Oregon’s New LONG-BALL Strategy

Dillon Vibes Spring Game

Something I worried about going into last season was the skill Vernon Adams had in throwing the long-ball, and whether the coaches would allow him to do it. It took awhile, but it became apparent to all that (even with the occasional interception) the odds for a completion were good, and sometimes for big scores at big moments. I know this was out of the Ducks’ comfort zone considering how little they throw deep since Mike Bellotti was HC, but it was apparent in his film and in practice that letting Vernon throw deep was a good percentage play.

This is something I’ve been squirming about for years, as there is a big difference between throwing a long-ball 40 yards in the air versus completing a pass 20 yards down the field and letting the receiver run the rest of the way for a touchdown. The consistent threat of the deep ball opens up the remainder of the field for routes like the mid-line flood and drag patterns so much more effectively. And with a dangerous passing game – the holes open up just a bit more for Royce Freeman, Kani Benoit, Tony Brooks-James and Taj Griffin to do their damage … and it all starts with the long-ball.

A big part of the long-ball’s success last year was not only the skill of Vernon Adams, but the confidence he had in his wide-outs coming down with the ball. Above is one of the best examples, as Vernon throws it up and it appears that the USC safety/corner is going to easily catch it for the pick. I was sitting nearby watching this and was groaning that “Vernon threw it right to the Trojan!”

But Charles Nelson (above) decided it was his ball, and cut in front for the catch and the TD that brought Autzen to screams. Adams had to have the assurance over the season that his WRs would go up and get the ball, and Nelson is one of the safest bets to come down with the reception!

                                 (Video is set above to start directly at the play referred to below)
Another great example is how Darren Carrington will adjust his body to put it where he has the best chance to catch the ball (see above). This was the first game after Vernon came back from injury, and thus the beginning of him building trust from the coaching staff that his long-ball could be a major part of the Oregon offense. There are so many examples of Carrington and Nelson going up for the ball, but you get the idea from these examples. The best part?  Both are back for 2016 as savvy, smart receivers who have done it all in the Oregon Spread Offense.

                                                (Video is set above to start directly at the play referred to below)
Another candidate for the big-bomb play is Pharaoh “the freak” Brown, who returns from injury this season. His talents are so unique, and it was fun to see his huge 6’6 frame flying down the field during the open practice this spring. When he catches the ball at the height of his jump, it is higher than any safety or linebacker covering him. The play above demonstrates that he too, will go up and get the ball even when being draped by a defender. He is ideal for red zone plays, but throwing a long wheel route to him is a high percentage play as well, in my opinion.

A player I have yet to mention is Dwayne Stanford, a money-man in so many plays over the last three years. Go back and check how many times the Ducks went to No. 88 on 3rd-and-7, and you will see plays like those noted above (see his USC TD from last year, as well). We have a ton of experienced receivers who have earned the trust of the coaching staff for the long-ball, and they all will be back!

But will the coaches continue the long-ball strategy? I was hoping it would survive because Dakota Prukop had to throw a ton of long passes in his career. While not quite as good as Adams, he was better than most of our previous QBs at throwing long bombs from what I could see on tape. Keep in mind he did not have Oregon-type receivers at Montana State, and had to make things happen on his own. He is used to handling the pressure of big situations and having confidence in his wide-outs to come down with the ball.

                             (Video is set above to start directly at the play referred to below)
The Spring Game (above) brought us the answer in the form of two delightful responses: first we see that Dakota did have the green light to loft one up for the receivers; and second, we have another bomb candidate in freshman receiver Dillon Mitchell, who fought for, and came down with the football as good as any veteran at Oregon.

                       (Video above is the same, but lined up to start at the second bomb touchdown)
As if the first one wasn’t enough to give us confirmation, Prukop connected with Mitchell on a second bomb (above), where again Mitchell had to fight the defensive back for the ball to come down with it. It is evident that Oregon has five receivers who can be counted upon in a long-ball play, and that is a big part in the coach’s confidence in retaining the “bomb” in the Oregon arsenal for 2016.

Holy Crap this is going to be fun to watch (and check for my upcoming Monday articles about the 2016 season)!

“Oh how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer  (FishDuck)
College Football Analyst for FishDuck.com 
Eugene, Oregon

Top Photo by Dillon Vibes

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Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer has been an intense fan of the Ducks for thirty years and has written reports on football boards for over a dozen years. Known as “FishDuck” on those boards, he is acknowledged for providing intense detail in his scrimmage reports and in his Xs and Os play analyses. He and his wife Lois, a daughter, Christine, and their dog (Abbie) reside in Eugene, Oregon, where he has been a financial advisor for 30 years serving clients in seven different states. He does not profess to be a coach or analyst, but simply a “hack” that enjoys sharing what he has learned and invites others to correct or add to this body of Oregon Football! See More...

  • BK

    What about the fastest wr on the team – Devon Allen, potentially our best threat to stretch the defense. Are you assuming he is passing up next year on the gridiron?

    • I believe he will join us in mid-September and be a valuable member of a team that will go far. I did not cite him as an example because I do not recall him going up and fighting for a ball from a db the way I saw other WRs play. Not a knock–just my observation.

      We need him on the team because even with all the play-makers present….injuries happen, and he is a proven performer.

      • duckusucker

        Good points about Allen. Also, with his track background, he not only has blazing speed, he has the conditioning to run long route after long route at warp speed: this will tire out any corner over a full game. A bonus: he’s tough as any receiver on the team, ready to deliver blocks and stiff arms.

  • goducks58

    Thanks Charles for a fine article on the Ducks and the long ball. I do think that the deep threat keeps defenses honest and opens up the field for a myriad of underneath plays. I also happen to think it makes the game more exciting. But while I appreciate the number of Oregon receivers who do have that “ball is mine” attitude, I prefer high percentage passes to jump balls.

    • We all prefer the high percentage, and the word I have is that Prukop is smart in his judgment in what to throw and what not. Yet it is nice WRs like the ones mentioned who will increase the percentage of them thrown.