Duck Offense Loses in Santa Clara, Defense Wins Game

Coach Ken Woody Analysis

The Duck defense showed up for the Redbox Bowl in Santa Clara, but the offense, as happened several times during the past season, missed the team bus. In a first half that brought to memory the infamous 1983 0-0 Toilet Bowl tie with Oregon State, the mighty, physical Oregon offense was able to achieve four first downs in the first half, drop two touchdown passes, and punt on its seven first-half possessions.

The defense missed a bunch of tackles, but kept Michigan State out of the end zone. It should be noted that the Spartans would have been a middle-of-the-road Pac-12 team with their anemic offense and it’s about time coach Mario Cristobal cleared up the nonsense holding his offense back from being a contender in the Northern Division.

The good news is that Justin Herbert is back to run the show next season, but unless there are serious changes in what is going down, Herbert will suffer through the same season Duck fans put up with in 2018: a tedious offense, a lack of imagination and a seemingly, a coaching staff unaware of how to utilize the immense talents of what should be a Heisman candidate.

Troy Dye (No. 35 above) rushes the passer on a key blitz. He watches the reaction of the pass protection and when the right guard turns his vision inside to help his center, Dye makes a delayed rush and sacks the quarterback for a 10-yard loss.

Oregon’s defensive ends do an excellent job on both sides of the pocket, containing the quarterback and not allowing him to scramble outside the pocket. They make sure they don’t rush deeper than the quarterback sets up, thus maintaining leverage on both sides of the ball. He is trapped in a well-executed pass stunt.

Quarterback Herbert (above) is forced to scramble to his left and is able to get enough on the ball to hit Johnny Johnson for the Ducks’ initial first down, one of four for the first half of play. His body position is not ideal, but he is running for his life and the throw is all arm, going to his left, a difficult throw for a right-hander.

Johnson scrambles to get open, but it would be helpful if he came back towards Herbert slightly. Running parallel, almost allows the defensive back an opportunity of breaking up the play.

This is an example (above) of an area Herbert needs to improve on before next season. In a short yardage situation he forces a throw to tight end Ryan Bay that should have been intercepted.

The third-down call was a standard one for the Ducks with little creativity and this play is covered like a blanket. The receiver wide to the left is stuck with a nothing route and a case could be made to hit the slot receiver running a seam behind the two short defenders.

Michigan State’s quarterback (above) mishandles the ball and in desperation, tries to throw the ball away, out of bounds. His arm is not strong enough to get it out of bounds and freshman free safety Jevon Holland undercuts the MSU receiver and makes an incredible catch for an interception.

The Spartans’ quarterback should have fallen on the ball to preserve field position and a chance for a field goal. This was a big play for the defense.

Duck receivers should study and evaluate Holland’s focus and hunger for making the catch of this pass.

Compare the effort of the Ducks’ top receiver Dillon Mitchell drop of a touchdown pass to Holland’s interception. This was a well-thrown long ball from Herbert that should have been caught, especially if you are the “go-to receiver” and one of the conference leader’s in pass receptions. Mitchell dropped two long passes in this game and his fellow Duck receivers dropped seven passes in the game.

The pros are not going to be interested in a wide receiver who has a lot of talent, but lacks the focus necessary to be a bona fide “go-to receiver.”


Coach Mario Cristobal at the Redbox Bowl sideline.

Coach Mario Cristobal can be well pleased in the improvement his Ducks accomplished in scoring defense, discipline and maintaining focus in difficult moments during the season. However, there is a long list of to-dos: get some creativity and spark in the offense, actually utilize Justin Herbert’s skills as the main part of Oregon’s attack, improve special teams discipline and play, and maybe have the offense try a trick play rather than the punt team.

Another big challenge comes with playing better on the road: there has been a noticeable falloff in game plans and execution when the Ducks travel off campus. Fans are extolling their chances at winning the Pac-12 and heading to the playoffs next year. The reality is that Oregon plays at Washington, Stanford, USC and Auburn, on the road. If they can’t beat the Huskies and Cardinal, they will finish third or fourth in the Pac-12 North.

There is one player who is capable of engineering wins over those worthy opponents and his name is Herbert. Not using him to the fullest will doom the Ducks to a 6-6 or 7-5 season next year. Best if Cristobal is able to coach up some receivers who can catch before the opening game with Auburn.

Coach Ken Woody
Eugene, Oregon                                                                                                              Top Photo from Video


Natalie Liebhaber, the Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana


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.


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