Since the loss of quarterback Justin Herbert, long-suffering Duck fans have watched Oregon’s offense curl up and wither. Still “PTSD’d” from the Alamo Bowl two years ago, it has blurred the brighter, optimistic future that was on the horizon. After Braxton Burmeister threw two interceptions, Coach Willie Taggart threw away his pass play sheet and decided he would attempt a comeback running inside zone plays, run the clock out, or both. To no avail, the Stanford Cardinal hardly broke a sweat in a 49-7 romp.
With the limitations put on Oregon’s play and formation selection, it may take a miracle to make something of this season. Most of the blame has gone to the quarterback, but in times when no one is open, receivers stand around with a hand in the air instead of scrambling to find spaces in the coverage. Duck coaches haven’t shown any creativity either – they haven’t taken advantage of motion that leaves the backside receiver in loose zone coverage. Look to see if Oregon throws any passes at all and if any are in the middle area of the field against UCLA. Burmeister had one opportunity against Stanford and hit Freeman for a first down.
On the second play of the game, (above) Oregon is in an eagle front with the right defensive end allowing Stanford’s left tackle an unimpeded release inside where he wipes out Oregon’s backside linebacker. The Ducks’ defensive end (No. 11) meets the pulling guard square up (to the blocker, not to the line of scrimmage), where he is hooked inside and loses his outside leverage responsibility. The fullback steps up, pulls to his left like a guard, and pins Oregon’s onside linebacker (No. 35) inside.
Since the corner is 12 yards deep trying to fight off the wide receiver’s block, there is no one on the edge of the defense with the most dangerous runner in college football steamrolling around for 34 yards. Lastly, the angle of the safety coming to the alley is too slow — like a Big Sky defender trying to tackle a Pac-12 superstar. This looked very much like last year’s defense.
Here’s how you stop yourself on offense: With an inside running play, (above) Royce Freeman bounces outside to his left. The wide receiver to that side (No. 80) could easily release outside and sprint deep, drawing the man-to-man corner with him. Instead, he chooses to block him on the line of scrimmage as Royce breaks outside and easily has the first down.
Unfortunately, the wide receiver attempts to block the corner as he is losing control by hooking him with his hand. Freeman gains 19 yards, and the Ducks get a first down. But wait — a holding penalty (for a block that was not needed in that yardage situation) brings the play back. Instead of a gain of 19, it is a loss of 22 yards. The penalty is caused by a lack of discipline and of awareness of the yardage needed for a first down. After a great start to the season on third-down conversions, the Ducks offense has collapsed – many times because of penalties due to lack of judgment and discipline.
On the Stanford’s second drive (of one play above), Bryce Love takes it 67 yards for a touchdown against a defense that again, makes critical mistakes. Oregon’s defensive end (No. 97) battles his blocker and is able to maintain outside leverage. This is a good example of that. Unfortunately, the tight end on the left has a free release, meaning not a hand is laid on him, and he is able to eliminate the inside linebacker.
Stanford’s wide receiver is releasing inside to crack back on the free safety. The strong safety sees this and should replace the free safety’s alley responsibility, but he does not. Instead, he wanders outside, far too wide to help contain Love. In this case, it turns out the Ducks have two defenders on the edge and no one in the alley. Love is only too happy to cut inside and then outside where the last remaining defender has been pushed almost off the field.
You would think Coach Taggart would remember that, in the Arizona State and Washington State losses, the Duck offensive line could not root out the defense to convert for a first down on consecutive 3/1 and 4/1 plays. That is now a three-game streak, including Stanford stuffing Oregon’s best back when the Ducks needed some fire to its sputtering offense. Oregon’s tight end (No. 27) is physically unable to block the man over him and is forced to tackle him to keep him out of the play. Stanford’s outside defender, like the Cougar defender, comes down hard, playing Freeman all the way as Burmeister hands him the ball.
Burmeister read the zone option several times against Stanford, but here, he is either blowing the read or the coach has told him to just hand it off. Had Burmeister been reading this play, he should have kept it and converted the first down easily. Going for it on fourth down is one thing, but if you’re not reading the zone play, you’re only playing with half a deck.
The Duck offensive line is not powerful enough to own the line of scrimmage. If you’re not going to read the play, you might as well throw a short play action post route off the zone read — you know all defenders will be playing the dive, just like the Ducks did before Stanford’s third touchdown.
UCLA: Can the Ducks Score Enough Points to Stay Close?
Coach Taggart has pointed out that the Ducks are 4-3 on the season, and to be sure, there have been some bright spots. The defense played hard in the Stanford loss, but the lack of athletic ability in the secondary showed (particularly at safety), and the cornerbacks couldn’t make a play to save their lives. UCLA is sometimes the best passing team in the conference, and unless the Oregon offensive coaches can find a couple of pass plays their own 4-star recruited quarterback can throw, all the Bruins will have to do is score four touchdowns, and they have a sure win.
Coach Ken Woody
Top Photo: Jerry Thompson
Ken Woody is a former Fox Sports football commentator who played defensive back, receiver and kicker for Oregon from 1966 to 1970. He coached college football for 18 years, including stints as an assistant coach at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State, and was head coach at Whitman College and Washington University-St. Louis.
Buy the book to learn from Coach Woody, or give a gift of football.
“Every Oregon fan should have a copy to learn from as I do.” Charles Fischer