Coach Mario Cristobal found out several important things in his team’s exciting win over a determined Washington State squad, one of which is that he actually has a confident field goal kicker, Camden Lewis, who came through, drilling a 26-yarder as the gun sounded for a 37-35 victory.
Another observation might be how fast Justin Herbert can drive the Duck offensive bus when the chains are lifted on the quarterback, receivers and passing game. Cristobal had no time during the Ducks’ final drive to direct his run-first offense, which sputtered at times with play calling that ignores long passes and allows defensive backs to play coverage begging for deep balls, especially on running downs.
Cristobal has made it clear he believes in “being physical,” best demonstrated by the fine offensive line the Ducks possess and the constant effort to run the ball and overwhelm the defense. However, there is a lack of being physical in other areas.
For example, receivers are tough, physical blockers in the run game, but play design and play calling prohibit them from being physical in running routes. They are not allowed opportunities to beat a corner one-on-one, on deep routes or otherwise.
Defensively, the Ducks played a lot of soft zone coverage; Cougar receivers were accommodated by free, easy releases where they just wandered into vast open areas. Then, the conference’s top passer Anthony Gordon picked the defense apart. When the game became tighter either in the red zone or in the late stages of the contest, Oregon played more man coverage and the results were a couple of contested and dropped passes and off-target throws by Gordon.
Let the defensive backs be more physical and compete. Receivers and quarterbacks hate tight coverage; it disrupts rhythm, timing, and can lead to diminished discipline throwing and catching.
Above, CJ Verdell (No. 7) goes 89 yards untouched behind perfect blocking by the offensive line and wide receiver Juwan Johnson (No. 6). There is some creative inside blocking as wing Hunter Kampmoyer (No. 48) comes inside on a trap block to solidify the inside running lane, and center Jake Hanson (No. 55) does a good job climbing to the linebacker.
The Cougar defense actually slanted right into this play, but the creative change-up blocking sealed them. Johnson blocked two second-level defenders, and Verdell did the rest. The Ducks ended with 306 yards rushing; Verdell had 257 of them to go along with 56 yards receiving.
Above, the Cougars sack Herbert rushing only two, with two linebackers threatening inside but dropping on the snap. WSU’s left defensive end surprises tackle Calvin Throckmorton (No. 54) by spinning inside and there is no help coming from other linemen who should be looking for something to do. Right guard Dallas Warmack (No. 75) sees the problem too late to be of assistance. The Cougars were able to sack Herbert three times and pressure him others, causing some erratic passing by the Duck leader.
The Ducks were only able to sack Anthony Gordon (No. 18) once, but did pressure him several times to force throwaways to avoid more. On the play above, freshman Stud linebacker Mase Funa (No. 47) penetrates on a stunt with Jordon Scott (No. 34). The left guard does not slow and flatten Funa’s rush, so he is able to split between him and the center, who gets picked after Scott draws his block and loops around the pile up.
The left guard’s shoulders are turned and he is not in position to block Funa or Scott in that position. Kayvon Thibodeaux (No. 5) maintains contain on the passer to keep him from scrambling: excellent execution by the defense on this play.
Gordon missed on the same play the play before, but a heady adjustment by receiver Brandon Arconado (No. 19) brought a touchdown, shown above. Safety Nick Pickett (No. 16) is lined up six yards deep in the end zone, better a place to watch the play rather than defend it. Issac Slade-Matautia (No. 41), who deflected the same pass the play before, has a poor angle on the slot back and turns his head to find the ball before he covers the receiver, who is camped in the end zone.
With the ball on the five-yard line, everything happens faster than a drop back pass in the middle of the field. The Ducks are in zone coverage on WSU’s favorite receiver and thus, gift this completion. Man-to-man and a double on the Cougs’ “go-to guy” would have been a better choice.
Finally, after a 15-yard completion to Juwan Johnson (No. 6), Herbert goes right back to him above on a quick screen. Spencer Webb (No. 18) kicks out the corner and center Jake Hanson (No. 55) blocks the safety just enough while right guard Dallas Warmack (No. 75) hustles across the field and cuts off the Cougar linebacker who could have tackled Johnson from behind.
Johnson weighs 230 and is obviously a man to go to in the future. Note how he changed hands on the ball to keep it away from the closest tackler as he broke the line of scrimmage.
Next, USC: every bit as dangerous as Washington State on offense, and probably better on defense. Cristobal will need better from himself, his quarterback and his defense. The Ducks should spend time figuring how to get Herbert in gear sooner and how to get the defense to tighten coverage on good receivers.
Coach Ken Woody
Eugene, Oregon Top Photo by Kevin Cline
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
Spencer Thomas, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, is an attorney for the Social Security Administration in Atlanta, Georgia, and coaches football at Hillgrove High School in Powder Springs, GA.
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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.
“I learned football working under many great coaches, among them Len Casanova, Jerry Frei, John Robinson, Bruce Snyder, George Seifert,and Ron Stratten at the University of Oregon, Jim Owens at the University of Washington and Jim Walden at Washington State University. Most of my coaching experience was on the offensive side of the ball with quarterbacks, receivers and kickers although as a head coach I coached defensive backs, linebackers and offensive line.
I achieved my first goal of being the youngest head coach in college football at the age of 26 and throughout my career in coaching and outside of it, as a journalist and broadcaster, have experienced how exciting and gratifying it is teaching the game to others.”
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