Oregon’s offense has started with a flash and struggled in the second half of all three victories. Play selection has come under criticism for becoming too conservative, but the young offensive line has failed to sustain dominance while quarterback Justin Herbert has been out of sync, particularly in Laramie’s hostile environment in the win over Wyoming. The question is: How will Coach Willie Taggart and Herbert operate in front of a bigger, more hostile crowd in Tempe against an Arizona State defense that can bring serious pressure?
In its first offensive drive of the game, Oregon sets its offense with two split receivers stacked on either side of the formation, requiring Wyoming’s secondary to spread while it aligns its front defense across Oregon’s five offensive linemen.
You can tell this play is either a called handoff to Royce Freeman or a missed read by Herbert, because with the Wyoming defensive end (blue arrow above) coming hard for Freeman, there is no one to take Herbert if he decides to keep the ball. Had he done that, Herbert (green line above) would have made good yardage. If the defensive back had come for Herbert, he could have dumped the ball to the wide receiver (faking a quick screen) who is totally uncovered (yellow arrow above).
The Ducks’ offensive right tackle (above) blocks down with his guard inside him while the left guard and tackle double-team the defender between them. Wyoming’s left defensive end comes hard to tackle Freeman from behind, oblivious to what the quarterback does. The Cowboys’ defense looks like they feel they need to gamble to stop the Ducks.
Facing a long-yardage situation on the above play, Oregon has two wide receivers run deep to the right of the formation, clearing defenders, while an inside receiver heads to the right flat, offering an option to Herbert along with a backside receiver (who had a short split to the left of the formation) who is dragging across the field at first-down depth. Herbert, who sometimes has spotty footwork, squares up with the receiver and throws a strike, good for a first down. At this point, it appears that the Cowboys don’t have enough cover guys to stay with Oregon’s receivers.
Snapping the ball only 17 seconds after the previous play, the Ducks (above) run a power play, intended to go to the right side of the formation behind the pulling tackle Tyrell Crosby. Showing great instincts, and demonstrating that there is some freedom for the ball carrier within Oregon’s power run offense, Freeman starts right, plants his foot and cuts back to his left, away from where the play was originally intended.
In doing so he runs away from defenders who are overreacting to the power play, or where they thought the play was going. Freeman slips the arm tackles of the nose guard and linebacker and runs over a defensive back, good for a 14-yard gain.
This is a very difficult assignment for the nose guard: to curb his natural instincts and hold his gap long enough to handle Freeman’s cutback. If the nose can’t handle the cutback, then a linebacker has to be there. In this case, one isn’t, because he’s overrunning the original direction of the play. Oregon’s running offense puts a lot of pressure on linebackers’ sense of discipline and focus, and this play is an example of just that.
Arizona State, under the influence of Coach Todd Graham, has had a history of hell-for-leather blitzing defense that has often left receivers and running backs loose in the secondary. Watch to see if the Sun Devils try to pressure Herbert (and the play calling of Taggart), as they have tried to do in the past to Marcus Mariota and Vernon Adams. That didn’t work out for Graham, but it probably won’t stop him from trying with Herbert.
Coach Ken Woody
Top Photo from Video
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.
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