I wished for another “Utah Miracle” yesterday before the Pac-12 Championship Game and received one in Los Angeles! The surprises began from the very start of the game, as the Ducks put together their best defensive showing (considering the competition) of the year and truly pulled together an amazing team performance. Nearly everyone I spoke to before the game was in a “hope” mode, as we did not have much confidence in this team. Yet again, most of us got humbled (pleasantly this time) by actual game results. Let’s take a look at some of the surprises and begin the discussion of the Pac-12 Championship Game’s impact on the upcoming Fiesta Bowl!
(Can you believe it? Fiesta Bowl? A New Year’s Six Bowl? Pinch yourself!)
Moorhead was SMART, not Tough
The way that Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead put together this game plan on such a short week was a massive surprise to this football fan. And he had to do it without CJ Verdell? Perhaps that is why we saw less of the Pistol, since the “Power-Back” was unavailable? No matter, the innovation in his game-planning is something I will enjoy studying in the off-season. Packages for back-up quarterback Anthony Brown were unveiled and resulted in No. 13 throwing two touchdown passes. Nobody saw that coming, especially the USC defensive staff. Simply brilliant.
An empty backfield with a running back motioning into or zipping out for passes? These caught USC flat-footed a number of times, along with the sequential or constraint plays run off of base plays. My favorite was having Travis Dye appear to come out of the backfield for a wheel route, but cut inside instead of going outside as he would usually do. This surprised the Trojan defenders and created an easy touchdown pass for Brown.
Although the innovation did not end there. I actually saw a Zone-Read off the Jet Sweep, and quarterback Tyler Shough ran for eleven yards off it! I wanted more Shotgun plays, and we received tons of them, but I was speechless to see the ol’ Shotgun Inside Zone Read implemented the original way that yours-truly documented over nine years ago. But wait! There’s more. The very play I was calling for recently, the revised Shotgun Inside Zone Read, made its appearance in the Coliseum.
FishDuck writer David Marsh and a few other readers have been calling for more tight end plays this last week, and the fans received some dandies at crucial moments. The screen fake-block by Hunter Kampmoyer was a sweet example of playing smart to win, and it worked wonderfully. These plays, the innovation and the variations off them kept the Trojans off-balance and allowed Oregon to escape with a win despite only 31 points and a paltry 243 yards of total offense. Oregon made the most of Red Zone opportunities that do not show up in the box score …
The drive to begin the second half had to have gotten into the head of USC and increased their panic to catch up to Oregon. It was a clock-gobbler, taking up 7:40 — half of the third quarter! The Trojans became concerned that they may not have enough possessions if that trend continued, and I was doing a Duck-Dance in Famous FishDuck ManCave pondering that possibility.
Lessons Still Not Learned …
Oregon coaches have not yet learned the End-Game yet, which was evident when Oregon had the ball with 6:16 left in the game and up by seven. This was the time to pull out all stops when it came to play-calling, because at this time of the game, first downs are as important as touchdowns earlier in the game. Without both … you don’t win. The Ducks did their Pistol Plunges, only burned 1:33 off the clock and darn-near handed the game to USC.
Were it not for the heroics of Jamal Hill making that spectacular interception on the sidelines (one of the two he had on the day), we may not be celebrating. I’d rather put the pressure on the offense to get four first downs than place the defense in that precarious position at the end of the game. But we’ll arm-chair quarterback later, as I want to savor the delicious parts of this victory.
THIS is the Oregon Defense we Know …
This was the 2020 defense we assumed we would see this year, and the entertainment from that side of the ball was complete. We witnessed turnovers, sacks and run-stuffing in Los Angeles — everything we became accustomed to seeing last year. Holding the USC offense to only 24 points (below our season average of giving up 28 points per game) when the Trojans averaged 35 points per game prior to the championship was a testament to Defensive Coordinator Andy Avalos.
Since it is getting past midnight, I will save the conversations about the defensive performances for another article, or we can begin them in the comments. I do wish to say that I learned some great tidbits from former Oregon Coach Mark Helfrich who was doing the color commentary, although I gasped when he called out what defense Oregon was running on occasion before the play started.
It was a wonderfully surprising football miracle for all Ducks, and yet it begs more questions and discussion to come. Let’s enjoy all the positive elements of this victory as …
“Oh how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (Mr. FishDuck)
Top Photo by John McGillen of USC Athletics
Andrew Mueller, the FishDuck Volunteer Editor for this article, works in higher education in Chicago, Illinois.
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