My wife burst into the infamous FishDuck.com ManCave late Saturday night and shouted, “What was that huge THUD out there?” I told her …
“That was us Oregon fans coming back to Earth.”
There is no sugar-coating that game. The Ducks lost to a 1-2 team known for poor defense and are known by all to be in the bottom half of the conference. Admit it — when you looked at the schedule — you chalked up a win. I know I did.
A businessman / philosopher once told me that when you get really frustrated … turn it into fascination. And I was pretty fascinated with all the ways that the cosmos seemed to conspire against Oregon in the first half and in the third quarter. It seemed that one weird thing after another occurred, and when it didn’t — the Ducks shot themselves in the foot with penalties.
My title was going to be Good, but Not Great if we won. What do we say about the team now?
A couple of writers on FishDuck.com have pointed out (including prediction Guru Mike Merrell) that the fate of Oregon’s season resides with all the “middlin'” games against those in the middle of conference. How we do against those teams will determine our post-season, and this was a toughie to start with.
We had as many as four freshmen in the game on defense at one time, and I could not complain about their effort. Our DBs were often “in-phase” with the ASU receivers running routes, but simply got out-jumped or beaten by a superb throw. Sometimes you have to salute the other team, but thinking of that and Todd Graham leaves a raspy aftertaste.
It could have been worse, but thank goodness other teams screw up almost as much as we do in some games. I will not pile on your misery too much, but I do have three major areas that IMHO were tipping points in this game that I wish to touch on.
Surprised by the “Zone-Read?”
It was pretty well known that the Sun Devils had an outstanding athlete in Manny Wilkins, who could operate the Zone Read superbly. He made good reads and could blow through the defense if mistakes were made. Remember that I made videos about the Zone Read five years ago, and if the defensive end who is being read “sits,” then the quarterback hands off to the running back because the sitting defensive end has the quarterback covered.
But Oregon’s right-side defensive end (Justin Hollins, No. 11, yellow arrow above) acts like he has never seen the Zone Read and played it perfectly … wrong. He comes in too deep, and then sits. Thus, by sitting, he is not slowing down the running back. And, by penetrating too deep down the LOS, the ASU QB (red arrow above) can pull the ball and beat him to the corner or goal line.
And Wilkins did — for two touchdowns.
Growing pains, my friends. We are better on defense than last year, but we have a long way to go down that yellow brick road to arrive at our Emerald City.
Sorry, but … “I Told You So.”
I wrote, to the dismay of many, about our lack of experience and skill at the receiver position going into this season, and it was not well received. I pointed out how on other Oregon teams that, with one injury, they still had two other experienced studs pulling in the catches. We only had one wideout with experience to begin with, and woe to us if he gets hurt.
The loss of Charles Nelson was not just felt at crunch time — it was all night at crucial junctures. I counted at least four passes that were in the hands of Tony Brooks-James, Johnny Johnson, Dillon Mitchell and Brenden Schooler (actually, two for him). These were catches that would have been made by Nelson and more experienced receivers — catches that will be made by this group in future years.
I like the look of their development and growth, but they were not ready for crunch time. I felt sorry for Justin Herbert, who placed some dandies into their mitts — only to have them bounce out. These were big plays, and momentum-changing plays, that did not happen. Experience matters at receiver. The good news is that next year we will have a ton of it and will have laid a base of excellence for a long time to come.
Lack of Running-Game Innovation …
I recall the ASU game in 2011, where I made a video (above) in which Bryan Bennett was Zone Reading the middle linebacker (red arrow above). Oregon had a Sweep Read going left (yellow arrow above) and a Speed Double-Option going right (green arrow above). Kenjon Barner got the handoff for a big gain, but the point was my wonderment at the offensive innovation in the running game.
Oregon is not doing anything now in the running game that is innovative at all; we primarily run the Counter-Trey, and Inside Zone Read, and I watched three teams other than Oregon run those same plays Saturday. One of them was Arizona State. (Guess who ran them better?)
These are the growing pains of not just the players, but also the coaches as they learn to operate with a little less of the Jimmies and Joes for the moment and to rely a bit more on the Xs and Os. While I point out these things, I also have faith that over the next two years we will be grateful for these teaching moments that we are cringing through now, as we savor the success later that is sure to come to this team.
Oh how we love to learn about our Beloved Ducks!
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Top Photo from Video