Coach Willie Taggart has shown remarkable restraint on the sidelines the past three games, all defeats for his Ducks, who have gone down under a flurry of penalty flags, missed assignments and classic gaffes that border on insubordination and attention deficit disorder. Against UCLA, Oregon fell behind quickly 14-0, but worked their way back into the game to tie at halftime 14-14.
A persistent malady for Mark Helfrich last year, and Taggart this year, is impotent performances by the defense and the offense at crucial points (particularly in the second half) that result in defeat; games lost that might have gone the other way if players could play spirited, disciplined football.
The defense had some big-play players several games ago, but they have not made any noise lately. Defensive backs can’t make a play or catch an interception, Troy Dye and Jalen Jelks were nullified and no one else has stepped up.
The following plays, all on offense, demonstrate both the good (what the Ducks are capable of) and the bad, which happens too often to be overcome.
Dillon Mitchell (No. 13 above) comes in motion and becomes the second running back in the backfield. Quarterback Braxton Burmeister puts the ball in his belly, correctly reads the defensive end (who settles, attempting to play both the quarterback and the pitch) and gives the ball to Mitchell running to the left side of the formation. The two receivers to the slot side do an excellent job of blocking their men while Kani Benoit (No. 29 above) lead blocks on the safety. You’ll note that the left tackle and left guard pull and go to the right on this beautifully executed 15-yard gain.
This view above clearly shows the influence the pulling left guard and tackle (red arrows) have on the UCLA defensive end and the two inside linebackers who flow to their left (yellow arrows) to defend what they think is coming: a power play off tackle.
This play (above) is particularly difficult on defenses that key on particular offensive linemen for their reaction, as in this case.
The play above is a perfectly executed pass play, Burmeister to Charles Nelson for 22 yards. Nelson shifts from a slot position to the backfield before the snap. Burmeister and Nelson note the reaction of the defender moving with him before the snap and, as a result, know it is man coverage. This also gives Nelson a clue as to how best to run his route: he widens the safety and then breaks up the seam past the defender.
The slot receivers (above) clear out the underneath defenders to give Nelson more room to operate. Unlike many other pass attempts against the Bruins, Burmeister takes his time, steps up in the pocket and sets his feet nicely as he throws a touch pass to Nelson. In this example, he looks like a seasoned veteran, not a panicky freshman.
Down 24-14, Burmeister (above) is driving the Ducks to a score that would put Oregon right back into the game going into the fourth quarter. Coach Taggart said that Mitchell (13), wide receiver to the right, ran the wrong route. Worse, Burmeister drops back and ignores three receivers (yellow arrows above including two directly in front of him) who are just beyond the three yards needed to extend the drive, and throws deep to Mitchell.
Unfortunately, UCLA has a defensive back that can make a great play (above) and intercepts the pass. It gets worse: even if Mitchell had run the correct route and Burmeister had the down and distance in his head and had thrown it for a first down, it would have been nullified because Brenden Schooler, (wide to the left and yellow arrow) lined up on the line of scrimmage, which made the tight end inside him (also on the line of scrimmage as the red arrow) an ineligible receiver. Schooler is experienced enough to know where he should have lined up, but like Mitchell and Burmeister on this play, not disciplined enough to execute a simple pass play at a critical point in the game.
Once again (for the 9th time in 12 tries this season), the vaunted Duck run offense is stuffed attempting a run on fourth down. This was at a point in the game when Oregon was still hanging around. On most of the attempts this year, it has been Royce Freeman who has been stopped, but this time Burmeister botches the read and fumbles on the option play for a loss of four yards.
A better choice would have been a play fake to Freeman and a throw to Nelson, the wide receiver on the left. (Bright yellow dotted line and arrow above) The corner is laying off him, intent on the running play. He knows Oregon has not passed in this situation and probably never will. Nelson could run a hitch, an out, a post, or fake a post and run deep and most likely beat the corner on any route the way he is defending him. And, by the way, UCLA’s corner (1) is a freshman, out there to cover Charles Nelson—who would you put your money on?
Vs. Utah, Ducks Need a New Mantra: “Do Something Different“
Coach Willie Taggart has got to be pulling his hair out in frustration as he observes his flock of Ducks playing great football on one play and then on another (often at crucial times in the game), lose focus and discipline and kill their chances for success. Albert Einstein observed that the definition of insanity was to do the same things over and over and expect a different outcome.
The time has come to “do something different“: Like call a play-action pass on fourth down and being stubborn in calling short passes that get the ball to players who have speed and running ability—call them “long hand-offs.” The second half, particularly the first three drives of the third quarter, have been killers for the Ducks this whole season with the defense allowing scores and the offense getting none.
Somehow, something different has to happen in the locker room Saturday against Utah. For the Ducks, to keep doing what they’ve been doing is insanity.
Retired College Coach Ken Woody
Top Photo Credit: Jerry Thompson
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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