Oregon’s Explosive Offense Has Officially Returned

Joshua Whitted Editorials

Dan Lanning made his mission crystal clear from day one. Under his watch, he wants Oregon to have an explosive offense.

From his introductory press conference to his comments after the spring game, Lanning has been dead set on generating big plays. But it’s one thing to say that in January. It’s another to actually deliver on gameday.

In the first glimpse we got of the new-look Oregon offense, it’s safe to say Lanning is making true on his promise.

The spring game wasn’t a perfect scrimmage by any means, but it’s clear the offensive direction has changed in a big way. Downfield shots in the passing game are going to be an integral part of the Ducks’ offense — a very welcome change that not only adds excitement, but will also lead to a more productive unit.

Oregon’s New-Look Offense

Under Mario Cristobal, Oregon’s primary offensive objective was to control the line of scrimmage and establish the run. These weren’t necessarily bad goals, but chasing them often came at the expense of a competent passing game. Particularly, such an approach limited Oregon’s overall explosiveness, as it had to rely on big plays in the ground game almost exclusively to get chunk plays.

This strategy can work sometimes, but it’s hard to beat similarly talented teams without the threat of a downfield aerial attack. Big plays in the passing game can offset the inevitable drop-off in rushing success when going against more capable defensive fronts.

Oregon relied on the ground game for explosive plays under Cristobal.

We only have a small sample size, but it looks as though Lanning and his staff understand that stressing defenses vertically through the air is a necessity in today’s game. From the opening snap, Oregon took downfield shots aplenty in its spring game, and although that led to some turnovers, it also provided points and yards in volume.

Bo Nix threw for 230 yards on just 15 passes, finishing with a whopping 15 yards per attempt. Ty Thompson and Jay Butterfield each took a number of deep shots, as well, taking full advantage of the athletic, highly recruited receivers at their disposal.

It is just the spring game, and often times, coaches will call these scrimmages a little more aggressively than they would if it were an actual game. But still, even a marginal increase in the rate of downfield passes would be a gamechanger for the Ducks.

All of the quarterbacks went vertical in the spring game.

Explosive plays aren’t just meant to excite the fans; they’re the biggest determinant of winning in college football. Bill Connelly did a study to determine which factors were the most important in deciding the outcomes of college football games, and he found that, among five critical factors, explosiveness had the biggest impact. Based on data collected in 2013, the team that won the explosiveness battle (the team that had more explosive plays than its opponent) won 86 (!) percent of the time.

Quite simply, it’s hard to consistently drive the length of the field at any level. The more plays there are in a drive, the more bad things that can happen: an errant snap, a penalty, a loss of yards, a turnover, etc. The quicker a team can score (in terms of plays per drive), the more likely it is to win, because it’s not consistently relying on long, risky drives to get points.

Generating big plays has to be the primary goal for a successful offense. Being aggressive doesn’t come without risks, but the reward is so valuable that it’s well worth it.

Don’t expect Lanning’s Ducks to take the safe approach and avoid downfield shots in the passing game this season. The spring game showed that this year’s offense is going to swing for the fences, and history shows that doing so will pay off in the long run.

Joshua Whitted
Morgantown, West Virginia
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove

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