I admit it.
I am one of those spoiled Oregon fans that others write so negatively of. I don’t just want to win … I want Oregon to win big and when they don’t, I am disappointed. However, since I began this website I’ve been able to view the Ducks through the prism of a 30-year ticket holder and one who has the benefit of comparing the 2016 version of Duck football to past teams. This has been a great era for Oregon football, and I don’t want it to end, hence why I and thousands of other Duck fans are hoping/wishing for Oregon blowouts to affirm the status quo of Oregon being an elite team.
We did not score enough nor make enough stops on defense against two weak opponents to start the year, to confirm my lofty predictions before the season began - and it is disconcerting to all. This website is going to be moving through a transformation over the next year, and the beginning of those changes will become apparent shortly, beginning with this article forward. I am going to give my thoughts and those of a coach or two to give you a taste of the future.
Offense: Unfulfilled, but Immense Upside
That subtitle says it all; we are not there yet on the offensive line – as evidenced by confidence shown by the coaches in play calling – but what has been done thus far is impressive considering the circumstances.
Yesterday the Ducks had one true starter on the offensive line for the majority of the day in Cameron Hunt (who was called for a couple penalties), as Terrell Crosby was forced to the sidelines in the first half. Oregon had Brady Aiello playing alongside Shane Lemieux on the left side, with center Jake Hanson next to him for three redshirt freshmen in a row, with the right side manned by Cam Hunt, Doug Brenner, or Evan Voeller at guard. The right tackle was redshirt freshman Calvin Throckmorton or Zac Morgan to have two newbies at that spot the entire game.
What I watched with the offensive linemen was impressive at times in how they already understand zone blocking and how simply shielding – at worst – can still create a running lane and how to effectively double-team and then peel off to the linebacker, can assure eight or nine yards often in Oregon’s running attack. Now, they got beat at times and made mistakes, to be sure, but the talent and the good plays (which were more numerous than last week) pointed to how this offensive line is on the road to ultimately being very good.
Pass protection is something they are still mastering as they got fooled by some stunts or reacted a second too late, yet that can and will be overcome with the intelligence and talent I have witnessed. They will improve, and – because of the extreme number of skill players – will still help score a boatload of points. This offense can become the scoring machine I envisioned, but it was unreasonable of me to think that they could do it quickly. Even the most talented players have to learn and put in their dues, but my optimism for this offense will ultimately become a reality.
I am delighted to see the coaches loosen up with more downfield passing, allowing Pharaoh Brown and Devon Allen to re-emerge as weapons. This bodes well for elevated scoring through the season. The best part of the offensive analysis process is reviewing the poise and savvy of Dakota Prukop as he leads this team with his many skills. The Grizzled Ol’ Coach felt that, just as a good point guard helps his teammates score …
“Dakota Prukop made everyone else better in the Virginia game … as well as any Duck quarterback ever.”
He stood and took a hit to deliver incredibly accurate passes, he made great decisions in the Zone Read, he ran for key first downs, and showed great poise and leadership in directing the team. “An average or inexperienced quarterback would not have won that game against Virginia,” stated retired coach Mike Morris.
He went on to say how an average quarterback would have been sacked as many as five times but that Prukop escaped, and how “if that was not a Mariota-like performance, then it was only a slight notch below it.” For a more apt comparison he cited, “Think of Vernon Adams with legs.” (Speed)
Dakota’s performance also points to a prolific scoring offense this season, as his progression in implementing the Oregon scheme was quite an upgrade from his first game.
The Oregon Defense: Brace Yourself
I have been appalled at what I have seen from the Duck defense in the first two games.
Keep in mind that this website is going to become more of an analysis location for college football, and not just Oregon football over the next year. So the focus will be upon learning, which comes from both the good and the bad plays, and we will be reviewing both sets of plays in the future as we did in last week’s analysis. Thus I will not be the usual Duck homer of the past. When I discuss a negative, however, I will back it up with screenshots and video for use as learning tools to better understand and appreciate this wonderful game we love.
That won’t begin until next week, as I wish to allow the bloodletting at Nebraska (or the improvement) occur on defense before I begin to analyze and dissect the positive and negative plays. I will give you some initial thoughts from the GOC, as well as my own, from the first two games – and it is nearly the opposite of what we saw on offense.
We have significant questions about the tactics, the techniques and the coaching taking place on defense. This is not a complex defense, taking one gap, yet I saw as many as three defensive linemen on one play doing the two-gap! This meant that instead of having their head and shoulder in the gap, they were hand fighting the Cavalier offensive linemen, did not get off their blocks and watched the running backs zip past.
I watched in horror as two linebackers covered the same gap while the other inside gap was open – guess where the Virginia running back was making 8-10 yards a crack?
I noted how deep the Oregon linebackers were playing due to the observation of coach Morris, and how, instead of charging their gap and getting leverage on a lead blocker, they were hesitant, which defeated the purpose of lining up deep. In short, this is not the “Green Wall” that I envisioned and hoped for when Brady Hoke was hired as the new defensive coordinator.
Some would say there was a large rotation to keep defenders fresh, while I saw it as “throwing mud against a wall to see who could stick.” We trotted out numerous linebackers who made the same mistakes, and frankly I am not sure we can solve those issues anytime soon. Players are not following their reads, and the tricky blitzes have had either minimal effect, or have opened up big plays against the Oregon defense.
One prediction from the GOC is to watch for backup strongside linebacker Jonah Moi to get a shot at middle linebacker, based upon his play.
The defensive coaching staff pulled safeties from the three-deep (Fotu Leiato III) and even a true freshman who played the fall camp at corner (Brenden Schooler). I was encouraged that perhaps a new talent might have been found, since Schooler seemed quite comfortable in his center field role as the free safety, having played that position in high school.
We have a mess on the defensive side of the ball, but it is one that can be improved to adequate if responsibilities are followed and correct techniques applied. The GOC was not optimistic about that prospect as he felt that,
“Nebraska has a running quarterback that will give the Ducks trouble, and the Cornhuskers could score 45 points or more. This game will indicate our potential success against Pac-12 opponents, since this conference is offensive minded.”
We are back to the old days where Oregon won by outscoring opponents, and the question now is whether the offense can progress quickly enough to put up the kind of points that will be needed to win the upcoming shootouts.
Tomorrow we will cover a unique new play in the Oregon offense, and next week we will begin to learn about how the 4-3 defense operates, looking at both the positive and negative plays as learning tools. The emphasis will not be to complain but to learn and to be able to anticipate and appreciate the great plays of the future as they occur.
Top photo by Gary Breedlove
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
College Football Analyst for FishDuck.com