Oregon’s Offensive Spark Comes From the RB

David Marsh Editorials

In football in general, the quarterback is the most important player on the field. He is the only player, besides the center, who has the ball in his hands on every snap. As a result, he is the leader and the face of the offense. When a team needs an offensive spark, it is often up to the QB to provide that spark and will the team to victory. We saw that in Marcus Mariota, Vernon Adams and Justin Herbert at Oregon in recent history.

After another game watching Anthony Brown perhaps play his best to date as a Duck, it still came with fan frustration as he continued to make the wrong read all too frequently. Brown knows that quarterbacks should be leaders for their teams and provide that offensive spark, but what he hasn’t realized is that his play doesn’t inspire his team. The real leadership comes from the running back with whom he shares that backfield.

The Oregon offense caught fire when RB Travis  Dye had the ball in his hands either as a runner or as a receiver. In the first drive alone he basically gained all the offensive yardage himself. Brown wasn’t brought to Oregon to be a hero quarterback. He was brought to Oregon to be an experienced quarterback for the team to lean on while the freshmen develop, and his on-field job is to get the ball into the hands of play-makers such as Dye and CJ Verdell (before his season-ending injury).

Travis Dye takes off through a massive hole while Brown fakes a pass.

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Oregon’s offense is built around running the ball — and running the ball successfully. Friday, we probably saw the Brown the coaches see in practice. Offensively, this Oregon team is actually quite good when everything is clicking and they are on time in terms of down and yardage, which happens when the run game is working. There were several series in which Oregon leapt from first-down to first-down as they gained chunk yardage on the ground and through the air. We are seeing more of Joe Moorhead’s scheme, and we have even seen the pistol effectively phased out of the playbook.

However, this offense can’t seem to get out of its own way. Multiple drives came to an unceremonious end either due to turnovers or penalties, and Brown is a significant part of that problem. This QB hasn’t realized that he doesn’t need to play the hero, he just needs to do his job and get the ball to Oregon’s best play-makers — the running backs. In fairness, there were several plays where Brown did turn to Dye as the emergency outlet with a short pass, though often these passes came too late and went for nowhere near enough yardage.

Anthony Brown plays better and looks better when he just focuses on his job.

During the third quarter, the Oregon offense didn’t even seem to be on the field. At the start of the fourth quarter when Oregon needed to get back into the game offensively, it came when Dye was leading the charge. Dye was the one who put the team on his back and carried the Ducks to victory, and sparked the offense back to life with some of the best drives we have seen out of Oregon all season.

Brown had some good runs in the fourth quarter, but all his success came because of the success of Dye and Byron Cardwell. The RPO depends on the quarterback making the right read, and for the quarterback to have success running the ball, it requires the defense to believe the ball is going to a running back. Brown’s success running the ball has less to do with Brown and more to do with the running back standing next to him.

This is the same formula Oregon used in its marquee win this season against Ohio State when it was Verdell who shouldered the load. Verdell had one of his best statistical days and Brown was praised with brilliant game management. Now, can Brown get out of the way and continue to trust his running backs with the ball?

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By Craig Strobeck

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