Oregon’s run-pass strategy in this game keyed off of BYU’s defensive personnel. During most of the first half, the Cougars used a 3-down Tite front even while the Ducks were in 12-personnel, which was a peculiar choice and a deviation from their defensive structure last week and in their 2021 games against Power-5 opponents. That left their defense — already suspect against Power-5 rushing attacks — even more vulnerable, and Oregon consistently took advantage. Then later in the 2nd quarter and early in the 3rd (before garbage time set in) BYU resumed their typical 4-down front, and Oregon split out a tight end, used empty backfields, and threw the ball much more often. I was impressed by the multiplicity and responsiveness of the offensive sequencing by OC Dillingham.
Duck fans have been itching for some more explosive passing plays this season and they got one dramatic deep shot to #11 WR Franklin, but that aside Oregon’s big passing plays in this game came from well placed intermediate routes which carved up the defense. Prior to garbage time, the Ducks were successful on 13 designed passing plays vs just 6 failed ones, or 68.5% efficiency given the down & distance. That’s an outstanding success rate, but the explosiveness metrics are even more astonishing: an adjusted 13.9 yards per attempt and 37% of passing plays gaining 15+ yards, which are off the charts in my experience. Here’s a representative sample of successful passing plays:
(Reminder - after pressing play, you can use the left button to slow any video to ¼ or ½ speed)
- :00 – Technically 12-personnel, this empty backfield has the RB and both TEs split out, going against three LBs and a DE who’s backed out into coverage (but ends up rushing). #3 TE Ferguson and #84 TE McCormick both crossing through zone coverage are meant to put the SAM into conflict, which succeeds and results in him falling down as he tries to recover from the coverage handoff.
- :08 – Another empty backfield, this time the defense dropping seven into (I think) quarters. The retreat by the backers is drastic and leaves a huge patch of empty grass for an easy completion and run after the catch by #23 WR Cota. Interestingly, by this point in the 2nd quarter the Ducks had replaced #53 RG Walk with #58 RG Powers-Johnson, taken #55 LG Harper out, moved #56 OL Bass from LT to LG, and put #70 LT Jaramillo in. They resumed the original configuration in the 3rd quarter.
- :15 – BYU, tired of being run all over, has returned to their even surface, and Oregon came out throwing. This unbalanced formation (four eligibles to the boundary) therefore only has three defenders in coverage over it, giving #8 TE Matavao on the H-back wheel access to the sideline.
- :28 – Unbalanced again, this time to the field, against 4-down plus a backer on the line since it’s the red zone. Two different defenders follow the back heading the sideline, and the other three to the field follow the high-low crossers from the two WRs, leaving Ferguson alone and just the late safety to muscle through to the endzone.
With only six failed passing plays prior to garbage time there are no real patterns to pick up, however several of them presented some interesting things to examine. The following aren’t representative of anything in particular (at this point, anyway) but the camera angles for this game were unusually good for illustration so I think four of those six are worthwhile to discuss:
- :00 – This angle lets us see all three linemen who’ve headed downfield on the rollout: #71 RT Aumavae-Laulu turns and seals the DE two yards deep, the veteran Walk checks to see #10 QB Nix getting ready to throw and quickly trots back to within 3 yards of the LOS, but the rookie Harper isn’t that savvy yet and earns the IDP flag (his too-little-too-late backpedal is a little amusing).
- :09 – Perimeter blocking was hot and cold on Saturday. This is cold.
- :16 – I honestly have no idea what this play was supposed to be or why Nix is leaving the pocket since the six (!) o-linemen pick up the blitz fine, I think there was some kind of miscommunication but at least he got rid of the ball harmlessly. True freshman #76 OL Conerly is the extra guy on the left side; they used the same personnel as the previous I-formation run to prevent the defense from substituting. It’s interesting that they can reconfigure to a spread-shotgun look out of it.
- :26 – The ball’s not really in danger here, but I think this is the closest thing to a mistake that Nix made prior to garbage time. He either needs to hit Cota immediately when the LB backpedals, or wait for the slot receiver to break on the corner route.
Oregon’s rushing offense was dominant, with blocking that faced little resistance and a four-back rotation that was always fresh and tough to bring down. The Ducks succeeded on 21 designed rushing plays vs 7 failures, or 75% efficiency – that’s the magic number from last year that I’ve been curious about Oregon sustaining, since I’ve never seen a team (even national championship teams) pull off an over-70 figure for an entire season.
Looking at all runs prior to garbage time, the yardage and explosiveness numbers are good but not great: 5.4 adjusted YPC and 14.5% gaining 10+ yards (although those are substantially better than BYU’s previous two opponents had performed, 4.1 and 11.5%). However, that count includes seven successful runs on short-yardage 3rd down, 4th down, or goalline situations, which produced short gains by nature – Oregon was very confident in its run game and ran the ball every time but once that they had 2 yards or fewer to go (the exception was an interesting RPO on which a defensive hold saved a touchdown). Excluding those seven runs, on the remaining 21 standard downs Oregon rushed for 6.3 adjusted YPC and 19% explosiveness, which is much more in line with the chunk yardage that the Ducks were producing at will.
Here’s a representative sample of all rushing plays outside garbage time:
- :00 – Blocking a 3-down front is just child’s play for the o-line at this point. Even without the nifty moves #0 RB Irving had been putting on the defense all day this is a virtually guaranteed six yards.
- :07 – This is the first I-formation run for Oregon since 2004. I think of it as 23-personnel but it’s got an OL playing TE and a TE playing FB, so you could call it 14 or a jumbo 13. At any rate, it succeeded all four times true freshman #20 RB James got the ball with #88 TE Herbert lead blocking.
- :15 – About the only way that Oregon’s run game could be stopped is if the back took the wrong gap, which I believe happened a couple times. This one is pretty obvious, #5 RB Dollars was supposed to follow the pullers outside, not go up the A-gap and get walloped by the backers. Aumavae-Laulu expressed his disappointment after the play.
- :25 – Good hard running for the 1st down by #22 RB Whittington, Oregon’s second leading rusher and definitely a thing, following some crushing TE blocks by Ferguson and McCormick.
Oregon shut down BYU’s rushing offense as effectively as their other FBS opponents have this year from an efficiency perspective, and even more effectively from an explosiveness one. Against their last eight Power-5 opponents, the Cougars’ strategy has been to establish the run early in drives in order to set up play-action passing, and they continued trying to do so until the 4th quarter (well into garbage time) against the Ducks, but without any success. Stopping the run with relatively light boxes — and therefore being able to keep the safeties back and OLBs outside to play BYU’s far more dangerous passing offense — was the main strategic reason why Oregon prevailed defensively.
The Ducks defense succeeded against 10 designed rushing plays vs 4 failures, given the down & distance, or 71.5%. That’s an unsustainably high number for an entire season, but it’s basically the same as BYU’s other opponents this year – the Cougars just aren’t an effective rushing offense without their stud back from the last two seasons bailing them out of poor blocking. But Oregon really excelled at preventing explosive rushing, limiting BYU to just 3.1 adjusted YPC with only 7% of rushes gaining 10+ yards (that was a single run of 11 yards, and there’s a particularly aggressive block from an o-lineman on that play). That’s a significant defensive improvement compared to BYU’s last two opponents against whom they gained 4.7 YPC and had an 11.5% explosiveness rate in the run game (which are still fairly poor numbers, but Oregon made them even worse). Here’s a representative sample of all rush defenses:
- :00 – Great block destruction by #2 OLB Johnson, taking out two guys at once. Proper outside leverage by #0 CB Gonzalez keeps the sweep from getting to the sideline, #42 ILB LaDuke wraps up the tackle nicely, and #7 DB Stephens has taken the correct angle to clean up had something gone wrong.
- :08 – This was the biggest single problem with #33 ILB Bassa stepping in for #10 ILB Flowe – he hasn’t yet put on enough muscle mass to play through a block like this and stop the play dead short of the line to gain. #95 DE Ware-Hudson is playing with the correct outside leverage against the combo to keep the play from going outside, but Bassa’s got to fill the gap better.
- :15 – Much better job here by both the backups, Bassa and #21 ILB Brown, with the latter immediately attacking and the former cleaning up. Nice penetration by #91 DT Riley to spill the back.
- :24 – Perimeter defense is looking a lot better compared to the opener. Johnson and #11 CB Bridges are both playing with appropriate outside leverage, with Johnson well positioned so that when he tries to disengage the tackle has to hold him and he earns a flag. Bridges might have gotten the same.
Oregon was above water in defending BYU’s passing attack, with 11 successes against designed passing plays vs 9 failures, or 55%. That’s almost identical to how both of BYU’s earlier 2022 opponents did, and how their seven Power-5 opponents in 2021 did as well.
It’s a small sample size, but the concerning number is explosive pass defense, as BYU averaged 9.4 in adjusted YPA and 20% of passes gained 15+ yards. That’s 2.7 yards per attempt and 5 percentage points better than against their other 2022 opponents, and 1.5 yards and 2 points better than against their 2021 Power-5 opponents (when they had their two most explosive receivers, who’ve been out for almost all of 2022). Now, these numbers all stem from just four passes that gained 15+ yards prior to garbage time, and if any one of them had fallen incomplete instead then BYU’s numbers would fall back down to their normal range, so it’s possible this is just statistical noise or luck, but it’s nonetheless a troublesome sign. Here’s a representative sample of failed pass defenses:
- :00 – This was the defense’s first play and I’m sure it provoked a lot of consternation. Bridges hips are flipped and he can’t make a play at all. He does recover from the slip and make the tackle though, and I suspect that physical control is what’s keeping him in the starting job.
- :18 – Plays like these to the edges are simply the structural trade-off of this system ... the back has too much momentum for the OLB and DB to beat him to the corner, the best they can do is save the 1st down.
- :35 – This is zone not man, so there’s no pursuit of the motion man, but the defense is supposed to be shifting its leverage over in response and instead #18 OLB Funa is flat-footed and staring in the backfield. It’s good that he’s staying square and not letting the ballcarrier juke him but he could have saved 5 yards with a better tackle.
- :46 – I think that #19 DB Hill is a great asset due to his size in defending bigger TEs, but his footspeed against the faster ones just isn’t enough to keep up. Great tackle though.
Setting aside those four explosive passes, what’s left is almost exclusively attacking the perimeter with screens and short hitches, a pattern I expect to continue for a while as opponents try to replicate Georgia’s success in the opener. Oregon was far more effective stopping those. Some examples:
- :00 – Nice penetration by #55 NT Taimani to hurry the QB, and this is the prettiest PBU I’ve seen from Oregon since 2019.
- :21 – On balance Oregon was successful at shutting down BYU’s screen game. Nice lateral movement by LaDuke and #48 DE Ma’ae, and textbook tackle by Funa.
- :29 – The pass rush didn’t break into the backfield much, but there were a lot of collapsing pockets and I think a concerted effort to keep the QB from scrambling out of them. Here the blitz has the QB well penned in and the ball has to be threaded perfectly against the sideline. Great PBU by Bridges, he has time to catch up because of their sideline relation and he times his contact to avoid a DPI flag.
- :49 – One of only two scrambles prior to garbage time (the other was a sack). Nice lateral pursuit by #3 DE Dorlus, and #1 ILB Sewell gets off an innovative cut block by the receiver to prevent the QB from reaching the sideline.
In last week’s preview, I think I was right to be skeptical of BYU’s passing stats which I described as a great mystery, but I should have been more courageous with an outright prediction they’d get picked apart since I was sure there’d be no effective pass rush (Oregon still hasn’t given up a sack on the season). I did explicitly predict that the Ducks would lean heavily on their rushing attack given how bad the mismatch was between their lines, but I was still surprised that the Cougars spent so much of the game in their 3-down configuration. Fortunately I put in a few clips of them failing to defend the run properly when lined up like that, and I think BYU being out a couple linemen contributed, but if there’s any team with a glut of experienced DL to make up for that this is it. Frankly, I think this was simply the wrong decision by BYU’s staff, but I strive to predict even poor choices and I didn’t this time. I spent some time talking about BYU’s improved explosive rush defense, and I’m not sure if that was right or wrong. Oregon did perform better than their previous opponents in that regard, and early in the game Irving embarrassed the defense by breaking a bunch of tackles on an explosive play, but on the other hand that was the only run greater than 11 yards.
I think I described Hall’s qualities as a QB in keeping the ball out of danger and locating without hesitation the open receiver correctly, as well as the limited rushing he’s been doing this year compared to last year. I’m somewhat surprised that BYU had as much explosive passing as they did without their two top receivers, though since they were all the “find the open guy in a coverage breakdown” type and none of the “get behind the defense with elite speed” type, I still think the description of where the threat was held up. Efficiency passing and the entire run game went exactly as predicted, particularly the note that BYU’s o-line isn’t able to stand up to a Power-5 defensive front as well as their staff thinks it can.