Oregon’s defense was tooled for the first touchdown it allowed in four games, but recovered enough to shut down Cal 17-7. Coach Mario Cristobal’s offense had to work hard to get only two touchdowns and quarterback Justin Herbert squirmed, having an off day, throwing his first interception of the season and gaining only 214 yards through the air.
Herbert’s timing and footwork were off, perhaps due to persistent pressure from the Bear defense that continually attempted to blitz and harass him. The offensive line afforded decent protection, allowing only one sack, but Cristobal did not find a way, or a formation, to isolate a wide receiver on a corner to allow Herbert to make a long throw down the field. Until he does, he and the offensive line can look forward to many more days of five-plus defenders coming on the blitz.
Herbert’s longest completion was only 30 yards, while Cal’s backup quarterback threw several deep balls against the Oregon secondary; you never know if you don’t try, and it appears Cristobal and offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo are content to not pursue that option with the present offense.
Cristobal said they went back to fundamentals on improving the run game during the bye week before the Cal game, and this play (above) shows the improvement. CJ Verdell is sprung for an 11-yard run as the entire offensive line comes off the ball with good pad levels against a physical Bear defensive front. Center Jake Hanson (No. 55) does a great job on the nose man, and the right guard blocks Cal’s “tackling machine” Evan Weaver (No. 89), who was completely eliminated from his usual dominating defensive presence.
Left tackle Penei Sewell (No. 58) and left guard Shane Lemieux (No. 68) do an excellent job tying up their defenders; only the right tackle has trouble, as his pad level is too high to effectively leverage the player he is attempting to block.
Herbert was called for holding on a reverse play, and the play above got him off the hook: out of the Pistol, Travis Dye (No. 26) takes advantage of perfect blocking by the offensive line to gain 19 yards. Dye does not hesitate and speeds around the corner, an example of the quickness Cristobal wanted to re-establish with the running game coming out of the bye week. Plays like this sparked an invigorated ground game that gained 190 yards against an outstanding defense two weeks after being held to under 70 yards by Stanford.
Hanson (No. 55), who was returning from an injury, had a solid game, on this play taking out two defenders. Jacob Breeland (No. 27) eliminated the Bears’ Weaver (No. 89) with an excellent hook block.
On the play above, Herbert throws his first interception of the season after 174 throws; his timing is late and you are in trouble when you’re passing late across the middle of the field. Herbert sees the single safety in the middle of the field before the snap and figures he can hit his receiver Jaylon Redd (No. 30) on a post route before the safety can get there to cover. His late throw allows the safety to break on the ball, but worse, the corner has time to undercut the throw and intercept it.
The pass should have been thrown on the initial cut by the receiver. Missing that opportunity, Herbert never should have thrown this pass into coverage.
Herbert’s timing was off on several throws throughout the game and this affected his accuracy: he was only 20-of-33 for 214 yards, which is only slightly more than 10 yards per attempt — which for him, is mediocre.
Oregon’s defense, which had not allowed a touchdown in the first half this season and in three straight games, has a complete breakdown on this well-executed pass play above by the Golden Bears, who isolate a big running back on inside linebacker Isaac Slade-Matautia (No. 41) on a wheel route.
Cornerback Thomas Graham (No. 4) bites on a double move by the wide receiver and loses track of him and the ball. Slade-Matautia initially is in good position on his receiver, feeling him and also having his eye on the quarterback and the ball. The back turns up field and Slade-Matautia turns to go with him but loses sight of the ball and never turns back to find it before the receiver has it in his hands.
Above, Herbert hits Verdell on a swing pass to the left for the first down. Watch left tackle Sewell (No. 58) pull and block Cal’s outside defender long enough for Verdell to make the first down — an amazing feat for a 325-pound offensive lineman in the open field. For good measure, Sewell also knocks Cal’s touted linebacker Weaver off stride and out of the play, something the Ducks’ offense did continually in their victory.
On the next play, Herbert shocks the crowd (and the Bears) with Oregon’s first quarterback option run of the season. The play is there, as it has been all season, and the Bears’ outside defender has to make a great effort to hold Herbert’s gain to seven yards.
Future Duck opponents will have to take this option in consideration as they make plans to stop Oregon’s ground game and reconsider if they want to continue to ignore the 240-pound quarterback, who is the biggest and most powerful running back the Ducks have.
Cristobal and his staff have a lot to work on this week: too many foolish penalties, too many turnovers and way too many red zone failures against California. His nightmare could very well be that if the Ducks get behind in a future game, they seem to have lost the quick-strike capabilities you need to survive in the Pac-12 Conference.
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
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.
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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