Let me clarify that title: it was a perfect game in that we fans, the players and the Oregon coaching staff learned a ton while still winning the game. You do not learn as much from a Southern Utah game as you do in a game against Nebraska, hence this was ideal for the coaches as a wake-up call in how to play football in a Power-5 non-conference game. I will offer my “FishWrap” of observations, and I invite you to offer yours in the comments below.
Encouraging and Exciting Progress …
At times I am stunned at how accurate Justin Herbert is. That pass to Charles Nelson in the corner of the end zone had to be perfect in terms of trajectory and timing — and it was. I am sure that all of you are excited about the continued progression of the young receiver corps. While I was thrilled for Brenden Schooler making an athletic catch, and Johnny Johnson III making the dive snag look routine again, I was absolutely stoked to see Dillon Mitchell get five catches, some that were important at the moment in the game.
We badly needed him to begin to make plays and emerge as the counter to Charles Nelson and take pressure off of No. 6. Great to see Cam McCormick get a snag, as all of these young-guns at receiver are beginning to realize that “I can do it.” At times this season when we must pass the ball, this growing experience and confidence by these young wideouts is going to make or break games.
The Defensive Enigma …
My friends, at times I don’t know what to make of the defense — are they really improving as it appears? We do have to look at the facts, and the facts remind us that Nebraska scored 35 points on a terrible defense last year (35-32) and scored 35 points on an improved defense this year (42-35). The numbers indicate no movement, and we forget that Nebraska was a nine-win team last year, and might be headed for a similar season this year with eight to nine wins. Just how good is this Duck defense?
Like you, I am pumped about how this defense got four interceptions and held the Cornhuskers to only 109 yards rushing. It just didn’t feel that way, as the Cornhusker 75 and 95 yard drives were gashing us up on the ground in the first half, and a quarterback who would not be in the top half of Pac-12 QBs had 252 yards and three touchdowns against the secondary. I am getting mixed feelings: I can see progress, but it is not showing up on the scoreboard yet.
We have a long ways to go yet in personnel, and it will take years to recruit and train the talent. Kaulana Apelu is a nice story, but a middle linebacker at 5’11” and 200 pounds is not Kiko Alonso, and it is the “Kiko” type of talent that is needed for a playoff defense. Ditto with Jalen Jelks. He is a wonderful pass rusher on 3rd and long, but at 245 pounds going against 310 pound offensive tackles, he gets buried in run defense. We need Scott Pagano now.
It is great to talk about the freshmen, but Thomas Graham is not Ifo Ekpre-Olomu yet, and while Nick Pickett got me excited with shooting through the lane to nail the running back on a sweep, he is not Avery Patterson yet. Add up all that inexperienced and undersized talent and you realize that this Duck defense really has two years to go. In the meantime? We gotta celebrate the baby-steps as they come…
Taggart Sucked Into the “Royce Rut”
Some of you readers have not enjoyed my transformation as a writer on this site. Since I do not care about hits on the site anymore — I write whatever the hell I want, without regard to whether or not it’s sunshine pumping. I state what I see, and while at times I have been the biggest cheerleader for Coach Willie Taggart, nobody wears a halo, and Taggart needs to step up his game a bit. A schedule for a Power-5 team is different from the American Athletic Conference where Tulsa, Tulane, and East Carolina reside. He made some questionable decisions Saturday, and thankfully survived the results of his inexperience at this level.
He must not have watched tape/film/digital of Royce Freeman at the mid and late sections of the seasons over his career. There is a pattern of coaches overworking him early in the season and by mid-point, like Cal of last year, Royce had no wiggle or speed to even reach the corner. It was Thomas Tyner and Kani Benoit who rescued the running game against Florida State in the Rose Bowl Playoff game. Freeman was burnt.
I am a big advocate of bringing power and fresh legs in the fourth quarter, and we had the ideal experienced candidate for that in Benoit, yet Willie fell into the “Royce Rut” of prior coaches.
Willie’s Puzzling End Game…
There are rumors of Herbert having an injury on his throwing hand that might account for moving away from the passing success of the first half, but it does not explain the easy five-yard chunks available on the Bubble Screen in the second half due to how the Cornhuskers lined up. The strategy was Cornhusker outside linebackers lining up halfway between the wideouts and the box, and then sprinting to the box once the play was for certain a running one. Hence you now had seven to eight in the box when WCT was jamming Freeman in there instead of six of seven earlier in the game when the perimeter Bubble Screens were being implemented and respected by the Nebraska defense.
The quarterback power play near the end was risky, but brilliant with an empty backfield, when used sparingly and for key moments such as that one. But how about more variety of play options for the end game? There are safe alternatives, such as Tony Brooks-James catching a flare out of the backfield, or crossing Jacob Breeland at seven yards to keep the clock running.
And for crying out loud … do not risk injury to Herbert on a play between the tackles! We Oregon fans have paid too damn much for season tickets and donations to watch another season go down the drain with the loss of a tremendous quarterback. Recruit your damn running quarterbacks to come here, but adapt to what we have; a fantastic passer with no depth.
Look out for Laramie!
My friends, the schedule gives Oregon an upcoming game that will resemble another conference game in the Wyoming Cowboys. Why? An investment/planned giving client of mine from Wyoming reminded me that middle school gyms in Laramie have oxygen tanks and masks for the students when they run out of breath at the incredibly high elevation … and these are the natives to the area. Their quarterback Josh Allen is considered a high top ten first round NFL Draft choice, and that info-fact is not comforting with what I saw in pass defense from the Ducks. Be prepared for a dilly.
The Nebraska game was perfect in the atmosphere, the colors in the stadium (we should always wear yellow) and what this team learned about themselves … and Oregon won. Let’s cheer our beloved Ducks on to keep it going!
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
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