The Fish Report: Playmakers Dominate Oregon Football Scrimmage

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials

I am often surprised by these Spring scrimmages, but this one was for different reasons than you might think; this is a new offense, and the defense is improved and frankly things are progressing faster on both sides of the ball than I anticipated. Oh, sure – after freezing in Eugene last week from big pelting raindrops and hail – it was a surprise to need sunglasses and sunscreen in a warm spring game at Jesuit High School in Beaverton, Oregon. 

Quick Hits …

—  It is interesting to see new defensive back technique when they are in “Press-Coverage” but not using their hands to the same degree as in the past. Watch for two intense analysis articles in the future from Coach Mike Morris and Coach Ruskin Fiegenbaum explaining the cutting-edge coaching being shared with our corners and safeties. (Could this be a reason why one corner is not starting – the difficulty of trying to unlearn old habits?)

— Some of the pulling techniques of the offensive linemen look a little different from before and part is the difference in coaches but also in the plays themselves. While one pulling technique is similar to the old Outside Zone Read, or Sweep Read, there are two shorter pulling processes that use different footwork and clearly are for different plays than the Kelly/Helfrich era. At, we will be explaining them after the Oregon Spring Game in two weeks.

— It sure seems that defensive backs are getting the football thrown to them a ton in practice, and they are exhibiting excellent receiving skills. While the opening interception by Arrion Springs was a bit under-thrown, Springs closed the gap quickly and grabbed the ball out of the air as if he was the intended receiver. It surprised the crowd (pleasantly) and reminds us that even the best QBs mess up and give the defense opportunities. Can we catch the inevitable under-thrown passes when they come to us? I am encouraged by the practice and the play …

Troy Dye’s new view from the inside …

The defense made plays …

Don’t be fooled by all the “touchdowns” by the offense; this was a situational scrimmage, meaning that some of the drives began on the defense’s 10-yard line or 20-yard line, and the offense was practicing Red Zone plays. What you did not hear or read about was all the drives that went 40 yards and were stopped, or the many 3-and-outs that occurred against all three strings on offense.

Quite a number of times we saw open receivers headed to the end zone and the pass was thrown away – or highly inaccurate. This was happening to all three quarterbacks because blitzes were forcing quick passes, and the QBs simply did not have the time to plant and throw to open wideouts. This was effective on third down a number of times as the Green Shirts overloaded one side and could get someone past the blocking. It was sweet to see Jonah Moi and A.J. Hotchkins meet in the backfield for a sweet sack …

The ball is snapped to Justin Herbert, he takes a step back, plants and you can tell by the arm trajectory, he’s cranking it up! He throws a huge arching bomb that allows the receiver to run toward it. As the ball goes up – you check downfield and see Darren Carrington gain some separation on the defensive back, and the ball is going too far (it seems) and then Carrington turns on the jets and speeds to meet the ball with his body as the spiral comes down to his chest …

“… until it is knocked away by No. 11, Thomas Graham, who turned on the sprinters burst and caught Darren to the surprise of everyone. How did he close that gap? What an incredible play!”

It drew gasps from the Duck fans around me, some disappointment at not completing the long pass and then applause from the crowd as they realized that great defense is returning to the Oregon defensive backfield! The best part? Graham did it again later in the scrimmage! His closing speed is amazing and he is going to catch some WRs napping in the future as he did the senior WR for Oregon.

THIS many freshmen?

I reported last week how both Graham and Jordon Scott had been running with the first team – and this remained for this scrimmage. Scott was holding the interior well on a number of plays and that position will be interesting to watch this fall as I am sure Gary Baker is taking this challenge seriously, as will graduate transfer, Scott Pagano, and Rex Manu, who is returning from injury.

Head coach Willie Taggart referred to the starting freshmen to the media – and included Brady Breeze in that group (who is a redshirt freshman) – and thus we have three freshmen on the first team at this point? Holy Crap.

Ever see such a NATURAL?

Malik Lovette

The ball is snapped back to Travis Jonsen as he checks to his left and then lets fly a lofting pass to the deep corner away from the offense in the end zone. It looks just a bit too far until the WR realizes he needs to adjust sideways despite his forward momentum.

He taps his feet to slow and turns and rolls under and outward in a massive leap grabbing the end of the ball and scraping his shoes as he slides out of bounds. It happened so fast … was it good?

The official hesitated to replay the tapes in his mind of what he saw in milliseconds – and then he exploded his arms upward; touchdown by Malik Lovette!

That was only one example, as later he just burst away from the defender to catch another touchdown fully extended, only this time forward! He makes it look so easy with his speed and athleticism, like he has been doing this for years.

He over-shadowed Charles Nelson today and either did the same or equaled what we witnessed from Carrington. He is a natural as a receiver, and I cannot recall such a transformation of a player with a position change so quickly and into a budding star so rapidly.

I LOVE this new offense!

Every position on offense will love the new Willie Taggart Spread Offense variation he has brought to Eugene; Coach Morris (the Grizzled Ol’ Coach) will have two analysis articles in the next 10 days to help you to know what to watch for the Oregon Spring Game on April 29th. The Toss Read play explained by Coach Eric Boles this last week was featured a couple of times in this scrimmage, and we even noted a quarterback keeping the ball on one occasion!

The Jet Sweep Series is the foundation that features an attack in as many as five sectors on the field at one time. If you are the defense and you have Royce Freeman going one direction – you gotta keep track of him – and a Jet Sweep the other direction – must stop that … and then the QB pulls the ball and throws downfield over the safety to Jacob Breeland for a touchdown? With Justin Herbert at the controls (as in that play) the defense feels pressured to contain him as well?

That is too much to defend, especially when it is No-Huddle.

The play-action passes off the dangerous run threats in both directions appear to be easy pickings for the Oregon quarterbacks. The linebackers must stop the running plays as a first priority, and they watch a pass float over them for a Screen Pass to Freeman, or a Waggle Pass cutting across the field to Charles Nelson?

It is too much to defend as it is a wonderful blend of power football complemented by extreme-skill players who are in open space as a result of the threats posed by the ground game going opposite directions simultaneously.

Coach Taggart reflects… will be breaking this down for you all spring and summer long!

The GUTS of this quarterback …

My friends … I was there last fall watching the emergence of Herbert to the No. 2 spot as a brand new freshman, and also watched the meltdown of Travis Jonsen, who was trying to make plays to keep up with Herbert, but instead had a snowballing bunch of errors doom his attempt to be the back-up, as he was taking low percentages chances to keep up with the newbie QB.

The result? Jonsen clearly lost his confidence, and I fully expected he would transfer at season’s end; yet here he was at this scrimmage making great throws, and dazzling plays with his feet! Now he is not un-seating Herbert as the starter, but he gave me great confidence that if Justin is injured - we can win with Jonsen, which is more than I could say for back-up quarterbacks in the recent past.

I admire and salute the young man for gutting it out against long odds, and in the end? He could be on the field this fall.

Tomorrow we have Coach Ruskin Fiegenbaum giving us a Coaches’ Opinion article about the scrimmage – you got the fans’ version from me – and after the article he wrote last week? I know you and I will learn plenty. Why?

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

Charles Fischer  (FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon

Top Photo by Charles Fischer

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