Oregon made the score 31-0 after five possessions constituting 27 plays, rendering the rest of the game garbage time. As was the case with the opener, that’s too few meaningful snaps for statistical splits, but in the aggregate the Ducks had an offensive efficiency rate of 63% (17 successes vs 10 failures, given the down & distance), with an average of exactly 10.0 adjusted YPP, and more than 29.5% of plays gained explosive yardage.
The passing game was a lot sharper than the previous week. With the exception of one ball that I thought #10 QB Nix overthrew after #11 WR Franklin had burned the corner, he placed all his passes accurately and without any poor decisions. Offensive line protections continued to be near perfect, with one scramble coming off a play in which no defender was getting through but Nix evidently didn’t like how much space was being surrendered, and he spun out the correct direction and picked up successful yardage while protecting himself from a hit. The same group of o-linemen played prior to garbage time as in the last two weeks, with #72 RG I. Laloulu again spelling #74 RG S. Jones on the fourth drive.
There has been one schematic curiosity so far this season, which is much more formational variety and tight end use in OC Stein’s playbook than I expected given his 84% 11-personnel rate at UTSA last year and what had at times over the offseason looked to be a dire depth situation in Oregon’s TE room. Against Hawai’i prior to garbage time, the offense lined up in heavy sets with two or three TEs twice as often as in light sets with one or fewer (18 snaps in 12-, 13-, or 23-pers; nine in 11-, 21-, or empty sets).
While the three-TE sets heavily favored inside running for obvious reasons, Oregon stayed balanced in 12-pers and threw the ball half the time, which I think is a partial explanation for what’s going on here – manipulating defenses’ substitution rules. The Bows use a strict system of taking out their nickelback and putting in a third linebacker when the offense has multiple TEs on the field, regardless of down & distance, and the Ducks gained a matchup advantage in pass coverage or far outside rushing against less speedy backers in that way on several plays.
Of the seven failed passing plays prior to garbage time, five were unremarkable hallmarks of normal play – a couple of good plays by the opposing DB on contested throws, a pair six-yard gains on 3rd & 7 that set up easy 4th down conversions, and the aforementioned overthrow. One was apparently a screen pass that lost yardage from what I would guess was poor perimeter blocking, which would be a concern, but the broadcast cut off the play. The other was a weird drop by Franklin, in what seemed to be a continuation of the strange hands issues from last week, but he finished with 83 yards on six catchable targets so I think he shook it off.
Otherwise, the Ducks got pretty much whatever they wanted through the air. Here’s a representative sample of the passing offense:
(Reminder – you can use the button in the lower right corner to control playback speed)
- :00 – Fairly straightforward play-action post route given the talent differential, with #15 WR Te. Johnson cooking the nickel out of the slot and Nix having the arm talent and protection for the long, accurate throw on the second Oregon play of the game. Both backers and the field safety get sucked up by the run fake, a strong film study tendency, and the last safety is held in conflict over Franklin’s threat and doesn’t run deep with Johnson.
- :27 – This is a fastball, oddly wobbly but appropriately placed by Nix, because Franklin has earned the cushion that the corner backs out to in coverage, and it’s supposed to lead him so he can catch it as he’s running downfield to angle past the defender and convert. In slow motion it’s clear that Franklin is instead expecting it behind him and has his weight shifted the wrong way, and can’t make the late adjustment to catch it on his downfield hip.
- :34 – Several elements here recurred throughout the game. First, 12-pers means the defense has a backer over the two TEs instead of a nickel; second, the pre-snap switch of the RB’s alignment changes their coverage responsibilities so now that SAM goes wide with the back and the MIKE has a zone centered near the intersection of the hashes and the 15-yd line; third, there’s a moment when #81 TE Kelly on the hitch, #5 WR Holden on the crosser, and #88 TE Herbert on the seam are all in or coming into said zone simultaneously, and he’s frozen.
- :40 – Not a lot of spread offense, Pac-12 or Mountain West teams have this kind of hard play-action back-to-the-defense shot in their playbooks, usually because the run game isn’t credible enough to establish it. It definitely works here as eight defenders get sucked up, and the invaluable asset is Franklin who pulls off the only remaining defender on the play, the single high safety (and draws a declined holding flag from his corner).
Five of Oregon’s dozen runs prior to garbage time were for 10+ yards, and a sixth run was a three-yard touchdown. I counted three rushes as failures, although even those averaged three yards apiece.
The offensive line had the defensive line well blocked all day; to the extent the Ducks’ run game had limitations at all those came in two ways – first, the Bows’ middle backers were playing very aggressively in guessing and firing into the run gap which paid off a few times, although it worked against them more often; second, the defense didn’t need to honor Nix as a run threat as it seemed fairly clear early on that he wasn’t going to pull the ball and run it regardless of the read. Overall, OL and TE grades in run blocking still aren’t at the near-perfect levels that they are in pass pro, but there were fewer technical mistakes in this week’s tape compared to the previous two.
Here’s a representative sample of the rushing offense:
- :00 – This is 11-pers, but Johnson and #3 TE Ferguson have flipped customary positions on Oregon’s first play of the game and it’s confused the defense for a moment. The nickel, field safety, and field end all stay outside while the zone blocking goes to the boundary, opening the cutback lane. The MIKE guesses it’s the A-gap and fires into it; that was the wrong call and Jones escorts him out, instead this is going down the hashes on #65 RT Cornelius’ heels as he clears the DT, with an iso on the boundary safety. The end still loops around on #0 RB Irving because he didn’t take Nix’s keep threat seriously, however, and #76 LT Conerly could be doing a better job controlling the backside end through the conclusion of the play.
- :08 – Here’s 13-pers, an extreme overload with all five eligibles to one side. Very nicely executed set of pulls on this weakside gap scheme, and with the defense all to the other side then as soon as #55 LG Harper gets the end and Cornelius climbs to the backer it’s just a footrace between #20 RB James and the safety to the pylon since there’s nobody left. Only note here is Cornelius skirting a holding flag, he lets go in time but he should be working his feet forward more to secure outside leverage so it’s not an issue at all.
- :25 – The blocking is more than good enough here for a conversion, with Herbert, Conerly, and #58 C Powers-Johnson getting their guys out of the way long enough for #6 RB Whittington to get through the gap and then some. Again the backer is firing very aggressively (but not the right gap) and so there’s no time for Harper chip the DT that Conerly is going to down block, and the latter loses his footing with the back having to jump over and kind of land on his leg. Herbert needs more leg drive here to clear the end fully, and I have no idea why Powers-Johnson lets his backer go.
- :41 – This read looks like it ought to be a QB keep to me, if he’s authorized to keep it at all. Also, I’m not sure how the lead block from Whittington is designed to go on the whiteboard; I think this might have been drawn up differently for Powers-Johnson and Laloulu but the aggressive trigger from the MIKE may have caused them all to switch blocks.
Oregon’s defense played only 19 meaningful snaps during the five possessions Hawai’i had before garbage time, earning two 3-outs, an interception, a sack, and a holding flag, each of which effectively ended those drives. The Bows got only two first downs prior to garbage time, and even in garbage time wouldn’t convert a 3rd down without the benefit of a penalty flag until late in the 3rd quarter. In the aggregate, the Ducks’ per-play defensive success rate during meaningful play was 79% (15 successes vs 4 failures), and they allowed just 2.8 adjusted YPP with only two of those 19 plays gaining chunk yardage.
The most notable thing about this defensive performance is that Hawai’i never connected on the long ball, indeed they hardly attempted it. The Bows’ longest play of the game gained 15 yards, quite a change from their previous three games this season each of which featured at least one completed pass of 40+ air yards, or last year (the first with Coach Chang and this starting QB) in which all 13 games had at least one 20+ air yard completion during meaningful play, including against Michigan.
The reason for this is easy to state but difficult to illustrate: it wasn’t there. Oregon knew Hawai’i was going to have a heavy pass bias (about 3:1) and brought extra pass rushers on the majority of plays, which the line couldn’t really stop and resulted in almost exclusively quick throws. The exceptions on long throws the Bows did attempt were either pre-determined by leverage regardless of coverage or used so many extra blockers for protection that the route selection was heavily diminished; either way the Ducks’ secondary universally had the deep receivers covered.
What was left then was just a matter of defending those quick throws and stopping Hawai’i from marching the field methodically, something that the Mint defensive structure re-arranges personnel in an attempt to do. Oregon was successful in this regard as well and it appears so far that the greater “Mintification” of the Ducks’ defense in the second year of this system is proceeding apace. Some examples:
- :00 – This starts as a five-man blitz and then #9 ILB Hill green dogs when the back stays in. Pressure from #2 ILB Bassa and #1 DE Burch speeds up the QB’s timer and causes an off-platform throw into the crowd, and #0 DB Ty. Johnson stays on top of the out-pattern well regardless. Watch the QB’s helmet, he never has time to get to the deep route which is on the other side of the field.
- :08 – Pre-snap the Ducks appear to be (and are) in cover-1 with a man blitz coming, and the QB is resolved to make this sideline throw without reading the field because he knows a 50/50 shot against single coverage is the best chance he’s going to get of a big play. But nothing doing this time, just like the rest of them, as #5 CB K. Jackson has his man locked up. If the WR didn’t turn into a DB to break it up this would have been his second interception.
- :23 – Here Hawai’i has both the fullback and halfback stay in for protection against Oregon’s four-man rush with the ILBs backing out into coverage, finally buying the QB enough time in a 7 vs 4 pocket to scan the field. The three receivers in the pattern are the slot on a simple over route with four (!) defenders on him, the X to the flag with Jackson still locking him down, and the Z going deep in double coverage between #6 CB Florence and #13 DB Addison. Maybe this team could do with sunglasses?
- :42 – On this play #98 DT Rogers runs over the center and the fullback at the same time. The other rushers are running two twists, with #10 OLB Uiagalelei setting up Bassa to get past the RG, and #3 DE Dorlus and #17 OLB Purchase showing good lane discipline in keeping the QB from being able to scramble out the backdoor. Johnson takes care of the quick throw to earn the punt and effectively conclude the game.
There were only five designed runs prior to garbage time, three of which averaged one yard. One got past the front for 13 yards during meaningful play though, something of a surprise given how poorly Hawai’i ran the ball in previous games. But setting that one aside, the Bows’ RBs ran for 47 yards on 14 attempts (3.35 avg) during the entire game otherwise, so that’s probably just a sample size issue.
Here are three of those five rushes:
- :00 – This is the “spill & kill” philosophy at work. Only the nose #55 DT Taimani is inside the tackles, everybody else on the line is outside and pinching in. There’s no way the back is getting through here and Burch’s penetration gets him to bounce. Ideally Johnson would be setting the edge more and Hill would scrape over sooner, but there’s no way for this play to go big, it’s just going to string out for at most a modest gain before Addison, playing properly with outside leverage, can kill it.
- :08 – This is highly aggressive play, with #95 DT Ware-Hudson and #32 OLB Winston stoving in the left side of the line and the backers filling in before the guards can get up to the second level.
- :15 – I’m not certain exactly who’s at fault without knowing the playsheet, but you can’t have both #44 OLB Tuioti and #28 ILB Boettcher not set the edge here (it’s probably the latter getting excited and failing to scrape). Also, umps sometimes get prickly about getting creamed like this.
Last week’s preview described the defensive structure and substitution rules in a way that proved useful to how Oregon lined up their tight ends, so I’m glad I included that. The personnel in their defensive front whom I highlighted all played and I think about as well as I was expecting them to, although I was a little surprised at just how aggressively their linebackers attacked in the run game, and they wound up playing two different backups to replace the injured starter instead of just the one I mentioned. I predicted the vulnerability in pass defense in the middle of the field with their safeties, which is where Oregon attacked all day, and even correctly called the replacement of one of their starters at nickelback with a new guy I really liked from his film against Stanford (although he was immediately torched by Johnson on play 2).
The Bows’ offense was structured, and showed playcall tendencies, exactly how I described, but I was still in shock that they never hit any of their deep bombs. I spent all week on podcasts and ancillary forums warning Oregon fans that Hawai’i was just going to try it over and over because it was their only real tool to move the ball (given their protection, pass efficiency, and run game issues) and eventually something would get through so they shouldn’t panic over it, only for it never to happen at all. I think the best read of the data is that the Ducks really did take it away, in which case this is the happiest reason to be wrong, but still I wonder if the throwaway comments I’d made about Vanderbilt and Stanford’s DBs being poorly recruited out of high school deserved further investigation – maybe Hawai’i was just hitting those against lousy secondaries and I was playing Cassandra for nothing. I suppose, given Oregon’s week 5 opponent, we’ll get some resolution on that soon enough.