Oregon was successful, given the down & distance, on over 70% of its offensive snaps prior to garbage time and put the game completely out of reach early in the 2nd quarter. Without a special teams mistake on a kick return that gave EWU a short-field touchdown in the 1st quarter, it probably would have been over sooner since the per-play success rates didn’t change meaningfully on either side of the ball at any point during the game.
The Ducks’ rushing numbers resembled 2021’s dominant performance for most of last season: 16 successes vs 6 failures on designed runs, or 73% efficiency. In my experience, any rushing efficiency above 65% makes it virtually impossible to lose a game given the ball- and clock-control advantages it confers, so I’ve been very interested to see if Oregon can continue at last year’s pace. Each of the four backs we saw prior to garbage time enjoyed explosive plays, and the Ducks gained 10+ yards on over 27% of designed runs – an elite number if sustainable – with an adjusted average of over 5.9 yards per carry. Here’s a representative sample of the rushing offense:
(Reminder - after pressing play, you can use the left button to slow any video to ¼ or ½ speed)
- :00 – Split zone inside run, an Oregon staple executed with excellent blocking. The push into the defensive line is obvious, but check out the climb by #78 C Forsyth to the second level to spring #21 RB Cardwell for significant extra yards.
- :14 – Both of the new o-linemen are in on this play, #55 LG Harper and #58 RG Powers-Johnson, and they’re showing their inexperience here – Harper never controls his assigned backer and Powers-Johnson is supposed to be turning his man back inside instead of riding him so far out that he keeps #22 RB Whittington from ever turning the corner. Wide runs like these, including a couple of failed sweeps, were Oregon’s worst performer on Saturday.
- :21 – Harper just misses the guy he’s supposed to hit on this pull, so #0 RB Irving has to break a tackle in the backfield. But he does, in impressive fashion, and turns it into a 12-yard gain.
- :31 – Much better job the next time, #5 RB Dollars has a clean hole to run through and an easy short-yardage conversion. Also some nice blocking by #18 TE McCormick and #23 WR Cota.
Oregon also had a dominant downfield passing performance, with 14 successes vs 3 failures or 82%, which is the highest downfield efficiency I’ve charted out of the Ducks in any game since 2010. They gained over 11.5 yards per downfield passing attempt, and over 29% of such plays gained 15+ yards, which are elite numbers if sustainable.
However, Oregon’s screen game was pretty poor on Saturday, with only one successful screen play in five attempts (although one of the failures was a 9-yard gain on 3rd & 10, setting up a 4th & 1 which the Ducks converted with a QB sneak). None of the screens gained 15+ yards and the adjusted average was just 3.4 YPA. That dragged down Oregon’s overall passing figures to 68% efficiency, 9.6 YPA, and 23% explosiveness, which are all still excellent numbers.
Here’s a representative sample of the passing offense:
- :00 – EWU’s best interior lineman is getting past #78 RG S. Jones here and it’s alterning the angle of #10 QB Nix’s throw, a little more outside than it would ideally be, but Cota makes a good adjustment against tight coverage for the catch.
- :07 – The reasons for the failed screen passes really ran the gamut and I can’t yet pin down any one thing with this small sample as something to look out for. The only thing that even shows up twice is a missed downfield block, as here when Powers-Johnson is too far outside the backer and whiffs on him.
- :15 – The most active receiver prior to garbage time was #11 WR Franklin, with several catches that looked just like this comeback and then a nice dip and turn downfield to pick up the first down and more. Even though he didn’t really burn down the sideline deep, the CB respects his ability to do so and played off all day, usually leaving this pass pretty open.
- :24 – Not exactly a deep shot, but this drag to #2 WR Thornton is a long-developing play that requires the same kind of durable pocket protection, which Nix got all day from the line.
The most salient adjustment to make in extrapolating this performance against an FCS team to FBS competition are plays in which the Ducks simply “out-athlete’d” a defender, turning what would have been a failed play against a more talented defense into a successful one. Prior to garbage time, I charted what I believe to be six such plays. If all six of those were switched into the failure column, that would bring Oregon’s overall offensive success rate from 70% to 57% - that would still be a very good number and certainly good enough to compete for a Pac-12 title, but it wouldn’t be championship caliber in my experience.
The first six EWU possessions prior to garbage time included four 3-outs and a one-play interception, giving us very little film to examine - just 23 meaningful plays. Oregon’s defense won those at a 74% rate, certainly a better performance than the previous week.
Rush defense was almost a shutout, a 75% win rate on six successes vs two failures. The Ducks gave up only an adjusted 2.4 YPC and none of EWU’s runs went for 10+ yards. Oregon’s interior defensive line continued the previous week’s good work in not allowing anything up the middle, and the edges did a much better job of maintaining outside contain. Here’s a representative sample of rush defenses:
- :00 – The first problem here is #3 DE Dorlus giving up his inside arm going into contact with the pulling LG, which keeps him from reaching into the lane to obstruct the back, though this was an early play and I didn’t see him do it again. The other issue is that #42 ILB LaDuke seems surprised by this block coming out of the backfield and is blown back too far to contain the play, though that’s also something I didn’t see on subsequent instances of this playcall. Nice stop by #7 DB Stephens.
- :10 – I’m sure #2 OLB Johnson’s technique here was a point of emphasis in practice the preceding week, watch how he maintains outside leverage so he can disengage with the block when the back bounces outside. Dorlus stays outside instead of crashing the back to prevent the QB keep, and #1 ILB Sewell is tracking the play well with square shoulders.
- :15 – He doesn’t get the tackle but this play is made by #18 OLB Funa completely crushing the TE and forcing the back to redirect. #91 DT Riley, who’s all over my tally sheet, had another great play here where he’s clogging the inside run lane despite absorbing a combo block. Good cleanup by Stephens and #0 CB Gonzalez, that’s what the “spill & kill” philosophy demands.
- :23 – More great interior run stopping simply through big personnel clogging everything, here it’s #55 DT Taimani and #99 DT K. Williams.
Pass defense was almost as good, a 73% win rate on 11 successes vs 4 failures (including going 3 vs 0 on screens, a big problem the previous week). The Ducks gave up an adjusted YPA of 4.1, and just one pass prior to garbage time gained 15+ yards for a 6.7% explosive play rate. The offense was forced into quick passes with no real deep shots, and tackling was much improved against that shorter passing game. Here’s a representative sample of the passing defense:
- :00 – Dorlus has beaten the RT with a nice spin so this has to be a quick throw on the crosser for any hope of a completion. Gonzalez is properly positioned on the outside to contain a deep shot so this has to be a stop by the inside backer, whom this play design targets to put in conflict. #10 ILB Flowe does a good job recognizing it and hitting the would-be receiver … even though this is a drop, he would have been annihilated for a minimal gain and maybe a PBU by that hit.
- :06 – Great job in block destruction and recovering to make the tackle by #33 ILB Bassa.
- :14 – Bassa is blitzing here so the defensive playcall requires Johnson to drop out into coverage and occupy this throwing lane, but he’s not really sensing this play correctly and the QB is able to squeeze it by him. The zone coverage has someone else in the flat/curl so Johnson shouldn’t be this far outside but rather drifting inside as the play develops.
- :22 – Good penetration by Taimani to get the swat on this pass. That tip makes Sewell’s tug on the jersey of the No. 3 receiver on the in-breaking route legal.
I consider three of EWU’s incompletions to have been drops by the receivers, and there was an easy run stop on what was probably an incorrect RPO read by the QB which should have been an outside throw. If we hypothetically re-assigned all four of those plays as defensive failures instead of successes, it would drop the per-play defensive success rate from 74% to 56.5%. That’s a much more fraught exercise than the offensive counterpart, since there’s nothing about Power-5 athletes that precludes drops or incorrect reads (and Oregon fans ought to know), but it suggests that Oregon’s defense still has work to do to become championship caliber.
In last week’s preview, I described EWU’s defense as not being the strength of the team, and Oregon’s offense predictably rolled right over them. However, I noted a couple of interesting statistics from last year’s defense – that they were highly rated in 3rd down defense and generating takeaways – which didn’t show up in this game at all. I noted that EWU’s pass defense and havoc rates were very high in their opener, but thought that should be taken with a big grain of salt due to some problems I noted with their opponent in that game, and I think I was right to hedge in that regard. EWU’s rush defense went exactly as I thought, including which players would be the most effective in the front. I wrote about EWU’s problem giving up explosive plays which I did think would persist and we certainly saw Oregon getting plenty of chunk yardage in this game, but none of them were the 40+ yard gains that EWU gave up five times in the previous week … partly I think Oregon just wasn’t trying deep shots in this game (we still need more data on whether that’s a game-to-game strategic choice or a flat inability), but partly I think EWU just had some opening-game jitters in the secondary that I should have noted they might work out by week 2.
I think my description of EWU’s offense as not being the same threat as it has been in previous years — due to replacing so much personnel and the new QB not being as dynamic as his predecessor — was accurate. I spent quite some time discussing his scrambling ability as the most significant hidden threat, but against Oregon that didn’t really show up until a single play deep into garbage time. I think the Ducks made some extra efforts to watch out for scrambles so I don’t think that’s a big miss, though. I do think I correctly described a tendency for ill-advised throws into coverage which came through pretty often. I think describing the receivers being the strength of the team was accurate since they got some nice catches in this game which were almost the entirety of how EWU moved the ball. The rushing offense was as ineffective as predicted.