Auburn 27, Oregon 21: Coaches, Players Blow Their “Statement”

Coach Ken Woody Coach Woody's Analysis

My friends, we have a treat every Wednesday during the season with an analysis of the prior game from Coach Ken Woody. It is a tremendous opportunity to learn more football from a coach who played at Oregon and coached college football for his entire career, and we welcome him back for the 2019 season. To see his prior analyses, go to this page and scroll down a touch as his 30+ analysis articles are featured near the top. Charles Fischer

The Oregon Ducks, once again, lost a great opportunity to gain a foothold on the mountain they are climbing to establish their football program as one to be respected and reckoned with nationally, just like those in the SEC. In the past, limitations in talent and “physicality” have held the Ducks back, but the nation has begrudgingly given some appreciation for their cool uniforms and unique style.

The uniforms were cool, the unique style seemed out the window, and the results were sadly the same as the Ducks fell to Auburn 27-21 in a game they should have won handily. Beware of “shoulds” because if you don’t line up right, don’t use your timeouts right, don’t know the injury rules for substitution, and can’t remember what plays to call and when, then you’re going to continue to be the bumpkin at the party.

It was a sad scene, because the Ducks played hard and were determined at every stage of the game. They made too many mistakes — and you can do that if you’re playing Portland State, Arizona or Oregon State — but this was big-time football at just the right time to make a “statement.” Unfortunately, the statement will have to wait another day and the Ducks must regroup and prepare for the difficult season to come.

Justin Herbert hits Johnny Johnson (above) with a 47-yard pass gain on Ducks’ first drive of the game that resulted in an early 7-0 lead. The pass was one of the few Herbert was able to throw downfield beyond 7-10 yards.

In this example, two Duck wide receivers have run the safeties deep enough that Johnson could get behind the linebackers at 25-yards deep in open space. In this case, dropping eight defenders into coverage did Auburn no good at all. Johnson ran his route against zone coverage on his right and then crossed over to man coverage on the left where there were no defenders, since he was not originally lined up on the man-to-man side of the coverage.

Auburn did not have much luck with a three-man rush, and as the game wore on, the Tigers began to bring more pressure that caused the Ducks to condense and limit the depth of their pass plays. Oregon’s running backs were routinely run over attempting to block linebackers and ends that outweighed them by 30-40 pounds, and this, in large part, led to the demise of Herbert’s pass protection.

CJ Verdell (above) dashes 37 yards through the right side to set up the Ducks’ second score, a 20-yard lob pass from Herbert to 6’5 freshman tight end Spencer Webb.

This example above shows a mixture of power and finesse blocking by Oregon’s offensive line. Although the left tackle lets his defender across his face, that defender is caught up with the linebacker who is trying to run through the gap and can’t make the tackle. Steven Jones (No. 74) makes an excellent kick out block on the defensive end and the right guard and center do a combo block on the defensive tackle and linebacker. With receiver Johnson (No. 3) blocking the corner, Verdell speeds up field to give the Ducks one of the few long runs they were able to carve out against a fast, physical, aggressive defense.

Oregon coaches and players (above) get caught with late substitution, and the Ducks’ right corner, Thomas Graham Jr., does not see Auburn’s split end lined up, uncovered. Bo Nix, freshman quarterback for the Tigers, sees his receiver all alone and makes an easy touchdown throw to cut the Ducks’ lead to 21-13.

Compounding the chaos, Oregon only has 10 men on the field, and this kind of error, which costs a touchdown, is on the defensive coaches and players. It is inexcusable. There must be more emphasis on communication and organization on the sidelines.

With everyone, including the ABC television commentators, (above) expecting a line plunge to the left side of the formation, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal calls Verdell (at this point not totally healthy) to make the ultimate sacrifice, and he is thrown back for a loss — almost exactly the same thing that happened in the first half, second-and-goal from the two-yard line when the linebacker made the same stop for a two-yard loss.

If you check the depth of Verdell at the snap, he’s almost 10 yards deep from the line of scrimmage, and seven when he gets the handoff from backup quarterback Tyler Shough and is tackled three yards deep by a host of defenders, giving no chance for success when it was needed most. The Tiger coaches were so sure of what play the Ducks were going to run that they slanted into the boundary (their right), and Auburn’s defensive front stomped Oregon’s left side offensive line.

Jones (No. 74) could not cut off the linebacker who blew past him and caught Verdell. The Tigers routinely ran their linebackers through gaps on reaction and not always blitz, and the Duck offensive line was not always quick enough to keep them from penetrating and negating any chance of cutback by the running back.

Although the Duck defense would come in and force Auburn three-and-out, Oregon’s offensive momentum was lost in Arlington.

Nix, making his first start, (above) scrambles for three-and-a-half yards to keep the Tigers’ final drive going.

This is an example of why Auburn won the game and the Ducks did not. Facing a do-or-die situation, the freshman quarterback scrambles for three plus yards for a first down on fourth-and-three with 1:28 left in the game. Oregon had several of their own short yardage situations they could not convert, including two completed passes to tight ends on third-and-five-and third-and-three that came up one yard short. (Solution? Run the routes at first-down depth!)

Here, the Ducks lose contain when the edge defender goes inside the wing and is pinned inside, allowing Nix to roll to his right. Gus Cumberlander (No. 45) runs to head off Nix, but he’s late (either exhausted or coasting) and has inside leverage on the quarterback. Troy Dye (No. 35) attempts to cover the back out of the backfield and sees Nix cut back. At this point Dye and Cumberland have leverage, but they fail to break down and tackle the quarterback, who heads straight up the field and splits the two for the precious first down. If the Ducks make that play, they win.

Following the win, the howls were loud about Coach Cristobal’s game management, many likening it to the debacle that still haunts — the collapse against Stanford last season. Selection of short yardage plays need to be made by the offensive coordinator, not the line coach who is trying to show off his lineman for their toughness and physicality. Cristobal needs to face that issue.

No doubt — Auburn was tough.

Make no mistake, Auburn was stronger longer than Oregon was, and that’s what got them the win. The Ducks played hard enough to win, but not smart enough. The mistakes are embarrassing and need to be solved, which is more than “cleaned up,” the mantra that all coaches say when they have screwed up. There are still lots of opportunities ahead, and there is talent to meet it head on, but there’s much that needs to be corrected in the staff and film room for that to happen in a good way.

Don’t think Nevada will be a push-over, as they rallied and beat Purdue on the road, a Big Ten team that went to a bowl last season. Watching all the mistakes Oregon made in their big chance will give Nevada hope they can make a statement of their own.

Coach Ken Woody
Eugene, Oregon                                                                                                                                                                               Top Photo From Video

Want to learn from Coach Woody in person? He will be analyzing the prior game each week this season at the 6th Street Grill in Eugene on Wednesdays from 6:00 to 7:30 PM with video analysis and opening it up for questions. Join him and learn more football!  Charles Fischer

Learn from Coach Woody’s in over 30 analysis articles right here, and scroll down a touch as the links are at the top of the page.

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.”

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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.

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