Oregon scored their fifth touchdown on their sixth possession just before halftime, making the score 35-0 after 47 meaningful plays and rendering the entire second half of the game garbage time. The Ducks were fairly balanced though somewhat pass-biased at about a 2:3 run-pass ratio in playcalls during the first half, and so there were enough meaningful snaps for statistical splits unlike the blowouts in weeks 1 and 3. I think the aggregate numbers more robustly capture the offensive performance however, and they are 68% efficiency (32 successes vs 15 failures, given the down & distance), 8.7 adjusted YPP, and 27.7% of plays gaining explosive yardage.
With the exception of a small number of plays, both #10 QB Nix and the offensive line in protection performed at an elite level in the passing offense. On designed passing plays, Oregon was 68% efficient (19 vs 9), for 8.9 adjusted YPA and 21.5% explosiveness. The biggest single culprit on failed passing plays was Nix himself, though I don’t really see any pattern here, just a smattering of different things that each happened once, such as a failure to recognize disguised zone coverage which resulted in an interception, a swing pass he should have checked out of pre-snap because of the defensive alignment, pulling the string for no good reason on the first play, or a single misplaced throw (too high) despite a clean pocket.
Downfield passing (that is, excluding screens) heavily favored #11 WR Franklin, who got the majority of all targets from the pocket in the first half, including an interesting variation of the triple-option RPO out of a look with Franklin lined up as the H-back that OC Stein has used a different way each game. There were a few other wrinkles, but by and large the passing playbook was the familiar mix of intermediate and deep throws, constraint plays, RPOs and screens we’ve seen so far this season. Here’s a representative sample:
(Reminder – you can use the button in the lower right corner to control playback speed)
- :00 – The unusual alignment has one of the ILBs on the line of scrimmage near the split-out TE in what will be the backside of the play, and the other gets sucked in on the run component. Nix reads the unblocked end who’s crashing inside so he pulls, then with no defender even left to read he immediately tosses to Franklin who’s sliced out of the formation. Nice perimeter blocking by #15 WR Te. Johnson and #2 WR Bryant.
- :09 – I don’t understand why Nix is checking down to the back this early with no pressure, and I don’t think this is a designed screen as there’s no blocking. He should have gone across his progressions to find Franklin on the slant, since the defensive alignment is weaker to that side, instead of trusting the quick throw against the spacing, though with #0 RB Irving’s ability to break tackles it winds up working out anyway.
- :26 – Although Franklin did beat the remaining healthy starting corner in single coverage a few times (on the two-point conversion, for instance), for most of the night the Buffs’ DC lined up one or another of some fairly inexperienced players against him, and Franklin just cooked them. The o-line is seriously run-blocking here so this is an RPO not just a play-action fake and the timing is critical, but it succeeds in pinning the high safety inside.
- :46 – On the final drive of the half when the score wasn’t quite out of hand yet, the defense backed out of midfield coverage in order to try and stop deep shots, and the Ducks quickly identified it. Oregon hit them on three consecutive intermediate completions against abandoned zones for a combined 42 yards with only 25 seconds coming off the clock; this is the second of those.
The rushing offense was equally efficient on a per-play basis, 68% (13 vs 6), though with a wider spread – the Ducks gained 8.5 adjusted YPC with 37% of designed runs gaining 10+ yards, which are spectacular numbers, but three of their 19 rushes were for negative yardage (two hits behind the line and a downfield holding foul). I believe that mostly reflects Colorado’s defensive choices, which showed a lot of instant aggression from the front – it paid off a few times, but more often allowed Oregon a lot of running room.
The offensive line’s run-blocking grades continue to improve on my tally sheet from the beginning of the year, though I’m still seeing some technical errors from each player once or twice which are far rarer in pass-pro. As in previous games, true freshman #72 RG I. Laloulu replaced starter #74 RG S. Jones on drives 3, 4, and 5 (though Jones briefly returned for the successful two-point conversion at the end of drive 3). But interestingly when Jones came back in for drive 6, he was joined by redshirt freshman #52 LG Iuli who spelled #55 LG Harper on that six-play drive (indeed, Iuli had a great lead block for Nix on the TD-scoring QB draw which effectively ended the game).
Here’s a representative sample of the rushing offense:
- :00 – Great bend here by #6 RB Whittington pressing in then bouncing, something Colorado’s front showed a lot of vulnerability to on film as much of their personnel runs themselves out of the play. #88 TE Herbert gets outside leverage and seals their best end despite starting inside of him, and the play design isolates Whittington on the safety whom he simply runs over for the score.
- :14 – Right read of the end by Nix here, and nice to see him actually keeping it when he’s supposed to on a fairly safe run. The blocks are all very good except for Harper’s on the DT, and even that starts out well but he needs to keep driving with his legs and fight off that arm extension so he can maintain leverage.
- :21 – This may be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen on a football field. I’ve watched it twenty times and reader, you should too.
- :36 – Assignment breakdowns by both guards and #76 LT Conerly here, but excellent second effort by #20 RB James to stretch out for the line to gain earns the 1st down.
Colorado had only 22 meaningful plays during their five possessions of the first half; 20 of these were designed passes but even if they’d been a balanced offense that would be too few for statistical splits. In the aggregate, Oregon’s defensive success rate was over 77% (17 successes vs 5 failures), allowing 3.2 adjusted YPP with 4.5% of the opponent’s plays gaining explosive yardage.
The most frequent reason for defensive success in the first half was the Ducks’ pass rush, which produced a sack, scramble, or throwaway on 35% of the Buffs’ dropbacks, and achieved play-disrupting penetration on 59% of dropbacks. Coverage was also excellent, with multiple pass breakups and only one assignment error I observed (a late coverage adjustment where the RB lined up wide and their usual Z was in the slot, so the LB and CB had to flip spots just before the snap). Most importantly, Oregon never let Colorado’s dangerous improvisational QB make a play outside the pocket prior to garbage time, which is partially explained by some good lane discipline and coverage, but mostly by the speed with which the rushers destroyed the protection. Some examples:
- :00 – Penetration by both #98 DT Rogers and #55 DT Taimani force the QB into a throw to a covered receiver without stepping into it properly, a tendency that was clear in film study. #5 CB K. Jackson nearly comes away with the interception.
- :09 – True freshmen #17 OLB Purchase and #44 OLB Tuioti beat both of the tackles, with the LT interested in the latter’s helmet as a souvenir. #50 DT Aumavae fights off multiple hits to stay in the escape lane so the QB has no outlet, and #9 ILB Hill dashes in front of the improvised throw and almost picks it off.
- :24 – Here the Buffs have gone to a 7-man protection, which they’ve shown in past games as it became clear their OL needed help pulling off longer pockets for deeper throws. It does effectively hold the blitz at bay, but the route options are limited with only three in the pattern, and Jackson gets another breakup.
- :37 – Blitz with man coverage on this play, and Hill starts with inside leverage on the split-out TE. That’s appropriate since he’s got more help to the outside than the inside and Colorado has been much more dangerous on in-breaking routes to this TE, but still this playcall is betting the blitz gets home and this time it doesn’t, the TE breaks outside, and this is exactly the type of throw this QB excels at.
To the extent that Colorado had an identifiable offensive strategy in the passing game, it was a series of aggressive rub routes which hoped to avoid OPI flags and to be fired off before the pass rush arrived. The Buffs’ first wish was obtained but not the second. Some examples:
- :00 – This rub vs man has the X carrying #6 CB Florence inside while the late-motioning slot receiver cuts under to the flat. #33 DB Ev. Williams sees it coming and dodges around it to crunch him, just as noted hair gel enthusiast and sometime football analyst Jesse Palmer informed ESPN’s audience that Colorado has an advantage with playmakers because Oregon has difficulty tackling.
- :06 – The slot man really puts his shoulder into the effort here, and Florence has a hard time keeping up with the X. Nice tackle by #13 DB Addison to limit the damage. Hill and Tuioti get home on the blitz but the latter is properly flagged for roughing the passer on a high hit.
- :25 – The TE manages to take out both #2 ILB Bassa and #25 CB Reed on this downfield block; by this late in the game Reed needs to predict this is coming and get around it, maybe change his pre-snap leverage. Given that the ball never travels beyond the line of scrimmage due to Williams annihilating the back and #1 DE Burch beating the RT, the no-flag is appropriate. Impressive grip by the QB to hold onto the ball.
- :44 – Typically mesh routes which are meant to present both options for the QB are spaced an armspan apart, the immediate contact by #0 DB Ty. Johnson turns a rub into collision which Hill doesn’t avoid. Again Purchase and Tuioti have beat the tackles, this time the LT wants to get a closer look at the former’s home uniform, but the latter is free to bring down the QB.
There were only two meaningful designed rushes in the first half. Colorado did run one other time, though it was on 3rd and 33 backed up deep in their territory and clearly wasn’t a serious attempt to convert but rather to give the punter operating space, and I customarily exclude such plays from the dataset. Here are both remaining designed runs:
- :00 – Aumavae, Burch, and #3 DL Dorlus wreck the OL without help from the backers, a key element to the Mint defensive philosophy’s approach to run-stopping.
- :07 – While Oregon does have a number of bluechip players in its defensive front, on this play it’s former mid 3-star recruit #90 OLB Shipley setting the edge and forcing the back to cut inside, and walk-on #28 ILB Boettcher on loan from the baseball team looping around to make the tackle.
All predictions in last week’s preview proceeded nominally.