There’s only one meaningful statistic to the outcome of this game: Oregon’s per-play rushing success rate was 71.0%, on 22 successful designed rushes vs just 9 unsuccessful ones, given the down & distance and prior to garbage time.
That’s an outrageous number, achievable only against totally overmatched opponents. It renders the rest of the game immaterial to the outcome - if you can run that effectively then everything else you do, including when on the defense, is simply to practice doing it and to give reps to the backups, because you can march the field and control the clock at will. Some examples:
(Reminder - you can right-click or long-press any video to play it in ¼ or ½ speed)
- :00 - Nice patience here by #7 RB Verdell waiting for the hole to develop since #78 C Forsyth has to get off his combo and #56 LG Bass needs to escort the blitzer out of his path.
- :13 - Here’s an unbalanced formation, with two WRs and two TEs to the field side and the back in the pistol. That means the lone boundary DB must be the rusher, and #19 TE Ferguson bluffs him with the threat of a slice block to buy an extra half step. While the DB does a decent job of clouding the read, handing off is the right call and since Verdell has a head of steam from his deep alignment he can easily run through the tackle from behind.
- :29 - The backside DE is scraping across instead of getting blocked, and the frontside DE steps around Bass’ pull, so the designed gap is closed. Good job by #26 RB Dye to improvise and bounce outside - the blocks this far out are meant to do something else so he has to get through traffic unassisted but still picks up 4.5 yards.
- :36 - Probably the wrong read by the freshman QB - the unblocked DE stays inside and is obviously capable of hitting the back since he does so, and if the QB had kept it the man coverage to the field has opened so wide he could walk into the endzone. But Dye makes up for the mistake by running through the tackle for a significant gain anyway.
The passing offense had more mixed results: 13 successful designed passing plays vs 11 failed ones, only 54.2%. There’s a notable split between the halves, when Oregon switched QBs - it was 8 vs 5 (61.5%) in the 1st, and 5 vs 6 (45.5%) in the 2nd, outside of garbage time. That’s probably to be expected, given the relative experience beween grad student #13 QB A. Brown and true freshman #17 QB Thompson, and how much the playbook simplified in the back half to accommodate the young passer.
Here’s a representative sample of Oregon’s failed passing plays:
- :00 - Forsyth is letting the defense’s best lineman go across Brown’s face as he throws, and as a result I think the ball is slightly hotter than optimal, but it’s just where it needs to be given the coverage and so this is mostly on the freshman #11 WR Franklin not getting his hands up promptly.
- :13 - We’re continuing to see this from Brown in 2021, a real puzzle for me since his 2017-19 film as starter at BC featured him regularly hitting throws exactly like this. He’s clearly got plenty of arm strength, and while the coverage is decent it’s a big completion if he can drop it down the chimney, but it’s just too far off.
- :36 - Blitz pickups were the biggest struggle in this game by far. #74 LT S. Jones doesn’t see the DB coming from the outside, and Forsyth can’t decide whether he’s going to take the backer or the stunting end (the latter is the right choice, the back gets the backer). Nice job by Thompson to legally get rid of the ball to conserve yardage, at least.
- :52 - Probably not the correct read of the field by the young QB here, throwing to the double-covered TE … he should have gone to the third read, #14 WR Hutson in the flat, who’s got a path down the sideline opened up by the CB starting to come off to cover #4 WR Pittman from the slot.
Other than the above four plays, in my opinion the remaining failed passing attempts were caused by the following (there are a couple of overlaps):
- 1 incorrect RPO read by Thompson, should have handed off
- 1 WR drop
- 4 bad OL blocks, no single worst offender
- 1 holding flag on an otherwise successful play which I thought was improper
- 2 very long yardage situations due to holding, probably doomed from the start
In other words: mostly stuff that’s to be expected, but OL pass protection continues to be the biggest area where the offense needs to improve.
But passing was still successful a majority of the time, and Oregon has at least two pretty gifted QBs, talented WRs who earned off coverage, and a playbook that tends to engineer open targets. Some examples:
- :00 - The double T-E twists here are giving #53 RG Walk some trouble and Brown has to make this throw with a man in his face, but he’s pretty cool in the pocket and is on-target to #3 WR J. Johnson who’s got a nice big cushion from the CB - easy pre-snap read here.
- :13 - The 10-yard cushion the boundary CB is giving Franklin is just too tempting.
- :29 - Five targets to the wide side of the field, including the TE crossing from the other side, overwhelms the defense here. The backers have to take the back and TE, leaving just two DBs on the three WRs and the field CB is in conflict. Pretty nice arm here, too - it’s 30 yards downfield from the point of release to the catch, and from the far hash to outside the numbers.
- :54 - The tight end is often a young QB’s best friend, and easy route structures like this let Ferguson do most of the heavy lifting getting six yards after catch. (The chyron and chain gang are correct on this play while the superimposed yellow line is wrong, one of many technical errors in this broadcast.)
Oregon was missing four players from its defensive front in this game who were in heavy rotation the previous week at Ohio St: #21 ILB K. Brown, #47 OLB Funa, #29 OLB Jackson, and #44 DE Swinson. That’s in addition to #10 ILB Flowe, #42 ILB LaDuke, #54 ILB Mathis, and #5 OLB Thibodeaux who missed last week as well.
That’s getting to be a pretty dire situation at inside backer, but this is the deepest and most talented squad in the conference and we got to see a lot of pretty good backups get plenty of reps, including a true freshman safety converted to ILB for this game.
The edge rushers tend to get all the attention on the defense, but the bigger effect those absences had on this game, compared to Oregon’s defensive success rates against the last two opponents, came with inside run stopping. I think the inexperience at ILB and playing some linemen in unfamiliar positions let a few runs get enough extra yards to flip them over to successful plays for the opposing offense.
Prior to garbage time, Oregon successfully defended 13 designed rushing plays vs 9 failures, given the down & distance, or 59.1%. That’s still a pretty good number, but they needed to win a couple more plays to top the 65.2% success rate they had in the opener against a more talented team. Here’s a representative sample of rush defenses:
- :00 - Great job defeating a double-team by #95 DT Ware-Hudson to get in the backfield for a TFL here. Two-way player #12 DE DJ Johnson is collapsing the TE, and former walk-on #46 ILB Heaukulani has flowed to the hole properly with shoulders square to the line of scrimmage to shoot through.
- :13 - This was a common adaptation to dealing with the opponent’s 12-personnel sets without much of the OLB corps - going to a bear front using Oregon’s big nickel #19 DB Hill and standing up #90 DT Shipley as quasi-OLBs on the line. #93 DT J. Jones is in at nose and spins off to deal with the back, while newly minted #33 ILB Bassa is in the right position — having stepped around the TE — but gets dragged an extra yard to flip this to a “yaco” success for the offense.
- :20 - Hill is over two TEs here, so #3 DT Dorlus, playing 4-tech, needs to get outside leverage on the LT. Instead he goes inside, so the LT has his arm free to whack #23 DB McKinley coming in for the back. Bassa misses the tackle from behind, but freshman #8 CB Manning gets off his block to end the run.
- :41 - On the next drive Dorlus is on the weak side and lined up outside the LT, and this is proper technique - right leverage, not getting too far upfield. The back can’t get up the middle because #50 DT Aumavae is eating a double-team, and when he tries to bounce he has to go the long way because of Dorlus’ presence. That gives #1 ILB Sewell an easy angle to accelerate into him for the TFL.
In pass defense, Oregon had another unsustainably high number on a per-play basis: 17 successes vs just 6 failures against designed passing plays prior to garbage time, or 73.9%. That’s a pretty incredible accomplishment that’s largely traceable to having the entire secondary intact for this game, unlike the front.
However, the biggest blemish on the day came in deep passing defense, where starter #0 CB James got beat twice, once for the longest play by either team. For completeness’ sake, here are all four of the deep pass attempts prior to garbage time:
- :00 - Shipley and Ware-Hudson get a double teams so even against 7-man protection Oregon has a numbers advantage when Sewell green-dogs in, forcing an inaccurate backfoot throw. #2 CB Wright’s coverage is appropriate here, he’s worked the WR to the sideline and he has no hope of catching it in bounds.
- :22 - James is beat here on the stop & go, because there’s no reason for him to turn his hips and get out of his backpedal. He should be staying on top of the receiver, that way he could keep running with the receiver deep, or if it is a real stop he could still drive on him for a PBU attempt or at worst give up a dozen yards while still in opponent territory. It’s an overthrown ball because the pass rush is about to level the QB, however.
- :42 - James isn’t so fortunate here. From film study he’s expecting the WR to bend this route in at the line to gain so this is a tendency-breaker, but still the proper technique is again to stay in his backpedal for the reason given above. He slows up instead, the ball is on target, and the offense gets 50 yards.
- 1:01 - Much better technique on the next drive from James - he turns his hips only when the receiver commits to going deep and stays in close contact the whole way, working the WR to the sideline and preventing him from getting over to the ball.
Against the rest of the passing attempts, the defense performed as we’ve come to expect from new DC DeRuyter - several interceptions, relentless pressure from unusual blitz packages, but some trouble defending crossers in zone. Some examples to illustrate:
- :00 - This is exactly what the coverage structure we saw DeRuyter employ at Cal and other stops is supposed to generate - Sewell is in the throwing lane and either tips the ball or at least forces the QB to work around him, James is off but in contact to bait the throw but prevent the receiver from getting over to the ball, and McKinley as the high safety is not so high that he can’t drive on the pass to scoop it up.
- :24 - Oregon’s only rushing three here and with eight in coverage should be able to cover the deep crosser. But Shipley isn’t dropping out far enough after play-action and Bassa doesn’t yet have the eyes in the back of his head that he needs to find the receiver behind him.
- :49 - We saw this curious dime package a few times - #13 DB Addison as the second safety while #15 DB B. Williams has replaced an ILB in the box and #8 CB Manning has joined the starters as the third corner over the slot man. The QB gets off an accurate throw despite great penetration by Aumavae and Dorlus, and while Sewell overruns the receiver to the outside, Williams is properly reading the QB’s eyes and gets across the field to prevent a 1st down gain.
- 1:12 - This is effectively the opposing offense’s final play before garbage time - they’re behind the chains and are using an 8-man protection to buy some time for a shot, but Oregon calls them on it, rushes only four while dropping seven to cover just two in the route structure, and gets through on the sheer size of Ware-Hudson, Johnson, and #94 DT Poti. The quarterback makes a business decision.
Most of Stony Brook’s offense played out just as I wrote about in last week’s preview. I noted that their QB was their best athlete, along with speedy backs and receivers, who certainly showed up on Saturday. I thought their low pass efficiency numbers were a little deceptive and documented the possibility for a long sideline pass to their leading receiver, which was exactly what happened against Oregon. I also noted that their preference for switching up their offense to lean on the run if that was working, which I thought did turn out to be their initial strategy. The Seawolves broke several formational tendencies I noted, however: they only ran one play from under-center (the first interception, which may have scared them off) and spent rest of the game in shotgun … that turned out to be a pretty balanced run:pass ratio instead of the heavy pass tell when in shotgun they showed in previous games. Also, when they lined up in 12-personnel with both TEs to one side, they ran to the weak side far more often than before. But the preference for B-gap running held strong and Oregon backers correctly flowed to it several times - I guess the Ducks do film study too.
On defense, I thought that Stony Brook’s best unit was the defensive line, and while that didn’t really matter in their run defense (which was their best quadrant of play before this game), I think it did show up in their pass rush, and the DE and DT I flagged as their best defenders both got some of Stony Brook’s best plays of the day. I think my criticism for their DBs turned out to be accurate. My note on their tendencies with RPO plays was spot-on - they almost always played outside and forced the inside handoff, but when they did jump inside and caused a throw, they didn’t stand a chance. My biggest regret from last week’s article is demurring on their blitz patterns - I felt I didn’t have robust enough data to speak on it, but I should have at least noted that they were a more aggressive stunting team than Ohio St was and that I expected, despite the massive talent disparity, for Stony Brook to give the OL some more trouble.