Oregon’s New LONG-BALL Strategy

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Analysis

Something I worried about going into last season was the skill Vernon Adams had in throwing the long-ball, and whether the coaches would allow him to do it. It took awhile, but it became apparent to all that (even with the occasional interception) the odds for a completion were good, and sometimes for big scores at big moments. I know this was out of the Ducks’ comfort zone considering how little they throw deep since Mike Bellotti was HC, but it was apparent in his film and in practice that letting Vernon throw deep was a good percentage play.

This is something I’ve been squirming about for years, as there is a big difference between throwing a long-ball 40 yards in the air versus completing a pass 20 yards down the field and letting the receiver run the rest of the way for a touchdown. The consistent threat of the deep ball opens up the remainder of the field for routes like the mid-line flood and drag patterns so much more effectively. And with a dangerous passing game – the holes open up just a bit more for Royce Freeman, Kani Benoit, Tony Brooks-James and Taj Griffin to do their damage … and it all starts with the long-ball.

A big part of the long-ball’s success last year was not only the skill of Vernon Adams, but the confidence he had in his wide-outs coming down with the ball. Above is one of the best examples, as Vernon throws it up and it appears that the USC safety/corner is going to easily catch it for the pick. I was sitting nearby watching this and was groaning that “Vernon threw it right to the Trojan!”

But Charles Nelson (above) decided it was his ball, and cut in front for the catch and the TD that brought Autzen to screams. Adams had to have the assurance over the season that his WRs would go up and get the ball, and Nelson is one of the safest bets to come down with the reception!

                                 (Video is set above to start directly at the play referred to below)
Another great example is how Darren Carrington will adjust his body to put it where he has the best chance to catch the ball (see above). This was the first game after Vernon came back from injury, and thus the beginning of him building trust from the coaching staff that his long-ball could be a major part of the Oregon offense. There are so many examples of Carrington and Nelson going up for the ball, but you get the idea from these examples. The best part?  Both are back for 2016 as savvy, smart receivers who have done it all in the Oregon Spread Offense.

                                                (Video is set above to start directly at the play referred to below)
Another candidate for the big-bomb play is Pharaoh “the freak” Brown, who returns from injury this season. His talents are so unique, and it was fun to see his huge 6’6 frame flying down the field during the open practice this spring. When he catches the ball at the height of his jump, it is higher than any safety or linebacker covering him. The play above demonstrates that he too, will go up and get the ball even when being draped by a defender. He is ideal for red zone plays, but throwing a long wheel route to him is a high percentage play as well, in my opinion.

A player I have yet to mention is Dwayne Stanford, a money-man in so many plays over the last three years. Go back and check how many times the Ducks went to No. 88 on 3rd-and-7, and you will see plays like those noted above (see his USC TD from last year, as well). We have a ton of experienced receivers who have earned the trust of the coaching staff for the long-ball, and they all will be back!

But will the coaches continue the long-ball strategy? I was hoping it would survive because Dakota Prukop had to throw a ton of long passes in his career. While not quite as good as Adams, he was better than most of our previous QBs at throwing long bombs from what I could see on tape. Keep in mind he did not have Oregon-type receivers at Montana State, and had to make things happen on his own. He is used to handling the pressure of big situations and having confidence in his wide-outs to come down with the ball.

                             (Video is set above to start directly at the play referred to below)
The Spring Game (above) brought us the answer in the form of two delightful responses: first we see that Dakota did have the green light to loft one up for the receivers; and second, we have another bomb candidate in freshman receiver Dillon Mitchell, who fought for, and came down with the football as good as any veteran at Oregon.

                       (Video above is the same, but lined up to start at the second bomb touchdown)
As if the first one wasn’t enough to give us confirmation, Prukop connected with Mitchell on a second bomb (above), where again Mitchell had to fight the defensive back for the ball to come down with it. It is evident that Oregon has five receivers who can be counted upon in a long-ball play, and that is a big part in the coach’s confidence in retaining the “bomb” in the Oregon arsenal for 2016.

Holy Crap this is going to be fun to watch (and check for my upcoming Monday articles about the 2016 season)!

“Oh how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer  (FishDuck)
College Football Analyst for FishDuck.com 
Eugene, Oregon

Top Photo by Dillon Vibes

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