Ducks Make a Psychological Rebound vs. Cal

Coach Ken Woody Analysis

Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal realized his first Pac-12 victory Saturday with a resounding 42-24 win over the previously undefeated Cal Bears in Berkeley. His defense scored two touchdowns at crucial junctures of the game and finally shook the ball loose of its opponent five times, and also made a timely goal line stand for another turnover on downs.

This was an impressive rebound from the devastating collapse the previous week against Stanford.

Quarterback Justin Herbert had another fine day, completing 15-of-21 attempts for 225 yards and two scores. Duck receivers dropped two passes, both of which would have been first downs. Oregon’s pass protection was exceptional, and the few times rushers broke through, Herbert scrambled effectively for positive yardage.

This play above shows the disadvantage Oregon’s undersized linebacker, Kaulana Apelu, faces on many inside running plays opponents run at him. In this case, the tight end has a free release to block Apelu who is the backside linebacker. The left offensive guard pulls to block out the onside linebacker, Troy Dye, leaving Apelu to fight off a block and make the play. Stanford ran the same sequence, but Apelu beat the block and made the tackle. Apelu is at his best going “downhill,” not standing in and attempting to defeat a bigger offensive lineman.

The Ducks have moved away from their traditional wide receiver screen and gone to a running back screen to a three-receiver formation. Here, CJ Verdell runs a swing route to the trips side (above) and behind excellent blocking makes a good gain. The play depends on good, open field blocking by the receivers who must maintain their blocks for a longer period.

Cal’s middle linebacker (No. 59) is hard pressed to drop and cover Verdell. If the linebacker flies out of the middle with the running back, QB Herbert probably has an option to throw to a receiver who, instead of blocking, breaks for the open area in the middle. It is a tough combination if you have receivers who can block and a back who can catch.

Herbert throws a perfect pass to tight end Kano Dillon (above), who beats the coverage of a linebacker (No. 36) to score a touchdown on the drive that put the Ducks ahead 7-3. Notice the excellent pass blocking that gives Herbert the time he needs to set and deliver the ball to a spot only the tight end can reach. This is an excellent example of utilizing wide receivers to clear an area for an athletic tight end to capitalize on a favorable match-up with his defender.

Oregon’s defense, though putting up some good statistical numbers, had not scored many takeaways — but in this game the Ducks picked off four passes, and recovered a fumble, and had a goal line stand. In this video above, Ugo Amadi, the most experienced and skilled defender in the secondary, makes an excellent physical play on a deep pass over the middle.

The quarterback hung the ball in the air too long, perhaps a result of having Duck nose guard Jordon Scott (No. 34) penetrate and drive the Bear center into his face as he was attempting to deliver the pass. Jalen Jelks (No. 97) also gets his hand up — not directly in the face of the quarterback, but enough to cause a distraction, none the less.

Amadi is the best and most physical cover defender the Ducks have and in this case, he shows why. Late in the game Amadi intercepted a pass for a 32-yard score that iced the game. It was very noticeable that Oregon’s defensive coaches put their secondary players in position to make plays and break up passes in the Cal game, which had not happened in previous games.

The Duck defense chipped in with two touchdowns, this one (above) is a 72-yard scoop and score by La’Mar Winston Jr. Duck defensive end Drayton Carlberg, filling in for injured starter Austin Faoliu, puts a perfect swim move to get past the flat-footed Cal tackle (No. 72), and tackles the quarterback, forcing a fumble that the grateful Winston runs in for a touchdown with only 30 seconds left in the first half.

Winston gets help from Jelks, who effectively nudges a pursuing Bear away from the play. This is another example of the hustle the defense showed all game. Carlberg’s swim move was very impressive for a backup.

Verdell has become the Ducks’ go-to running back and he shows why in this explosive 74-yard run (above) to open the third quarter. Left guard Shane Lemieux buries the middle linebacker, opening a hole this writer could get through. Verdell does a Heisman step-over the safety and sprints for the end zone.

Wide receiver Brenden Schooler also puts out an extra effort downfield to shield off the last defender, but the Bears force Verdell out of bounds at the one-yard line. Two plays later, designated short-yardage touchdown back Cyrus Habibi-Likio scores the Ducks’ sixth touchdown.


Cristobal now has a bye week to get players healthy and more disciplined. His Ducks had too many penalties, several which were foolish and avoidable in the Cal victory. There was too much after-the-play in your face trash talking going on — in one case a defensive three-and-out was eliminated by an Oregon defensive back taunting a receiver out of bounds after an in-completion. The coach’s advice might be, “Act like you’ve been there before, not like a jackass.”

Such lack of mental discipline will cinch a victory for the Ducks’ next opponent, the Washington Huskies, who are beatable, but not if you have seven penalties and can’t keep your mouth shut when it’s time to play football. There are many things to work on and improve, but Oregon’s trend line continues to ascend.

Coach Ken Woody
Eugene, Oregon

Top Photo From Video

Mike Bellotti, ESPN analyst and Former-Oregon coach: “Ken Woody’s ability to break down the game with interesting, entertaining insights comes from a career as a college player and coach, influenced by some of the top coaches in football. Woody spells it out in a simple, refreshing, humorous manner.”

Dan Fouts, NFL Hall of Fame, Oregon Ducks quarterback: “Entertaining and easy to understand.”

“Every Oregon fan should have a copy to learn from as I do.” Charles Fischer

Buy the book here to learn from Coach Woody, or give a gift of football, a great gift for the fan who wants to learn and enjoy more of the Duck (or whoever your favorite team is) football experience.

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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