After a five-week glimpse of medieval offensive football, many Oregon fans are looking forward to quarterback Justin Herbert’s return at the helm of the Ducks offensive. The latest indignity was a 38-3 thrashing at the hands of Washington that conjured up visions of last year’s 70-21 humiliation. In both years, Huskies coach Chris Petersen mercifully called off the players in the fourth quarter.
Coach Willie Taggart and his staff have a bye week to repair the damaged egos of defensive players who have had to play too much game time as Herbert was rehabbing his broken collarbone.
Even two weeks to prepare for Arizona and its Heisman-eligible quarterback Khalil Tate may not be enough for the Ducks. Bad habits, thought to be left behind, reared their ugly heads in the Washington game. Breakdowns in tackling and pass and kick coverage, along with the absence of a passing game will command a majority of focus and practice.
The play, shown above, is an example of why the Ducks don’t have a passing attack. Braxton Burmeister fakes a handoff on a bootleg pass, using a wide running play that was so successful against Utah last week. The tight end is the only receiver to the side Burmeister is rolling towards — and he is covered. Meanwhile three Oregon receivers run routes along the left sideline and hash marks, out of sight as possible alternative pass catchers.
The third wide receiver (above) in the slot attempts to run behind the offensive line towards Burmeister, but collides with an offensive lineman. The receiver is not in the right spot — an assignment error that could come from a coach, quarterback, or the player forgetting what he’s supposed to do on this play. Burmeister is able to scramble for the first down because the Huskies contain man messed up his assignment.
If this play allowed Burmeister to pull up and look at his two receivers (examples above) coming towards the middle from the left, you could be seeing a touchdown pass to the outside receiver running a post pattern, or a potential score to the second receiver coming across a wide-open middle.
This example shows why Washington’s defense has allowed only eight touchdowns the entire season. Oregon’s center and right guard come off the ball well and attempt to combo block the Huskies nose tackle Vita Vea (6-5, 344). The defender absorbs both blockers and throws them away and is able to reestablish his gap position. Although the Ducks offensive linemen are working hard, they cannot totally eliminate the nose guard. By requiring two blockers and defeating the double team, the nose tackle keeps the linebackers free of blockers, a key component in a successful 3-4 defense.
Watch the Huskies’ right defensive tackle as he attacks the offensive lineman trying to block him by getting his hands as leverage on the blocker and keeping his body square to the line of scrimmage, controlling his gap responsibility. Nose tackle Vita Vea also defeats a double-team block and stops the ball-carrier cold.
Although the Ducks were able to rush for 247 yards in the game, defensive play like this is an example of why Oregon could only scratch out 26 yards total offense in the critical third quarter.
Even the Huskies made some mistakes, but not many. In the example above, the Ducks bunch three wide receivers close to the sideline with a tight end to the same side of the formation, a common tactic to set up their inside run game. Burmeister has no one to read since the defense has nobody guarding the tight end/tackle gaps — there are too many defenders covering the receivers and no one over the tight end, where the running play was called.
Royce Freeman makes the right cut as the Oregon offensive line caves the entire Huskies front inside.
Coach Willie Taggart elected to throw all but two of 13 pass attempts less than nine yards downfield.
In this example, there are only two Washington defensive backs guarding the Ducks’ bunched three receivers. A safe screen pass is thrown and a modest gain is made, but Oregon is not building upon the plays they have already run, and are continuing to run ad nauseam.
Here (above) is an example of a safe route that could be thrown when you have only two enemy defenders guarding three (supposedly) fast wide receivers. If you allow opponents to get away with this, you will never be a contender in the Pac-12, or any other conference, for that matter.
Duck Fans Desperate for Herbert’s Return
The most grateful person in the world for Justin Herbert returning to action will be Braxton Burmeister, who won’t have to listen to all the negativity surrounding his leadership of the offense. The sad part of the last five weeks is that the offensive passing staff didn’t help the freshman out with any creativity on their part.
Maybe if they took a look at some of Burmeister’s old high school films, they could have copied a couple of his school’s pass plays; after all, he threw for 53 touchdowns his senior year, most of them coming on passes longer than nine yards.
Retired College Coach Ken Woody
Top Photo: Kevin Cline
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