Coach Mario Cristobal allowed a long pass on the second play from scrimmage and it was a perfect 73-yard strike to Johnny Johnson III from Justin Herbert, and the Oregon Ducks were off and flying to their ninth-straight victory, 34-6 over Arizona. The win clinched first place in the Pac-12 North Division and a ticket to the championship game against whoever wins the South Division.
It was a satisfying win in many ways for Cristobal, who last year suffered through his worst loss, 44-15 to the Wildcats in Tucson, a game that everyone in green and yellow admitted was “uncompetitive and flat.” Although the Duck offense was mute at times, there were flashes of brilliance that entertained and give hope for remaining games against Arizona State and Oregon State.
Herbert threw four touchdown passes, including a bomb of 53 yards on a trick play that involved a reverse from a running back to a wide receiver who then lateraled the ball back to Herbert. The Duck quarterback spotted Juwan Johnson behind the Arizona defense and threw a beautiful pass that was caught in a breathtaking dive into the end zone by the transfer from Penn State who is the hottest receiver in the league right now.
The defense allowed only two field goals, and for the fifth game this season, denied their opponent entry into the end zone. It was a significant accomplishment, as the Wildcats swaggered into the contest with an offense averaging nearly 500 yards and 32 points per game. The Ducks came up with six sacks and allowed only 240 yards total offense, which is a big deal.
On the second play of the game Herbert throws deep to Johnson III. The Wildcats blow the coverage (above) as the left corner lets Johnson go, thinking Herbert was throwing the short outside route to the slot receiver. Before the snap, Herbert sees that there is no secondary help in the middle of the field, which tells him it is strictly man coverage on the receivers to his right — easy pickings if the coach lets you throw it.
Above, Camden Lewis kicks a knuckleball that Arizona’s JJ Taylor returns 13 yards to the Wildcat 18-yard line. The Duck cover team surrounds Taylor, breaking down under control with feet spread and enough distance between them and the ball carrier so they won’t overrun him. They are all well-balanced and set themselves square to the return man and totally shut him down.
With few exceptions, Oregon’s kickoff team has done a great job of covering this season, allowing only 23 yards or less per return; this gives the defense coming on the field excellent field position. This factor has contributed to the Ducks’ tremendous success in limiting yardage and points in the five games that they have not allowed an offensive touchdown. Coaches love to see three players on a tackle.
Above, Herbert throws incomplete, a poor pass, too high for Mycah Pittman (No. 4). Watch the defensive tackle on the left (No. 1) charge and grab both the right guard and tackle to prevent them from blocking the looper (No. 49) on the pass rush stunt. Center Jake Hanson (No. 55) picks him up while the other looper (No. 7), a linebacker, becomes part of the stunt to the outside.
CJ Verdell, who is the best pass blocker of the running backs, makes a sharp turn back to the right after getting out of Herbert’s way as he drops back to pass, and blocks the linebacker. This is great teamwork by the offensive line and running back in picking up and blocking the stunt. The Duck protection was not always great, as Herbert took some shots from the rush and was sacked three times in the game.
Arizona’s freshman quarterback Grant Gunnell has no chance on this pass play (above), being overwhelmed by the Duck pass rush. Check the explosive power of freshman defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (No. 5), who bends the left offensive tackle in half trying to block him. Nose guard Jordon Scott (No. 34) forces two blockers to take him, leaving Austin Faoliu (No. 99) and Bryson Young (No. 56) one on one against the right guard and tackle.
The Ducks drive the Wildcats backwards because of their size, speed, strength, and most importantly, their lower pad levels. The low man will win every time and this is a great example of that dictum.
Above, Herbert misses a read on an RPO (Run-Pass-Option). He puts the ball into Verdell’s belly and is supposed to read the defender located halfway between his left tackle and the slot receiver. The defender steps forward and then stays put, trying to mess up Herbert’s read and bait him to throw the ball in his direction, in the throwing lane.
This is a tough one, but Herbert should have handed the ball off, and if you follow Verdell, you can see that he might have had some decent running room to the right. The RPO is the latest rage in offensive football right now, pro and college. Defenses are going to have to do more to confuse or slow down the read of the quarterback.
Herbert was probably anticipating too much in deciding to pass before he had a clear read. The coach would probably say when in doubt, hand it off. In this case, Justin did the right thing in taking the sack and avoiding throwing a probable interception.
Above is the flea flicker that thrilled the Autzen crowd. Herbert hands the ball to Verdell going to his right who reverses the ball to Jaylon Redd (No. 30), the slot receiver who then laterals back to the quarterback. Herbert’s first read might have been the receiver deep to the right, but he’s covered so Justin goes back to his left to Juwan Johnson, who had a step on the defensive back. Johnson makes a Cirque du Soleil catch for Oregon’s third touchdown.
Cristobal’s crew still has work to do: improve pass protection, tackling, place kicking and continuing an emphasis on cutting down penalties. The Ducks have been lucky that many of the penalties they have been piling up lately came in situations where the opponent was unable to exploit. The Sun Devils, Beavers and probably the Utes will not be so helpless, so it’s a standard that must be reached as Oregon comes down the home stretch.
Coach Ken Woody
Eugene, Oregon Top Photo by Tom Corno
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.
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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