There are some big keys to watch for today that have not been discussed elsewhere, and this is the site for such contemplation. Time for my Saturday GameDay articles again, and the only negative is a short season of them! Join me in the comment section below this article, where we will discuss what to look for before the game, comment as events unfold during the game, and then begin to debrief after the game.
I will also have a shorter “game reaction” article on Sunday mornings for in-depth pondering of the recent game. It is SO good to get back in the saddle again, and I have some unique items to watch for in this game that could have a big impact today and going forward.
Oregon Offense Observations
The biggest question is just how much more of the Joe Moorhead offense will be unveiled in Pullman today? I have to say I am pleased as punch that five new starters on the offensive line were rated among the best in the nation this past week by PFF college. That is stunning, unheard of, and bodes well going forward; do watch Steven Jones, No. 74 at left tackle, protecting the blind-side of our quarterback. He was surprisingly quick and athletic in stopping the Stanford pass rush, and for 340 lbs.? Exceptional!
Instead of focusing on the plays inside the tackles, I do hope we see some counters, sweeps and outside zone plays that are not “stretch” plays in the Pistol, as it could sure add variety to the running attack. The Ducks have superb wide receiver blocking, so take full advantage of it: run outside! I’m watching to see more of what OC Joe Moorhead hinted at before the season. Will he tone down the use of the Pistol? (Geez I hope so!)
I am certainly watching for this and the use of Oregon’s savvy wide receivers catching more passes across the middle in post and drag routes. It seemed that Tyler Shough did not see receivers opening up on those crossing patterns, and it is important for that aspect to develop as the Ducks completed short and long passes superbly. I also believe screen passes could be successful this week as the WSU defense is very aggressive and made some great sacks and “hurries” last week.
Another key to watch is the performance of Oregon’s center, as he got blown up several times versus the Cardinal and was pushed backward a number of other times. The Cougars do not have the big nose tackle, but it is still something to keep an eye on.
Has Jordon Scott Lost Too Much Weight?
When he joined the Ducks from Florida four years ago, Jordon Scott carried over 350 lbs. that needed some trimming. But slimming down to 311 concerns me. Against Stanford he got blocked easily and sometimes got blown backwards. Granted this was against double-teams at times, but the objective of the nose tackle is to require double-teaming, hold the gap and free the linebackers for tackles.
Scott wants to be a pass-rusher, and I get it, but I am concerned that he has turned himself into a “tweener”–not agile enough to be an effective pass rusher and not big enough to be a “two-gap” defender. Compounding the problem is the absence again this weekend of Popo Aumavae, who I felt was often better than Scott last year. A defense starts with plugging the middle, and the Cardinal ate Oregon alive at the line-of-scrimmage at times last week, especially in the early going.
The Ducks are Vulnerable up the MIDDLE?
Many in this very astute FishDuck community have pointed out how the Oregon defense misses the play of Jevon Holland and Brady Breeze. They were exceptional, and, frankly, their replacements are not. Increasing those concerns will be Verone McKinley’s unavailability the first half of this week’s game. While I understand the talent at inside linebacker is there, the inexperience could be a real killer early in the season. Too many times the linebackers took the wrong gap or were too easily blocked. While these are correctable, can the corrections be made after only one game?
I understand the hype about Noah Sewell as he blew up some plays. However, he also had running backs slip from his grasp a number of times. Will we see improvement? My conclusion is that for now–between Scott, the inside linebackers and the safeties–the Oregon defense is vulnerable up the gut. The Cougars ran the ball for 229 yards last week, and with the Duck defense trying to cover WSU’s precise pass patterns and this weakness versus the run?
Washington State: This is NOT Your Father’s Run-and-Shoot Offense
I was very impressed with the first game of the new Run-and-Shoot offense at Washington State, and I would guess that it is a version that is unique to Head Coach Nick Rolovich. When an R&S team actually runs for more yardage than it passes for, you know it is a balanced attack that will be difficult to contain. Rolo’s R&S looks different than the version NFL coach Buddy Ryan derisively called “the Chuck-and-Duck” so many years ago. (With a name like that–you’d think I’d love it!)
The Cougs’ freshman quarterback Jayden de Laura, a true frosh playing in his first collegiate game last week, impressed me every bit as much as Tyler Shough did. De Laura has elite arm strength and is not just mobile … he is fast. Rolovich’s Cougs will run some traditional plays, but they are not afraid to pull a “Chip Kelly” on third and long. Knowing the opposing defense will be in an eight-man zone with a three-man rush (what I have called the 3-Duck-Chuck before), Rolovich will not hesitate to run a wonderfully blocked draw play out of the short Pistol formation for the first down!
The final Cougar touchdown last week against the Beavers was a play I have not seen before, where the slotback took the handoff and effectively did a Jet Sweep but cut inside his perimeter blocks. Was this truly “cutting inside the blocks,” or was the blocking scheme actually designed this way? With the innovative and eclectic nature of this offense, I’m inclined to think this was by design rather than by accident.
I understand that many believe Oregon will bulldoze the smaller WSU defensive line, but I saw good athleticism by them, especially in the first half. On one play the Beavs had a seven-man, max-protect blocking package on a pass play, and the Cougars still got the sack rushing only four. These are Pac-12 scholarship athletes who clearly have talent, and while we should not fear them, they are definitely deserving of our respect.
Is this the TRAP GAME of the Year for Oregon?
I am concerned that Oregon is coming into this game as more talented opponents have with the Ducks in years past, believing they could lean on their superior talent to ball-control their way to a routine victory. The Ducks of years past, on the other hand, believe that their inspired, go-for-broke offense could outscore a more talented team that adopted a more plodding approach, and they were usually right. I worry this year’s Ducks, now with superior talent, may tend toward the plodding approach, setting the stage for the Trap-Game of the season.
One component I take refuge in is the mental preparation by the coaches; coach Mario Cristobal remembers getting his caboose kicked in the Palouse two years ago, and the team is still smarting from last year’s loss (that should not have happened) against Arizona State. This is mental toughness that only comes from experience and could prove to be very valuable for this young Oregon football team.
In the telecast of last week’s Beavs-Cougs game, a quote attributed to coach Rolovich stunned me as he stated that this WSU squad “is the most talented team he has had the privilege of coaching.” What? Holy Crap! This guy must really be used to coaching players up and utilizing anything innovative that he can. Those kind of coaches are dangerous to the upper echelon teams of the world and heightens my fear of a Ducks loss….
Or I could be completely wrong and Oregon wins big! I do believe Oregon needs to score at least 40 to win, and I am not sure if the team is there yet?
This article has a ton to unpack, and again–it is only my opinion. So many coaches know so much more than I, and I highly respect so many of those who comment on this site. So much great football knowledge among this mastermind group.
Consider my thoughts as I do those of many economists and pollsters: “frequently wrong, but never in doubt!”
“Oh how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (Mr. FishDuck)
Top Photo by Kevin Cline
Phil Anderson, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.
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