Oregon Duck fans

Coach’s Opinion: “It’s Time to Calm Down”

Justin Samples Coach's Opinion

My Friends, this article refutes much of what I’ve written over the last month and is an example of how we do not censor writers to be an Oregon “Pravda” like the official Oregon site and others that follow the Ducks. The readership here is professional, high-brow, and cannot be snowed. Thus, I present all sides of the discussion and let you, the reader, decide what you agree with. — Charles Fischer

It’s time to calm down.

As I listen and read fan comments on message boards regarding the Ducks as of late I want to scream “have you lost your minds!?!?!?” Then I stop myself for a moment, delete my post and take a breath … Then see another update “Taggart has no creativity, doesn’t know how to call a game, doesn’t know how to adjust his system to his personnel.” Then I lose it again. Will you please for the love of God get some perspective!?!?

Now pay attention …

Breath … Inhale… In through the nose out through the mouth. Woosah, woosah. “Remember your pressure points, Justin.” OK, now that I’ve found my center, I’m in a better position to offer some insight and some perspective. As a former player I’ve had the good fortune of being a part of a program’s demise, a program’s rebuild, as well as a finely tuned program of excellence. It is through those three lenses that I hope to offer some perspective.

During the spring I offered some insight on this site about the season to come. The thoughts I shared then were:

1) The defense was poised for dramatic improvement.

2) The offense would likely have struggles and take a step back. (This was before Darren Carrington was booted and two QBs left the program due to the dreaded thought of competition.)

3) Barring injury, this could be a 8-9 win team with a top quartile offense and a top half defense.

In the words of the late Meatloaf, “Don’t feel sad, ’cause two out of three ain’t bad.” I won’t give myself credit for the plethora of injuries.

Let’s have some perspective …

But before I lose all of you making apologies for Willie Taggart and company, let’s take a look at some rather impressive coaches in their first years with their respective teams.

As you can see above, the first year is hardly any indication of long-term sustainable success. In fact, most successful coaches that have experience with re-builds state that year one is the year to burn the program down to its foundations and instill your culture. Oregon head coach candidate and current head coach of Minnesota PJ Fleck was quoted as saying …

“Year one is solely about culture. You need to remove the cancers, remove the toxic behaviors, instill the proper values and principles of your program, and build from there.”

When I look at this season through that perspective, all is going according to plan. The defense is ahead of schedule, due largely to better alignment of scheme and talent. The offense is suffering the bumps and bruises associated with a lack of talent at wide receiver and a young offensive line. Let me emphasize that last point: We have a YOUNG offensive line. We are starting three sophomores. And our seasoned veterans are an unheard-of 2-star out of the East Coast and a developmental 3-star out of Vegas.

Marcus Mariota could do it all …

I dare you to objectively look at another team in the Pac-12 with three sophomores starting and say you’d be concerned. Stack on top of that learning a new scheme, new line calls, new protections and guess what? You’re going to have some growing pains. You’re going to have games of blissful dominance. You’re also going to have games that cause you to scratch your head (see ASU). That is why a talented coaching staff will lean on a vanilla playbook in year one – to instill the basic principles of their scheme.

This allows a young team to become “brilliant at the basics” while allowing the natural integration of more complex schemes to be added on not only as the team develops but also as you recruit talent that fits your scheme. There is a reason they have been calling the offense “freshman-friendly.” It’s to get them dialed in on the foundational concepts of what they’ll need to do in order to be successful in our system.

By the way – let’s stop the nonsense about running Justin Herbert and the lack of slants, out routes, or bootlegs for Burmeister. First, Herbert got hit on a fluky, weird-angled, goal-line play. Want to see a play where a running QB should have gotten hurt? Watch Marcus Mariota dive for the end zone versus Wyoming, or watch him hurdle an OSU defender while winning the Heisman. Want to know the pass play that is proven statistically to lead a QB to injury? If you guessed bootleg, you’d be correct. (See Aaron Rogers’ injury.) Stop it!

Want to know why we aren’t throwing out routes? It’s because we are typically facing man-to-man defense on the perimeter with lesser talent at wideout. Want to know how to throw a Pick 6? Throw an out route to WR covered by a superior CB.

Why aren’t we throwing slant routes? Well that is because we are typically seeing eight-man fronts that usually involve some sort of intermediate zone coverage with their linebackers – or safety that has come into the box. Again … want to know how to throw an interception? Slant into an intermediate zone with a linebacker staring at your young QB’s eyes. How do you beat this? You throw deep to force the safety out of the box.

Devon Allen

We are going to continue to see this from defenses until we are healthy and Herbert is back, or until we prove we can make a defense pay.

Let’s also nip the “Taggart doesn’t maximize his talent” argument in the bud. The average existing talent ranking for coaches coming into their respective programs has a class rank of 22nd with an average win total of 6.8. Taggart took over a team with a talent ranking of 23rd and is projected to win 6 games, not including a bowl game.

It is important to note that the talent ranking of 23rd is very deceptive, as 64% of the Ducks’ 4- and 5-star recruits from those previous recruiting classes are no longer in the program due to transfer, injury or discipline. Notable departures such as Devon Allen, Carrington, Canton Kaumatule, and Thomas Tyner have destroyed any semblance of depth.

When put into historical context with object data, this staff has already outperformed anything I predicted. The defense is in the top half of the country, the offense was the number one scoring offense prior to Herbert going down, and we have the Number One Recruiting Class In the Country (at Scout.com). Only Nick Saban and Pete-the-Cheat Carroll have done something similar. Note that Saban didn’t pull it off until his third try!

It’s time to calm down. Suck it up and find the joy in times of difficulty, as it makes the times of excellence that much more enjoyable. Or don’t … I’m sure the Huskies could use some bandwagon fans after last weekend. GO DUCKS!

Justin Samples
Portland, Oregon

Top photo credit: Kevin Cline

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