My friends, Coach Cam Pettus from Illinois has been an analyst for FishDuck.com in the past, and a friend of our beloved Ducks, and I am delighted to have his feedback on the 2017 Ducks. – Charles Fischer
As a high school football coach, I get time to enjoy the summer with my family, as well as time for self-reflection and analysis as a coach. I like to study football, as it is a passion of mine. (I have been an Oregon football fan now for many years.) A native of Georgia, I have always had a deep love for SEC football, but when I studied and watched Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks eight years ago when I became a head coach, I knew there was something special happening in Eugene.
I studied everything I could about Oregon football and the Ducks’ high-flying attack. I immediately recognized the tempo and efficiency of the offense. As a defensive coordinator before I became the head coach, I saw how hard the Oregon offense was to defend in the PAC-12, so I installed Oregon’s offense in our high school. The high-flying zone read schemes coupled with play action at an extremely fast tempo has treated us well, and we’ve had great successes in our school that have not been accomplished in decades – thanks, in a large part, to Oregon football.
As the years have gone by, I have noticed that defenses are catching up to the spread offense and no-huddle. Football is cyclical. One side of the ball catches up to the other, and then things change, a lot of times going back to ideas that were around a long time ago, recycled and repacked into “Cutting Edge” offenses, defenses or special teams.
As all coaches know, in order to be effective, you must adapt and always move forward, look for ways that may improve your team and program. As a coach, I also know all too well how critics seem to know all the answers. I don’t want to be a critic because I know how hard this profession is. I would simply like to point out the positives that I recognized when I was able to study and watch the Oregon spring game recently.
First I would like to say I think Willie Taggart will do an outstanding job as Head Coach at Oregon. He has implemented his power-based spread offense. He also hired an outstanding staff, with Defensive Coordinator Jim Leavitt and Mario Cristobal as both offensive line coach and run game coordinator.
Coach Leavitt, I believe, is one of the best coaches in the country. The work he has done speaks for itself. One thing I noticed about the defense in the spring game was how exceptional the defensive back play was when the ball was in the air. In both man and zone, the defensive backs made great breaks and made plays on the ball. (Knocking the ball out of hands when playing man-to-man was one of the best things I noticed.)
Even when the defensive back might have been “out of phase” in man coverage on his receiver and could not look back for the ball – I liked the way the defensive backs tracked the WRs’ eyes and hands. Making a play on the ball when you cannot see the ball is a very special talent. This allows you to play man to man defense, and if you can play great man to man and deny the receiver the ability to catch the ball, then you can commit more defenders to the box and run game and get pressure on the QB.
I noticed both safeties and corners doing a nice job of this. Coach Keith Heyward and Coach Charles Clark have done great work teaching this technique. The ability to play zone is also just as important as the ability to play man. I liked the way the defensive backs played the ball in the air when in zone coverage. Making a play on the ball and catching it or knocking it down at its high point was a very impressive skill I thought multiple defensive backs showed during the game.
Zone pass coverage allows for more turnovers because more eyes are on the quarterback and the ball. I can see a rise in turnovers for the Oregon defense this upcoming season. Like I tell my own team, if we score on defense, we win, and I see Oregon scoring on defense this season.
Offensively there were also many positives I noticed in the spring game. The run game is going to be a force to be reckoned with, as I love incorporating the pistol and power game into Oregon’s offense. I’m a big fan of the power game because it gets more of the experienced offensive lineman to the point of attack. If the defense is not solid with their run fits it creates creases in the defense.
Unlike the traditional zone read scheme, the power scheme creates that mismatch because on snap you can pull a lineman to the other side of the ball. If the linebacker on backside is slow in recognition or does not get in proper placement, that’s when the crease occurs. You might also need help from a safety to stop a power play, and when you get a safety involved, that’s when it gets fun with play action passes. I liked running back Royce Freeman in this power attack. I think he is a special player, and this scheme fits his strengths nicely.
Play action passes in the spring game were more positives for the Ducks. TEs Ryan Bay and Matt Mariota created nice mismatches. Blocking was good from these guys, and when you add their athleticism and pass-catching abilities, it is really a nightmare for defensive coordinators. Coach Marcus Arroyo is going to have a lot of fun with these players this season.
I was impressed with the poise and quarterback play of Justin Herbert. I think he has good athleticism and I really liked how he handled himself in the spring game. I know the quarterback was not live and you never really know until you play in a game, but I thought he was a real positive. The one play that stuck in my mind was the dropped snap fumble that he picked up without putting his knee on ground and then completed the pass.
This play tells us quite a bit about Herbert under pressure; this is what we like to see as a coach. First, he had great awareness and knew he had time to continue the play; second, he was athletic by not letting his knee hit the ground; third, he was athletic and accurate as he completed the pass; and finally, he was cool and calm about it, which to me showed great poise. The run game and play action will fit him well, and he also showed good accuracy in his drop back passing game. He was an exciting positive in the spring game for me as a fan and a coach.
An additional positive on offense I noted was the depth of the offensive line. There is going to be great competition at the offensive line, which will really elevate their level of play. It creates a major strength when you have great depth at offensive line, as injuries frequently occur during the season.
I think the offensive line will really enjoy playing for Coaches Taggart and Cristobal because of the fun schemes they will get to do and the level of coaching they will receive. For an offensive lineman there is not much more fun than a power scheme. The pure physical nature of the play along with pulling and running is a blast.
Special teams we will see more of as the season progresses. We can keep you posted here on FishDuck.com moving forward. A final positive in this article is thanking my friends at FishDuck.com for allowing me to share some of my current thoughts on Oregon football.
I am really excited about the future of Oregon football for 2017 and see the Ducks moving forward in a very positive direction.
Coach Cameron Pettus
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove