The interesting thing about the offensive gameplan against Colorado is that Oregon wasn’t really attempting deep shots in the passing game, although they did have a couple of intermediate passes that broke big with yards after the catch. Besides playing in windy conditions, I think there were a few things going on – first CU played a lot of cover-2 in keeping with their new defensive philosophy after the coaching change, second Oregon was resting a couple of banged up starting WRs and gave even more throws to TEs and RBs, and third OC Dillingham seemed more interested in putting novelties on film for future opponents than knocking the Buffs out with a few haymakers.
Still, Oregon’s passing numbers prior to garbage time (when the Ducks went up 35-10, same as last week) were nominal for the season: 13 successful designed passing plays vs 7 failures given the down & distance, or 65%. They averaged 10.9 adjusted YPA and 25% of passing plays gained 15+ yards. All those numbers are well above championship-caliber in my experience. Here’s a representative sample of the passing offense:
(Reminder - after pressing play, you can use the left button to slow any video to ¼ or ½ speed)
- :00 – This was one of only two blitzes by Colorado during meaningful play, it’s included to show a formational response Oregon hadn’t put on film before. The two WRs are split out extremely wide and when the blitz comes there’s a huge void to throw into. The DBs are so far apart to handle this that the subsequent screen pass out of the same formation only had to make one block to gain 12 yards.
- :07 – Both #2 WR Thornton and #11 WR Franklin were doing some great work blocking and running off DBs, but didn’t get a lot of targets due to the Ducks just not throwing it deep for a variety of reasons this game. Here I think Franklin’s wide open on the post but #10 QB Nix just takes the easy crosser to #3 TE Ferguson instead.
- :14 – CU showed blitz way more often than they actually did, and it made their ILB coverage issues even worse in the short-intermediate passing game, which UO feasted on. It also helps that #88 TE Herbert has 70 lbs on the safety.
- :28 – Franklin’s got inside leverage on the DB so this is a touchdown if #1 WR Hutson can beat the corner. He got four yards after contact on a previous screen so that’s not a bad bet but I think CU’s corners have been pretty solid tacklers all year and the Buffs win this one.
Oregon’s rushing efficiency was exceptional, with 20 successful designed runs vs 5 failures, or 80%, although two of those five were poorly timed as they ended drives without points. True to Colorado interim DC Chatman’s form since taking over four weeks ago, the Buffs were fairly successful in stopping explosive rushing from the Ducks – while they gave up one big 65-yarder, they still kept Oregon to about 5.5 adjusted YPC and only 8% gained 10+ yards. Here’s a representative sample of the rush offense:
- :00 – Oregon’s been mixing in the pistol more often over the last two games with a variety of playcalls (the first long pass of the game to Hutson was out of the pistol), and given the wind and receiver situation played about a third of meaningful snaps with two TEs. Good block on this strongside run by #8 TE Matavao but Ferguson is losing his man. The cut by #0 RB Irving to go inside that man is quite impressive.
- :07 – It’s 12-pers vs 7 in the box, so Oregon just has to get a hat on a hat and win each one of those blocks. Not a problem.
- :14 – The late addition of a DB into the box against 11-pers gives the defense a numbers advantage against this gap scheme, but that just means a one-on-one for Irving against the ILB and he wins it to get the 1st down.
- :20 – In the second half, Oregon rested #78 C Forsyth for the first time this year and put all three of the rotational guards in at once - #55 LG Harper, #58 RG Powers-Johnson, and #53 OG Walk at center. Garbage time set in pretty quickly in the 3rd quarter so I don’t have enough meaningful snaps to fairly evaluate Walk in that role, but this pull wasn’t a great rep for him.
As expected, Colorado tried to establish the run at the start of the game. Their opening drive was interesting to study - they tried out several new things in the run game that they hadn’t shown at all over the previous eight games. That novelty earned the Buffs a long possession, and more than half of the Ducks’ failed rush defenses prior to garbage time took place on that first drive. Oregon adjusted fairly quickly, stopped that drive on 4th down with three successful run defenses in short order, and Colorado didn’t have another productive rush until the 3rd quarter with garbage time nearing.
Oregon successfully defended 11 designed run plays vs 5 failures, or 69%. They limited Colorado to 4.8 adjusted YPC and only allowed two runs, or 12.5%, to gain 10+ yards. The longest run of the day for the Buffs was 27 yards, though 15 of that came back on a personal foul after the play … if that play is excluded then CU’s rush numbers drop to 3.3 YPC and 6.7% explosiveness. Here’s a representative sample of all rush defenses:
- :00 – This was the first time the Buffs had used a TE sweep into a wham block on the split-zone all season. It creates an extra gap for the back to bend into, and #1 ILB Sewell has run to the other side where this play would usually go (it’s set up as a read of the unblocked end so of course the back wouldn’t go there normally) so no one’s there to stop it.
- :08 – The Buffs had run a few I-formation plays before, but never this wide split shotgun 12-pers suddenly swinging into a light 21 under center. I thought this was the Ducks’ most impressive play of the game, reconfiguring properly and quickly, with #19 DB Hill coming down to take on the fullback (preventing a bounce) and backup #21 ILB Brown sifting through and making a perfect form tackle.
- :32 – Starters #2 OLB Johnson and #3 DE Dorlus were sidelined, the former for the entire game and the latter for a few plays. #18 OLB Funa switched to weakside from his typical strongside spot so the the backups #48 DE Ma’ae and #99 DL K. Williams had to take this on, and they did a great job. Nice job flowing to the play with square shoulders by #10 ILB Flowe, who showed more discipline this game than earlier in his career.
- :40 – This game featured more use of #44 DE Swinson during standard downs containing the run than he’d played all season (typically he’d been reserved for passing downs only). Good job by all three levels of the defense here — including Dorlus, Brown, and Hill — destroying their blocks.
In keeping with longstanding tradition, the opposing quarterback had a career day against Oregon; however outside of one pass play, Colorado had only seven successful downfield passes prior to garbage time, as they weren’t able to connect on any other deep shot and spent the rest of the game throwing screens and slants. In total, the Ducks defense succeeded on 10 designed passing plays vs 9 failures, or 52.5%.
The defensive backs played a great game, with one notable exception where an assignment miscommunication between #0 CB Gonzalez and #7 DB Stephens allowed a long touchdown pass, and recorded several pass-breakups and a couple of interceptions. A couple injuries and ejections caused Oregon to play some backup defenders in the front and secondary, who all performed pretty well. Some examples:
- :00 – Another new thing the Buffs tried out in this game was jumbo sets with six offensive linemen, and added to the surprise by mainly throwing instead of rushing out of them. The added protection was helpful in keeping the QB clean, as here where it’s 8 blockers against 5 rushers, so the secondary had to step up, but #4 DB B. Williams gets a great break-up here.
- :16 – Here’s an interesting simulated pressure, the Ducks are ultimately just rushing 4, and backing out #91 NT Riley as a QB spy. The QB has to start running due to the pressure but he’s not getting past Riley, and tries an off-platform deep throw that #0 CB Gonzalez breaks up.
- :37 – Zone blitzing was pretty effective for Oregon on Saturday. The coverage structure keeps #11 CB Bridges’ eyes in the backfield, so he’s able to come off the short route and get the PBU on the deep out. #33 ILB Bassa, back in the second half after a targeting ejection last week, hurries the throw.
Oregon allowed 7.8 adjusted YPA, a pretty average number, but 26% of CU’s passing plays gained 15+ yards, which is a poor showing by the Ducks. If the longest pass of the day is excluded then the yardage falls over 2 yards per attempt, which signifies how many short passes and incompletions the Buffs were throwing, but only 4 percentage points would come off the explosiveness figure.
That’s because almost all of their quick-throw damage was done on three virtually identical RPO slant passes which each gained about 17 yards (there was also a fourth such pass but it was off target, though arguably a leaping Sewell forced the QB to throw inaccurately on that one). The way Oregon is defending this play appears to be a schematic choice rather than bad execution, and I’m a little baffled why opponents don’t try it more often.
Here’s the film on those slant passes, I trust they don’t need narration as the defensive structure is very similar – they want the ILB to play the run and deter the slant with a leap, but the QB is willing to risk it and it paid off (including on the last one where Bassa literally has it go through his fingers):
In last week’s preview, I spent quite a bit of time parsing out the Buffs’ rush defense performance vs its schedule before and after the coaching change, and arrived at the conclusion that they wouldn’t be able to stop the Ducks’ efficiency runs but probably would limit their explosiveness, and that’s precisely what happened. I noted their good senior leadership on the defensive line and I think those guys showed up on Saturday, but also the weakness in their ILBs’ pass coverage which Oregon exploited. I thought Oregon wouldn’t see much pressure from Colorado without blitzing, and that they wouldn’t see much blitzing either as part of a philosophy shift, and both those predictions were accurate. I inferred that CU’s cornerbacks might be better than is generally appreciated, and I think we got a bit more evidence for that on Saturday as well.
On Friday I said Shrout was good for some random long bombs, and he certainly came up with a big one on Saturday, but otherwise the Ducks’ secondary had him shut down and his general inaccuracy and lack of touch showed up on almost all of those longer throws. The far more reliable plays for the Buffs were slant passes, which I also highlighted last week as something Shrout could pull off with all the zip he puts on the ball. The run game, with the exception of those novelty plays early on, proceeded just as expected – some pretty good backs running hard, but behind a line that’s too inconsistent to establish the run. Even though it narrowed down the pool of film clips to choose from considerably, I think it was the right move to just focus on the games from after the coaching change and with Shrout taking snaps, as the scheme as well as personnel strengths and weaknesses in this game were much more reflective of that period than of the season as a whole.