Takes you back to the old days doesn’t it? You know, Oregon scoring 45-50 points, the other team scoring 27 to 34 points and the fans screaming at Nick Aliotti for allowing that much?
Boy, has our perspective changed!
That was the biggest darn victory that I did not see coming, and yes … my perspective has changed, and I have become a whole lot more grateful for what Jim Leavitt has done with the Duck defense. Yet many strategies and tactics on the offensive side need to be recognized, and we need to give head coach Willie Taggart his due.
Coach Taggart DID Learn a Painful Lesson…
I do not think Taggart has had a passer as skilled as Justin Herbert at quarterback; before, he simply wanted him to “fit into” the offensive philosophy that the coach brought from Florida. Yet, the experiences of the past five games have burned into Taggart’s consciousness the importance of balance in your offense, and he’s learned that a great quarterback makes him look a whole lot smarter.
Losing a quarterback and, consequently, all those games was too steep a price to pay for running Herbert between the tackles as if he was a back, and those lessons learned were on display tonight. I was worried about whether Taggart would “run our offense no matter who is playing,” and subject Herbert to a new injury.
By contrast, Taggart protected the quarterback in the play calling like no other coach in the past, at least during the time I’ve observed Oregon football. There were very few read plays, and the only times Herbert ran were on scrambles with a slide at the end (Whew!). In fact, we had quite a few Sweep plays, but not Sweep-Read plays. Justin did not have the option of pulling the ball; he was clearly handing it off.
The same was true with the Outside Zone play, as there was no reading of a defender the majority of the time and, hence, no option for pulling the ball and running Herbert on those plays. I saw a few true read plays to keep the defense honest, but they were infrequent. And the most important tactic of all was Taggart taking the Toss-Read and the Quarterback Power plays out of this week’s game-plan so that Herbert was not running between the tackles.
Taggart realized that Herbert can pick up the lost yards from not running on those plays with a pass play easily enough.
What you saw at Autzen was the evolution of the Willie Taggart Oregon Spread Offense, utilizing the superior skills of the Ducks’ current offensive linemen for blocking outside plays, while incorporating the toughness taught by Mario Cristobal for the inside power running plays brought from USF. Did you notice all the injured Arizona defensive linemen? The upgrade of this offense due to the improvement of the offensive line in all phases gets me pumped.
What the…Was That a LONG BALL?
Aren’t you grateful to see long passes downfield again? Delighted to see safeties and linebackers swivel their heads to watch their man-assignment blow by them for a first-down catch? Thrilled to see defenders looking at the whole field and not just the box?
Coach Taggart really sees the value of balance now, as this game against Arizona was just like the old days, with a powerful running attack complemented by big plays through the air. How do you defend that? If you were a recruit … wouldn’t you want to be a part of that? Hell yeah!
What Superlative do YOU Have for Coach Leavitt?
My friends, I knew this week that Arizona was going to kick our butts, as Khalil Tate runs with Mariota speed and a sprinter’s burst. The Wildcats beat Washington State and have put a ton of points on everybody since Tate took over. I did not think Oregon could score enough points to keep up, let alone hold them to 28. Holy Crap!
In my humble opinion, the defense played well today for three primary reasons, and the first one was quite a gamble, but paid off. Placing defenders one-on-one in the secondary, even with freshmen corners in Thomas Graham and Deommodore Lenoir giving up a some plays, was a move that was not perfect, but it worked. The Ducks had enough in the box to limit the Wildcat running game to its lowest total since Tate took over at quarterback.
The second reason why the defense played well was the teaching and coaching of technique that has now been embraced, learned and executed by the Oregon players on defense–particularly by the front seven. Throughout the week, I heard Coach Taggart tell the media that everyone on defense had to “be disciplined” while I was thinking, “No, you have to beat blocks with good technique and defend your gap.”
In the screenshot above, note how Jordon Scott (yellow arrow) is driving the center into the backfield and will actually push him into the H-back trying to block. Jalen Jelks (No. 97 above) is not taking on the inside shoulder of the blocker because he knows that Troy Dye (green arrow above) has that gap, so Jelks makes sure he stays on the outside shoulder of the blocker.
Nonetheless, the Arizona running back (above) tried to bounce it outside with nowhere to run, as everyone beat their blocks, took on the correct shoulder, or blew things up with strength. Damn good defensive coaching!
The third reason I feel that the Duck defense held down the Arizona rushing attack was the strategy (above) of the Oregon linebacker (yellow arrow above) rushing up to force Tate (red arrow above) to hand the ball off, while utilizing the short choppy steps and staying under control to allow the linebacker to keep the perimeter contained on Tate. It worked wonderfully with the one exception on the first drive, as that 13-yard gain was his best of the game.
In ensuing possessions, the Oregon linebackers changed their angle of penetration with the right amount of speed to initiate the hand-off while staying under control. Usually, in the past, our defender would “sit” at a distance and force the QB hand-off; Tate has used that extra space to juke or run past defenders on other teams–until Saturday night.
Note how the other defenders (above) covered their gaps and kept this play to a short gain.
It was a brilliant tactic by Jim Leavitt to get the ball out of this speedy quarterback’s hands.
Has EVERYTHING Changed?
In short? YES. Not just because Justin Herbert has returned, but because Taggart has shown the flexibility needed to use the personnel for the strengths they possess. In the off-season we can ponder whether we want to see a “Stanford-North” offense or the 48-point effort we witnessed against the Wildcats.
This ongoing offensive and defensive evolution will make Oregon football that much more entertaining and interesting, both in the last two games of the season and in the spring. “Oh how we love to learn about our Beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Top Photo: Eugene Johnson