Ducks Not Ready to Play; Boise was…

In hindsight, it was inevitable. New head coach Mario Cristobal and the Oregon Ducks would be distracted by the two weeks of turmoil surrounding the departure of former coach Willie Taggart. But it was hard to understand the entirety of such a lackluster effort in losing to Boise State 38-28 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Before the game, ESPN ran a graphic showing what the Ducks did with quarterback Justin Herbert running the show (50 points per game) and what they racked up when he was hurt (13 points per game). Ironically, the result of this game was the same as if Herbert wasn’t in there: an offense that couldn’t get into Boise territory until late in the third quarter and only scored two late, mostly meaningless touchdowns. It was eerily similar to the midseason Braxton Burmeister days.

In the above example, you can see why the Ducks could only get 43 yards rushing the entire game. On their first drive of the game, Oregon was three-and-out, highlighted by this futile effort on third down. Observe the high pad level of the entire offensive line, symptomatic of “no push” at the snap of the ball. In a contest of who wants it more, you see Boise State’s brilliant linebacker (No. 38) Leighton Vander Esch beat Oregon’s All-American tackle Tyrell Crosby (No. 58) and make the tackle on the running back. TE Jacob Breeland (No. 27) doesn’t contribute much, either.

This play was reminiscent of the many short-yardage runs that were stuffed this past season. Boise had nine defenders in the box and left Oregon receivers man-to-man on each side. Perhaps time for a pass?

In the next example above, you see some bad habits from last year’s defense beginning to show. Oregon’s outside linebacker (No. 11) has contain on this play, but loses it by trying to beat the tackle inside, leaving the outside clear for the running back on a screen pass. He should have ripped through the blocker with his inside shoulder, keeping his outside arm free and forcing the runner back inside where the pursuit was ambling, not sprinting, to help.

This next clip reveals more bad habits from last year’s defense. You can see that Boise has an unbalanced line to their right side, and the Duck defensive front has not shifted to account for these numbers. To make matters worse, the linebacker (No. 18) and defensive end (No. 97) have high pad levels and are turned sideways to their gap responsibilities, thus leaving them in no position to fight off a block and make the tackle.

The safety coming up to make the play is timid and misses an arm tackle, along with two other would-be tacklers who give poor effort. Finally, check the yards after contact: five yards, running over defensive backs who are standing straight up, in poor tackling position (again, an effort problem). These two examples, on successive plays, show an Oregon defense that is totally unprepared to play the determined, hard-nosed defense shown in previous games.

Above we have an example of a focus problem, as this clip illustrates a defensive player being out of position to make a play before the ball is even snapped. The Ducks are in man coverage defending a trips set to the Bronco’s left side. The defensive back (No. 2) responsible for the inside slot receiver is nine yards away from his man when the ball is snapped. The receiver runs a basic, high-percentage out route to pick up an easy a first down, almost like stealing. This is horrifically reminiscent of the soft, tentative coverage deployed by the Duck secondary in year’s past.

Finally, the Ducks were penalized ten times in the Las Vegas Bowl. After a five-yarder for off sides, the Broncos came out in the formation above and shifted to a two-tight end set, which gave them a numerical advantage to their right side. Oregon had no answer to Boise State’s shifts. On this fly sweep, there are four blockers in the right flat against three defenders, with the rest of the defense caught inside, not in position to make a play.

The bottom line is, despite all of the strides made this season, there is still a lot of work to do. From the breakdowns in defensive fundamentals shown above, it was obvious the players were not prepared to play well enough to defeat a well-coached, disciplined, opportunistic Boise State squad. The team that wanted this game more and prepared to win is the team that won. The definition of mental toughness is being able to play to your ability level regardless of competition and outside distractions.

The Ducks didn’t have it in Vegas. Again, despite the swirl of distractions, football is ultimately a game of mental toughness. Hopefully, the Ducks won’t have to learn this lesson again. It hurts.

Retired College Coach Ken Woody
Eugene, Oregon

Top Photo: From Video

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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. He writes x’s and o’s, a weekly column in the Register-Guard, RG online coverage of Duck football and is the author of “After Further Review—an inside look at what’s really happening on the football field.” Woody is on KUGN (590 am) 2:45 before kickoff and 30 minutes after each game with coaching and game analysis.

Ken also conducts weekly coaching clinics for fans at Eugene’s Valley River Inn every Thursday during football season at 6:00 PM. The clinics are free and open to the public.

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