Rose Bowl GameDay: What Oregon Fans Should Watch For…

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials

Is that one of the most beautiful photos ever of the 2012 Rose Bowl (above) versus Wisconsin? Future NFL players in Russell Wilson of the Badgers and Kiko Alonso of the Ducks clashed on that day, just as many on the field today will play on Sundays. As always, I wish to discuss the game before, during and after and I’d like your thoughts on what you are looking for in today’s game? Does the outcome even matter to you since the upward trajectory of the program is established? Or are you looking for specific progress or strategies by Our Beloved Ducks as I am? I have a few observations to pass along.

Wisconsin is a strong team as Oregon is; everyone knows about their superb running back and very skilled quarterback who are set up by a typically big and tough Badger offensive line. On defense I am especially impressed by their front seven; the defensive line had three sacks against Ohio State in one half alone earlier this month. Some analysts feel that the weakest part of Wisconsin is at defensive back, and that Oregon needs to exploit it with their experienced receivers and quarterback Justin Herbert.

With that in mind, I like the thought of getting the Badgers uncomfortable immediately with a pinpoint passing attack as we saw Ohio State do to take an early 16 point lead on Clemson, and as Oregon did to Auburn. Sometimes attacking with the passing game can set up the running component, and I do want to see Herbert run the ball early again to set the tone and complicate the defensive run fits by Wisconsin.

The Oregon defense has to stop another great Wisconsin running back as Michael Clay (No. 46) did in the 2012 Rose Bowl.

In particular, I would attack the Badger linebackers with the passing game, as I believe that Spencer Webb is not a good match-up (for them) in our RPO game. I especially believe that the receiving skills of CJ Verdell could be on display early as I think he can beat the Wisconsin linebackers downfield or into the flat with carefully timed passes. I really liked many of the quick passes to Jaylon Redd in the Pac-12 Championship as he crossed the formation in motion and caught the ball on the run with a blocker leading the way. These are plays that can soften up the Badger defense nicely, IMHO.

A disconcerting pattern evolved over the season as I noted the number of running plays out of the Shotgun formation declining substantially, with the Pistol formation supplanting it for the majority of running plays. It was in those games that rushing production dropped and Oregon made it easier for the defenses to know what was coming. The notable exceptions were the games against Washington and Utah, where the Shotgun was pulled out and used extensively with great success. Are the Ducks saving it for the big games?

Ohio State ran the Shotgun superbly against the Badgers, as JK Dobbins chewed them up with his selection of gaps in the Outside Zone Read. Above we see Verdell run the same play against Utah, and we should note all the small items that contribute to this 14-yard gain. At the beginning, Herbert was clearly reading the right-side defensive end, as he was not blocked. Since the DE “sat,” Justin handed off. The defense over-compensated to their left to shut-off the perimeter, and thus CJ cut inside and made a beauty of a spin-move to get the first down and more. Run these!

For one game…I would like to see Oregon free from self-inflicted penalties that kill drives.  The illegal procedure penalties in the Red Zone by the offensive line or experienced wide-outs should not happen in the 14th game of the year. Against this stout Badger defense, it could be the four-point loss on a drive that determines the winner.

What is the WRINKLE for this Game?

Pulling out the Shotgun again and running the quarterback was enough to help overcome the strength of Utah’s power in the trenches; so what wrinkle should Oregon employ in the Rose Bowl? Wisconsin is big and tough like the Utes, but they have a multi-faceted offense that will be tough to stop. How will Oregon score enough points to win? As we learned in the Pac-12 Championship game … it takes more than “being the most physical,” as you must have a game-plan that makes you smarter, as well as the aforementioned physicality.

De’Anthony Thomas changed the game with his electrifying touchdown.

The big play, the explosion play, can change a game as De’Anthony Thomas did running the Inside Zone Read option off of the Straddled Triple Option play for a touchdown (photo above). I do not recall any tricks on special teams this year … is this the time to pull out something on a kick-off return considering the focus Wisconsin will have with Mykael Wright, or perhaps the time for a fake punt? What would you like to see?

Is it even crucial for Oregon to win this game with the massive progress shown in just two years? It makes me wonder about the mental preparation the coaches will employ, as we do not know which team will show up today … the team that struggled against Arizona State and Oregon State, or the team that beat Washington in Seattle and toasted Utah in the Pac-12 Championship?

“Oh how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer   (FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon                                                                                                                    Top Photo by Amazing Moments Photography

Spencer Thomas, the 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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