Oregon performed at almost identical efficiency and explosiveness rates in both the passing and rushing offense as they have against the rest of their FBS competition this year, though at a bit lower yards per play in both, in keeping with Washington’s general defensive strategy of keeping the play in front of them.
The designed passing offense had a 62.5% per-play success rate (30 successes vs 18 failures, given the down & distance), getting 7.6 adjusted YPA and about 21% of passes gaining 15+ yards. There weren’t many surprises in the playbook or in UW’s defensive approach. This was this stiffest pass protection test the offensive line faced so far and there were a couple more scrambles than the previous games would have predicted, and more rollout plays called for #10 QB Nix than in previous games as well, but overall pass protection grades remained in single digit error rates across the board.
Here’s a representative sample of successful passing plays:
(Reminder – you can use the button in the lower right corner to control playback speed)
- :00 – The edge is off to quite a quick jump as he did all game and is around the corner before #65 RT Cornelius can react to the snap. He’s coming in too wide though instead of bending through contact so there’s a big door for Nix to scramble through, and then the backer comes off his coverage of #15 WR Te. Johnson hoping for a sack and gives up an improvised connection.
- :21 – When the back switches sides it creates an unbalanced formation which scrambles the zone assignments, something Oregon had put on film repeatedly the first five weeks. The backer and short third defender still let #3 TE Ferguson split them, however, with plenty of grass to run into.
- :35 – This time the backer figures out the implication of the back’s pre-snap motion and signals to the corner to get wide on the wheel, but he doesn’t get the memo.
- :44 – The Ducks used two- and three-TE sets in short-yardage situations to get the Huskies to put in their third DL bear front, then after converting kept the same personnel in to get a numbers advantage against pass coverage. Here #11 WR Franklin faces the corner in single coverage with no safety over the top for that reason.
The factor in this game I found most difficult to account for — and disentangle from other effects – were the slick conditions on Alaska Airlines field, which I’d noted in my preview article had caused both visitors and the home team to repeatedly loose their footing in the Huskies’ three previous Seattle contests. In this game I tallied 31% of all plays in which at least one player on either team (and on two occasions, an official) slipped on the playing surface. On balance, both offenses benefited more from this than the defenses did, though in somewhat different ways.
While Oregon’s downfield passing distribution reflected their typical patterns this season, they had one significant spike in the numbers, which was extra yards after catch due to broken or missed tackles. Whether this was a result of deliberate effort, unusually poor tackling by UW, or the field conditions (or some mixture of the three) is difficult for me to say. Some examples:
- :00 – Again it’s 13-pers vs 3-DL with single coverage for Franklin, who makes the corner whiff and then stiffarms the safety. That DB has help coming from the inside and so should beeline for the outside, but hesitates.
- :17 – Designed rollout, nice throw on the hoof on the comeback route to Johnson. UW’s leverage rules shouldn’t have allowed him to step around the corner this easily, however, he should have been back another two steps to make the sure tackle.
- :26 – On this quick curl to #5 WR Holden I started to think all the missed tackles were getting silly.
- :33 – Nix immediately goes to the hot route on this blitz, #0 RB Irving makes the backer who’s racing after him in man coverage fly past him then drags the corner for a 1st down.
There isn’t a disproportionate standout in causes for failed passing plays. Rather, there was a mix of a stronger and quicker-off-the-line pass rush than in previous games speeding up the timer and resulting in more unproductive throws, Nix making a couple of poor decisions, and the expected level of aggressive coverage from the secondary. Here’s a representative sample:
- :00 – A lot of ground given up here by #76 LT Conerly, whose feet are sliding from the outset. Nix goes to the checkdown quickly for a short loss; if he’d had a moment more #2 WR Bryant is a much better option on the crosser since both backers vacate.
- :12 – Moving the pocket is appropriate here, but I think Nix was really forcing this ball to Franklin and the breakup was predictable. He probably should have hit the backdoor and looked for Johnson on the scramble drill or just tried to pick up what he could on 1st down with his legs, Ferguson was ready to be his lead blocker.
- :18 – This is the look that the Ducks want, it’s an appropriate playcall for the down & distance, and the ball is well placed for Holden to get it over the corner. If only he’d gotten both of his arms up for it.
- :35 – Oregon was 0/3 on 4th down attempts; analytically they were the right decision each time and strategically I thought they were appropriate, but they needed some better execution (and maybe a little more luck). Here Franklin has plenty of space past the sticks to come back on the ball if it were properly placed on his upfield instead of downfield shoulder so the corner couldn’t reach in so readily, or better yet Nix could just hit Holden on the wide open slant for a touchdown.
The designed rushing offense was as efficient as usual at a 68.5% success rate (26 successes vs 12 failures), which wasn’t a surprise given these teams’ respective profiles, but UO doubling up on the rate of chunk yardage runs UW typically surrenders was – about 18.5% of designed rushes gained 10+ yards. Though since the longest was 15 yards, per the Huskies’ strategy of swarming the rusher with DBs, the adjusted average was down almost a yard to 5.5 YPC.
There were a few designed QB runs in this game, and perhaps more importantly the RPO game finally used a serious threat of Nix carrying the ball outside the tackles to regain a numbers advantage that some previous opponents hadn’t been honoring. Otherwise, the playbook was the familiar mix of inside and outside zone with several gap schemes. Here’s a representative sample of successful rushes:
- :00 – As they’d shown on prior film, UW’s rush defense strategy was to pinch in at the line and fly the backers to the gap, then clean up with DBs on the backside. On this extreme unbalanced formation they’ve pulled almost all the DBs off to the field and gotten the front all moving to the boundary, giving Irving an almost unobstructed cutback to the endzone.
- :07 – The backers chase the pullers pretty hard so the only necessary block is right in the middle by #58 C Powers-Johnson, who clears the DT and then works him ten yards downfield.
- :15 – The Ducks were in 12-pers vs UW’s bear for the first three plays on this drive, here they’ve split one of the TEs out so it’s six blockers (one being true freshman #72 RG I. Laloulu, who took 30% of reps) vs seven in the box. The zone read eliminates one and clean hat-on-hat blocking buys #20 RB James five yards before contact.
- :21 – The long mesh on this RPO, plus Nix running with Holden outside the box to sell the toss element of the triple option, get both the inside and outside backers moving away from the play.
Overall run blocking grades were high across the board, with the biggest dings going to both starting tackles and the tight ends blocking on the edges. Some examples of failed rushing plays:
- :00 – Cornelius is supposed to go to the second level and hit that linebacker, so the back can follow Conerly’s pull to the sideline (that’s why Franklin is blocking with outside leverage on the surprise 3rd & 15 run in 3x1 formation); instead Conerly gets waylaid on the backer and Irving goes inside.
- :07 – Just a slow go off the snap here, which happened repeatedly throughout the game as the line tried to avoid procedurals in a hostile environment.
- :14 - #81 TE Kelly is supposed to climb to the DB here, but because of Ferguson’s poor initial block he gets stuck and that DB comes down with a free shot.
- :20 – Here UW has moved their tweener DL/edge inside, who gets a good initial movement to split Powers-Johnson and #74 RG S. Jones. The zone assignment calls for the RG to take him after the chip while the C moves to the second level so they re-arrange things here; James figures out what’s going on but even if the gap were there no one has the closer DB on that side so it wouldn’t have been productive. Given the compression of the defense I thought this should have been an outside run or RPO call.
The Ducks’ defense was underwater in pass defense, at a 47.5% per-play success rate (19 successes vs 21 failures), giving up 8.3 adjusted YPA with 25% of passes gaining 15+ yards. This made it the only quadrant of play in which the Huskies outplayed them, though that was certainly their expected approach and widely understood as what was necessary for them to win.
Oregon stayed in what was essentially their standard Mint defense, rather than employing six or seven DBs, or some other radical change. Overall, coverage was more effective at forcing the QB to hold the ball and gave the pass rush more time to get home than previous defenses UW had played, and the pressure, incompletion, and unproductive throw rates were all significantly higher for the Huskies than in their previous games. Here’s a representative sample of Oregon’s successful passing play defenses:
- :00 – By far Oregon’s most successful pass rush move was straight ahead, without taking time for twists or stunts, as they consistently collapsed the pocket backwards got quick throws that way as #3 DE Dorlus does here, along with several pass deflections like #10 OLB Uiagalelei’s.
- :06 – The LT must really enjoy former Husky #55 DT Taimani’s change of uniform since he’s getting a lot of it, and per tendency the QB goes for the big play under pressure but #11 CB Bridges has him locked up in man.
- :22 – Oregon is showing blitz here but backs out of it and plays great one-on-one coverage across the board while #1 DE Burch penetrates, earning a throwaway. Particularly nice job by #5 CB K. Jackson who stays on top of the X despite the greeting he receives from the slot man.
- :36 - In what I figured would have been the predominant pass defense strategy, the Ducks are backing playing man in their Mint defense here while rushing only four giving enough time for pressure both up the middle by #98 DT Rogers and off the edge by Burch. This mesh-sit is a common 3rd down playcall for UW and the Oregon backers and DBs have it well played, with Bridges and #0 DB Ty. Johnson on the crossers, Jackson on the TE sitdown, #33 DB Ev. Williams on the WR wheel, and #9 ILB Hill on the RB wheel, while #2 ILB Bassa and #7 DB Stephens are left to back out and play middle and high.
Oregon blitzed on a little over a quarter of UW’s dropbacks. After studying this offense and this QB within it for as much time as I had, I considered any amount of blitzing to be a mistake. The Ducks were more successful with it than previous UW opponents, getting incompletions on 40% of such plays and limiting YPA to 6.4, down more than two and a half yards compared to non-blitzing plays. However, every one of the completions against the remaining 60% of blitzes were successful plays given the down & distance, almost all for a 1st down or touchdown. So while blitzing slowed the pace of field position advancement, it increased the certainty of the Huskies doing so. Here’s a representative sample of blitzes and their outcomes:
- :00 – Penetration from Dorlus and Uiagalelei again for the deflection on this blitz. Zone coverage is pretty good, there’s a spot opening that the QB is trying for but protection doesn’t last long enough for him to hit it. Getting seven blockers to stay in, though having no better protection for it, makes the numbers even out on the back end.
- :19 – This isn’t nearly the bargain, bringing six against six blockers, with both ILBs coming on a long developing blitz. UW’s film on quick throws to route combos made very clear they are designed to shred exactly this defensive approach with exactly this type of pass.
- :29 – I think this is a very well constructed blitz from depth with whom it backs out and how it avoids giving away the DB rush by stacking, and it effectively uses UW’s OL rules to get Johnson a direct runway to the QB. Against any other team and passer this would almost certainly be a defensive win. Just not this one.
- :45 – I like the coffeehouse twist from Bassa here, and the immediate penetration by #50 DT Aumavae and #17 OLB Purchase forces the throwaway.
Blitzing aside, pass defense failures ran the normal gamut for teams facing the Huskies’ lethal passing offense – falling prey to manipulation of zone coverage structures, simply getting beat in man coverage by future NFL talent a couple times, and a few occasions when I thought the Ducks should have dropped eight into coverage (instead they stuck to rushing four on every non-blitz down but one). Here’s a representative sample:
- :00 – The key staples of this passing offense are on display here – pre-snap motion revealing zone coverage and then using the TE combo to pull the safety away while the corner has outside leverage to get a clean inside throw. If you have to play zone against this team it needs to be from the top down with the highest safety, Williams, staying on the deepest route and the underneath coverage, Johnson and Bassa, taking the TE and the back.
- :17 – This is a simulated pressure, not a blitz, but I didn’t think it had any greater chance of getting home from depth given how quick this offense is structured to throw against zone coverage this soft. Dropping the outside backer is only going to help if #44 OLB Tuioti gets a whole lot wider to actually be in the throwing lane to the fieldside.
- :29 – This probably isn’t enough of a cushion to play man against a top receiving talent, Jackson has a lot of advantages from his size but getting flipped like this instead of just backing out another couple steps while mirroring is a bad idea. I thought these pass rush twists were unnecessary and unproductive; Burch is crushing the undersized center when he eventually gets to him but the ball is already away.
- :48 – On 2nd and 12 it’s a good chance to rush three and back the OLB out to cover the RB on the checkdown. As it is, the ILB has to do it, which clears the underneath coverage for this over route.
UW and UO came out tied in when the Huskies ran the ball, 11 successes apiece. They got 4.7 adjusted YPC and 9% of designed runs gained 10+ yards, all of which are about expected numbers given these two teams’ profiles.
There was something of an anomaly in that UW rushed on nine of their first 24 snaps outside the redzone, or 37.5% which is significantly higher than their 27% average in previous games, and I think it caught Oregon by surprise a bit (I suspect this was in response to being unprepared for how open Arizona was leaving the box in their week 5 game and yet never running against it, and betting Oregon would use a similar approach and therefore have a similar vulnerability). However after some adjustment the Ducks had the Huskies’ run game well contained, and they quickly went back to their usual passing pattern. By the end of the game UW finished with a 30% non-redzone rush rate, which constituted just two more runs than expected.
Here’s a representative sample of all rush defenses:
- :00 – Oregon’s eggshell jerseys sure are popular, especially on the broad chests of the DTs. Johnson was in the box a lot in this game, which may have been the point of UW’s early rush emphasis, he’s getting stuck inside instead of flowing to the B gap with square shoulders as a proper linebacker.
- :07 – Dorlus wrecks the LT here and Johnson gets it right on the first play of the next drive, cutting across the center. Oregon stopped putting eight in the box after this play.
- :14 – Good job by #90 OLB Shipley to squeeze down the pull from the RG, and though he can’t quite get through the gap to reach the back for some reason, he effectively spills him to the outside. Bassa’s gap is outside the pulling RT to prevent the back from getting to the sideline, since this is man coverage and he has no help behind him, but instead he goes in the same gap as Shipley.
- :29 – UW only had one other successful power-blocked run all game after the front figured out what they were doing. Here at the beginning of the 4th quarter on this outside power toss, Bassa immediately recognizes it and hits the lead puller’s outside shoulder to contain the play, with the rest of the defense swarming in for the TFL.
Last week’s preview had UW’s defensive success rates and general approach to stopping big plays described accurately. I thought their pass rushers and interior defensive line performed better in this game than expected … I think the descriptions of them in the preview were accurate per se, in that the edges still aren’t as effective as last year and the interior can be handled with single blocks, but given how well G5, Cal, and Arizona’s o-lines performed against them I had anticipated a couple percentage point bump for Oregon in the metrics I use, but instead they simply performed nominally. Otherwise all observed tendencies obtained – DB aggression, DPIs, snap count cracking, and systemic vulnerability to efficiency rushing.
UW’s offense was exactly as described, though with a couple of surprises about which receivers were available. The redzone rushing frequency question has already been discussed, otherwise this game fell completely within their normal selection parameters. The way that this passing offense destroys zone coverages but holds the ball waiting for something in man, creating straightforward pass rush opportunities created a clear strategy in my mind and we saw the Ducks pursue it for much of the game, though not all of it. It will be interesting to see what if anything they change about their approach should the opportunity for a rematch arise.