Ducks Hang on in a Rough Ride with Fresno State

Coach Ken Woody Coach Woody's Analysis

Oregon fans who were eagerly looking forward to an easy win over Fresno State in their opener, had a rude awakening at the end of the third quarter with a 21-21 tie, a defense struggling to contain the Bulldogs’ potent passing game and an offense that disappeared after putting up a two touchdown lead midway through the first quarter.

With a couple of top-ten recruiting classes on board, the Ducks did not show the physicality that is a primary focus for coach Mario Cristobal. With a big Saturday showdown in Columbus against mighty Ohio State, there is much work to be done to make that game competitive.

The Ducks came out blazing on defense, with All American Kayvon Thibodeaux (No. 5) sacking and striping the ball from Bulldog quarterback Jake Haener, enabling Mase Funa (No. 47) to pick up the pigskin and return it 16 yards to the Fresno three-yard line. It took three plays to score and that was the first indication that the Ducks were not going to roll over Fresno on this day.

In the video above, Thibodeaux shows the explosive quickness that makes him a dangerous pass rusher, splitting an attempted double team and hitting the quarterback from behind. New defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter espouses a philosophy stressing takeaways and this was a good start, after a disappointing lack of takeaways last year.

Above, on Fresno’s next possession, first play, linebacker Noah Sewell (No. 1) steals the ball away from the ball carrier and forces a fumble recovered by defensive tackle Keyon Ware-Hudson (No. 95) on the Bulldog 27-yard line. After three running plays and a penalty, Oregon scores and establishes a 14-0 lead after eight minutes of the first quarter. It would be nearly 21 minutes before the Ducks would score again.

In the above video, Duck quarterback Anthony Brown (No. 13) does an excellent job looking off the free safety to his left before turning back to the right and hitting Johnny Johnson III with a perfect 32-yard strike that extended Oregon’s lead to 21-6 and led fans to believe a rout was in progress. Fresno State put those thoughts to bed by marching 75 yards in 10 plays (1:09) to narrow the halftime score to 21-13.

With the Ducks needing to get their offense going, they march 60 yards on their first possession of the second half. As shown above, running back CJ Verdell (No. 7) is stopped short on fourth-and-one. The offensive line struggled to get a consistent push all day long and once again, the Ducks come up short on a crucial short-yardage situation, a reminder of similar failures over the past two seasons.

Given new life by their short yardage defense, Fresno State goes 85 yards in nine plays and scores, adding a two-point conversion to forge a 21-21 tie in the third quarter. On this play Jordan Mims (No. 7) dashes 45 yards to the Oregon 18-yard line before Steve Stephens (No. 7) knocks him out of bounds. Although allowing 130 yards rushing the Ducks chalked up 55 yards in loss to hold FSU to 75 total yards on the ground.

The Bulldogs dominated play from the second quarter to the first part of the fourth, scoring three field goals and two touchdowns on five drives to take a 24-21 lead. The drives were 12 plays-69 yards (FG); 14 plays-68 yards (FG); 10 plays-75 yards (TD); 9 plays-85 yards (TD); and 22 yards-5 plays (FG). Oregon was only able to score once during this time period.

As shown above, Anthony Brown runs the option out of the dreaded Pistol formation to perfection on this fourth-and-two play with three minutes left in the game. Brown attacks the inside shoulder of the outside defender, and then gives a head and shoulder fake to make the defender believe he’s going to pitch the ball to the following running back. With the defender off balance and leaning to the outside, Brown keeps the ball and does 32-yards of fancy open field running to score and put the Ducks, finally, ahead to stay 31-24.

Brown’s option shows that the Pistol has some firepower when complimented by the option rather than the futile line plunge by a running back who is lined up between eight and ten yards behind the line of scrimmage.

The game was much more exciting than fans, and sportswriters, expected. The defense lost Thibodeaux to an ankle injury and promptly lost intensity and momentum. The offense was erratic and showed nothing of the prodigious power and physicality previously advertised. Brown was average throwing the ball: 15-of-24, 172 yards, one touchdown; but his leadership and athletic running ability proved crucial down the stretch.

Oregon will need to do better on 4th and 1 in the ‘Shoe.

Coaches say the greatest improvement a team makes is from game one to game two. This had better be the case this next week or there is going to be a Duck disaster. Thibodeaux looks to be ok for Saturday, but it’s going to be a real challenge for the young secondary to corral All American receiver Chris Olave and freshmen quarterback CJ Stroud and running back TreyVeyon Henderson who had career days in their first game, a win over Minnesota.

After their game, the beat writer for Minnesota described the Buckeyes compared to his Gophers as following: “The speed was different. The talent level at skill positions was different. The ability to score in a blink was different. One team is built like a race car…the car is hard to contain at full throttle.”

Mario Cristobal and the Ducks have been warned.

Coach Ken Woody
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo by Scott Kelley

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