With that very first play from scrimmage — a ten yard completion from Justin Herbert to Dillon Mitchell — you could feel Duck Nation let out a collective sigh of relief, as if to say: “Our long offensive nightmare is over.”
Good times are here again as the flash n’ balls of the Oregon offensive showed up for the first time since September 30th. And it goes without saying that the return of Justin Herbert wasn’t just part of the reason, but was the whole reason. But it didn’t hurt that Willie Taggart evolved in play calling by not only protecting Herbert, but also incorporating some of the “old” Oregon offense that worked so well in the past.
Three Attention Grabbing Plays
(In honor of the passing of legendary AC/DC guitarist Malcom Young on Saturday, we shall pay tribute by naming these plays after their signature song “Highway to Hell.”)
The Double-Reverse Flea Flicker to Hell: Herbert pitched the ball to Royce Freeman who ran right and threw it to a reversing Charles Nelson, who then handed it back to Herbert, who tossed it to a streaking Johnny Johnson down the sideline. This was a “hell yeah!” play that erupted Autzen and had fans at home jumping off their couches. It punctuated the feeling that with Herbert back, it was time to let the good times roll once again.
The Quarterback Scramble to Hell: Herbert reviving the passing game came as no surprise. But, his 40-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was a surprise and a true crowd pleaser. Perhaps the lesson here is that if you run the quarterback less frequently — as the Ducks did on Saturday — there may be a greater chance of catching the defense off-guard when the quarterback does run.
The Unsportsmanlike Conduct to Hell: As Arizona’s Dane Cruikshank taunted and finger wagged his way into the end-zone, most duck fans were thinking, or even verbalizing, “that son-of-a-b****!” So, nothing could have given us greater pleasure than seeing the flag thrown, the touchdown reversed, and Rich Rod all over his player on the sideline. Now if the Ducks had only not let Cruikshank off the hook by allowing the Cats to score. But it was still great to see.
A) The Ducks held Khalil Tate, the nation’s No. 2 rusher, to just 32 yards on the ground and 191 total yards. Here are his rushing totals for the season: Colo: 327, UCLA: 230, Cal: 137, WSU: 146, USC: 161, OSU: 206
B) Royce Freeman, who gained 135 yards on 19 carries, extended his own record with his 30th career 100-yard game.
C) Freeman is now Oregon’s all-time touchdown leader with 62, and the Ducks all-time leading scorer, with 372 points.
D) Freeman moved past LaDainian Tomlinson for 10th on the all-time NCAA rushing list, with 5,499 yards.
E) Oregon had a pair of 100-yard rushers for the third time this year after Royce Freeman gained 135 yards and Tony Brooks-James had 124. UO’s 353 rushing yards set a season-high.
F) Kicker Aidan Schneider moved into a tie with Jared Siegel for the all-time Oregon field-goal mark with 49.
G) With Herbert, the Ducks have averaged 50.2 points and are 4-1. Without Herbert, the Ducks averaged 15 points and went 1-4.
H) Herbert is averaging 14.9 yards per completion this season. The rest of Oregon’s quarterbacks only 7.7.
I) Herbert completed 14 of 21 passes for 235 yards. In the past five games without Herbert, backup Braxton Burmeister threw for a grand total of 320 yards.
J) Tyrell Crosby, the senior left tackle, is in contention to become just the fifth Oregon offensive lineman to earn first-team All-America honors, joining Hroniss Grasu (2014), Jake Fisher (2014), Gary Zimmerman (1983) and Steve Barnett (1961-62).
K) Oregon had 12 penalties, totaling 117 yards. But ya know how life goes: in a loss, we call it “sloppy play”; in a win, we call it “overly aggressive”.
L) Oregon’s schedule currently rates as the country’s 28th most-difficult.
With the victory, the Ducks will play in a bowl game and get the extra practice time that comes with it. Also, with Herbert back, the Ducks regain momentum on a season that was in a free-fall. A free-falling team is something that can scare away potential recruits, and give second thoughts to the ones who have already committed.
The maturation of Taggart’s play calling was also nice to see for the future of the program. Instead of being dogmatic about playing his style of offense no matter what the costs. Taggart found a happy balance of Gulf-Coast, west-coast, and playing to his quarterback’s strengths, instead of trying to shoe-horn him in to something that didn’t quite fit.
Oregon football was back to being Oregon football on Saturday. Things like finding a solid backup quarterback are worries for another day as we bask in a solid victory that builds momentum for greater things to come. But for now we can enjoy the moment, and get good and ready to roll the Beavers.
Sure does feel good to be “Back in Black.”
Darren Perkins (@PerkinsDarren)
Top photo credit: Eugene Johnson