It is no secret that Oregon fans are gnashing their teeth over the 2018 offense this offseason.
Many critics blame Marcus Arroyo for one of the most bland attacks in recent Duck history. The offense looked so simple that, at times, it seemed like even a caveman could predict the plays.
Fear not fans, I have faith that we will see glory days once again. But will Arroyo be the one to take us there?
There Are Signs of Life
I can bore you with stats galore, but let’s go with the most glaring deficiency of the 2018 season: Oregon rushed for a meager 2,332 yards and only averaged 32 points per game in Pac-12 play. No wonder fans have a bitter taste in their mouths.
Yet, Arroyo does often call good plays. For example, Dillon Mitchell broke free on a post pattern against Stanford in a tough third-and-long situation.
Why do I think the above play is such a good one? Arroyo expected the play to work, and he used it to set up the Ducks’ first touchdown a play later.
Arroyo stunned Stanford with a lethal strike, then forced the Cardinal to defend a goal line play with its third-and-long unit on the field. (above) The plays were a package deal! I would call that good play calling.
No Sizzle. No Juice.
The Oregon offense scored fewer points per game in 2018 than it did in 2016. (The year the Ducks went 4-8!) Why? Was it execution, scheme, play calling? Let’s dig in, and review one of the most pivotal set of plays Arroyo called all year, against Washington State.
I’m going to pay particular attention to the second drive of the second half of that game. To me, this sequence was the whole season in a nutshell. The offense was moving the ball effectively, but stalled inside the 10-yard line when Arroyo called three running plays.
Originally I was frustrated, so I picked those plays apart.
Despite WSU locking down the “box,” the first running play probably gains five yards if Dallas Warmack (No. 75) doesn’t whiff on his block above.
Warmack is at right guard, (above) and is responsible for climbing to the second level and getting a piece of the Cougar linebacker on what appears to be a simple outside zone concept.
In the second play above, Arroyo calls what looks to be an Outside Zone Read, which gets shut down because Jake Hanson and Shane Lemieux (black box above) let the Cougar nose tackle (red circle above) split them.
WSU executed this stunt in the first half, but Hanson and Lemieux seemed to ignore the nose tackle when the play started. (above) This is a bust by two veteran players.
Thus far we have two blown assignments in the first two plays, and then Arroyo triples down. On the third play, Hanson (with Lemieux in the black box) misses the left defensive tackle this time (blue circle above), which thwarts a likely touchdown.
Again, Hanson and Lemieux (above) should double team the left tackle, with Lemieux climbing to seal the inside linebacker. Instead, Lemieux releases before Hanson is able to gain leverage at the first level of the defense.
So why didn’t Arroyo call a QB bootleg where Justin Herbert could run play action and roll out with a run/pass option on second down, for example?
I believe Arroyo thought the offensive line was finally blocking well, but those missed blocks prevented a touchdown more than the designed play call did. … all three times. This series is indicative of what the Ducks left on the table all year: they were unable to score far too often because they simply didn’t execute.
How Much of This Is on Arroyo?
The Stanford and Washington games were anomalies. The offense was the most physical it had been all year, yet the Ducks had fewer explosive running plays (plays that gained more than 8 yards) against the Cardinal and Huskies than against everyone else in the conference.
Was it due to execution? Was Arroyo stuck in second gear himself? Again, I believe Arroyo calls very good plays. I didn’t have an issue with the plays he called in the WSU game. They should have worked. But they didn’t. (Don’t forget that Chip Kelly loved to run Inside Zone and Power Plays inside the 10-yard line)
I used the WSU game on purpose. Successful plays were there for the taking. I believe the Utah game was another example of food left on the table, for the same reason. I have a theory as to why, but I seek your input.
Is Arroyo the right man for the job? Does he call good plays? If not, why not? If so, how could you ever back him?
This is Herbert’s last year, after all. Will Arroyo bring out his best offense?
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Spencer Thomas, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, is an attorney for the Social Security Administration in Atlanta, Georgia, and coaches High School Football for Hillgrove HS in Powder Springs, GA.
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