11 failed ones, or a 63.3% success rate - that’s still an excellent number, but it’s down a little more than five percentage points from their season-long average. Here’s some examples of Oregon’s failed designed runs:

  1. :00 – This is how OSU has defended zone-read plays for the last several years and it’s survived their change at DC – they send an OLB or DB off the edge to be read, and then an ILB to follow to get the other guy. #21 RB Cardwell does his best to pick his way through it but there’s an unblocked defender waiting for him.
  2. :10 – A variation but the same concept, the DB outside of the box run blitzes and that changes the read to him. Brown correctly hands off since he stays outside but now the OLB has a clean shot at Dye.
  3. :18 – Watch the defensive line here, after Dye motions to the Brown’s left they guess correctly that the playside is opposite and immediately slant that way. The ILB and OLB are free to account for both back and QB, and there’s no lanes to cut through because the DL has gotten this one right.

Oregon made up for this in two ways: first, OSU had no answer for this season’s staple play which is quarterback power; and second, as the game wore on the Beavs’ front started to get clearly fatigued and they had trouble rotating in fresh bodies, letting previous unsuccessful playcalls get through on later possessions. The Ducks ran for 5.5 yards per carry outside garbage time, with 17% going for 10+ yards. Some examples:

  1. :00 – Oregon’s gone to 12-personnel here, as they usually do on about 10% of snaps, and per OSU’s tendencies they’ve pulled the nickel for an extra lineman, gone to cover-0 with the deepest defender at only 5 yards, and aligned heavily to the strong side. Oregon runs weakside behind true freshman #10 WR Thornton, and Franklin blocking the CB.
  2. :16 – The fake sweep gets the linebackers moving, but it’s straight into some crushing blocks by Aumavae-Laulu and Moore.
  3. :30 – QB power is how Oregon dealt with the above illustrated double-defender trick that had contained their zone running. Both the DB and ILB stay wide expecting an outside zone run, but instead Dye is the lead blocker or possible RPO pass target, and that’s caused the ILB who should be midfield to catch the QB to clear himself out of the play.
  4. :41 – By the 4th quarter, discipline and stamina are starting to break down for the defense – reader, note that it’s the same six guys in the front as in every clip against 11-personnel. The inside zone read breaks through and the ILBs aren’t coming down on the run but instead drifting outside and easily blocked out of the middle.

Oregon State v Oregon Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images

Defense

For most of the game prior to garbage time, OSU tried to use the same ball-control philosophy. As indicated in last Friday’s preview of the Beavs, the crucial factor was winning 1st downs. It was a stark split for Oregon’s defense:

  • 4 of 5 1st-down wins resulted in wins on the subsequent 2nd and 3rd downs, get off the field
  • 6 of 6 1st-down losses resulted in a conversion on the subsequent 2nd or 3rd down

Since OSU is a run-first team and tends to signal the playcall through their formation, stopping the Beavs’ rushing attack was the key to containing their offense (before the late-game silliness, anyway). The Ducks were pretty good at doing so, with 12 successful rush defenses vs 8 failed ones, or a 60% success rate. They limited the Beavs to 3.8 yards per carry outside garbage time, with just two or 10.5% going for 10+ yards (a 10- and 15-yard run). That’s a drop of 19 percentage points in per-play rush efficiency, six percentage points in explosive rush rate, and two full yards per carry from their averages going into this game against FBS competition. Some examples:

  1. :00 – Lining up the QB under center and running on 3rd down is a tendency breaker for the Beavs, but it doesn’t work this time as #3 DT Dorlus and #47 OLB Funa both knock their blockers to the ground.
  2. :11 – The offense didn’t have much of an answer for #5 OLB Thibodeaux, here he’s pretty easily shedding the TE they’re running behind for the tackle. Nice job by #93 DT J. Jones to blow up the center, and #29 OLB Jackson to pursue from the backside and clean up despite the other TE’s attempt to wrap him up from behind.
  3. :23 – The commentator seemed shocked OSU would employ this I-formation run, unlike the Duck defense (and well informed readers of Addicted to Quack) who’ve clearly done film study. Thibodeaux is one-arming the TE into the backfield while keeping his other arm free for an outside bounce, Jones gets his hat playside to defeat the RG’s block, and backups #42 ILB LaDuke and #46 ILB Heaukulani flow to the play with square shoulders to clean up.

Of those eight failed rush defenses, half on my tally sheet went down as their back just making an exceptional play to keep from being immediately tackled, two on OSU getting a surprise advantage from breaking tendencies, and two on Oregon’s backup ILBs having trouble tackling, something we’ve seen all season given the injuries to the unit. LaDuke played much of the game after a long absence and only a few reps last week, but #1 ILB Sewell missed a good part of this game. Here’s a representative sample of Oregon’s failed rush defenses:

  1. :00 – For the first time this year we saw Oregon deploy three ILBs at the same time against some of OSU’s 13-personnel sets: Sewell and Heaukulani crash the run immediately and #33 ILB Bassa closes off any backside cut. Senior and former walk-on Heaukulani is working the center hard, gets his hat playside, and has a free arm into the lane, all the right things to do, but he just can’t bring the back down and survive the center’s surge to knock him downfield.
  2. :07 – Up by 21, Oregon was expecting OSU to come out throwing, and instead of playing a 3-down front against this 12-personnel set grouped in tight, they’re sticking with a 2-4 and the nickel on the line to the strong side. OSU seems to have surprised them by sticking with four straight runs to open the half, all successful for the Beavs. Funa is getting too far inside and Bassa isn’t crashing hard enough into the center to squeeze down the run.
  3. :15 – This one’s pretty frustrating, Dorlus has smoked the RG and has the back in his hands for a TFL, but he escapes that and then Sewell doesn’t stay square and lets him past for a 1st down. Bassa is again blocked out of the play.

I considered OSU’s 4th quarter comeback attempt after going down 31-9 with 12 minutes left in the game to be garbage time. By that point they had completely abandoned the run and were clearly in desperation mode, but some of their successes in the passing game were presaged by their meaningful 3rd quarter plays. Outside garbage time, OSU was perfectly even in per-play success throwing the ball, with 7 successes and 7 failures, with 7.0 yards per attempt and 14% gaining 15+ yards. That’s about the same efficiency as they had before this game but worse explosiveness figures, though still much better than their rushing attack fared against Oregon’s defense.

Before the 4th quarter, Beavs didn’t have much success in their standard passing attack out of the shotgun, a large part of why the Ducks controlled so much of the clock outside garbage time. Some examples:

  1. :00 – Sewell destroys the back on this blitz, forcing the QB into a panicky dumpoff that Funa quickly shuts down.
  2. :07 – Thibodeaux and #50 DT Aumavae just destroy their blockers and the QB gets off an inaccurate throw to the crosser, which LaDuke has well covered for a breakup.
  3. :16 – Oregon’s blitzing six but still keeping pretty tight in cover-1 across the board on 3rd & 6. I think given #19 DB Hill’s massive size advantage on the diminutive slot receiver he would have broken this up on his own, but #23 DB McKinley correctly reads the QB and gets to the play with impressive speed and violence.

The only real successes OSU had through the air before the game got silly were a couple of rub routes that unfortunately I don’t have great film on, three QB rollout passes to the tight ends, and one pretty dramatic sideline pass that I was surprised the receiver caught. That mercurial ability to suddenly throw a great ball out of nowhere has been a frustration to every OSU observer I’ve talked to and was the largest driver of the 4th quarter mess, so I’ve included it here:

  1. :00 – Bassa should be staying on the TE here and leaving the QB pursuit to Thibodeaux.
  2. :08 – This should go on the QB’s career highlight reel, he’s surviving a hit from Thibodeaux after smoking the LT and dropping the ball perfectly into a tiny window from #2 CB Wright’s tight coverage.
  3. :30 – This is a pretty well executed play-action on 3rd & short and so Heaukulani’s initial leverage against the TE is probably correct, but he’s losing instead of gaining ground in the footrace against him as he sprints to the flat.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Oregon State at Oregon Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Accountability Corner

I spent much of last week’s preview detailing the formational tendencies of OSU’s two offensive playbooks welded together and how they switch depending on the down & distance, and for the most part OSU stuck to those with the exception of a couple of surprises. They used the same blocking scheme and reliance on tight ends as I outlined, and as I predicted their rushing attack became ineffective when they split those TEs out, confirming what I wrote about their offensive line playing well above their talent level but still really needing help to open holes against more talented defensive fronts. I think I adequately described, both in the article and with Travis on the podcast, how unpredictable explosive passing is from this offense to give readers fair warning, and of course by its nature such things are always going to be surprises. I made a big mistake though in not including any video clips of OSU’s rollout passing from under center - I implied that they used surprise play-action passes in that formation but didn’t explicitly state that a lot were bootlegs, and they did it often enough that it was predictable that they’d be successful at it in this game. I had several plays selected as good candidates for inclusion in my article and it was a simple but egregious oversight that I didn’t use any of them. I’m going to use a checklist system in the future to catch this sort of thing before publication.

On defense, I think my skepticism that the Beavs’ statistical improvement after firing their DC was borne out - it looks like that really was just about playing two opponents who’ve packed it in, and their defensive structure and personnel usage was identical. I also think that getting into the Beavs’ roster with Travis and highlighting how little they’re able to rotate in their defensive front, and the attendant fatigue issues that make them less and less effective stopping the run late into games, was time well spent. It looks like my description of OSU’s secondary as “fine” was about right - the Ducks were able to beat them fairly often and earned big cushions regardless, but they were pretty decent at containing explosive rushes in their nickel structure as predicted. As I figured, Oregon’s offense took advantage of OSU’s 3rd down man tendencies for some bigger plays. The only real surprise was that in this game OSU went to a 2-5 on several downs, with all three of their available ILBs in the game - they’d never done that before, but Travis on the podcast highlighted the third guy as a favorite of the interim DC and so perhaps those were dots I should have connected.