Dan Lanning - Oregon Ducks Football - FishDuck.com in Eugene, OR

Lanning Plays With Fire, Duck Fans Get Burned

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials

I should have written this article a month ago when I first felt strongly about it, but at the time I did not want to be a buzz-kill for Oregon fans. Coaches Dan Lanning and Kenny Dillingham have done some wonderful things at Oregon, and I believe in their upside…but they are making some reckless in-game decisions. Oregon fans along with the team will suffer the consequences, and I set aside my new fascination with the Pac-12 Area Code collectibles and the Pac-12 Football Championship Game Grand Prize Drawing to call attention to some extraordinarily poor judgement.

Can we agree that we all make decisions differently at age 56 than at age 36? Goodness knows the young have no fear, as they have not experienced enough of life to fully recognize all the risks and consequences on so many from flippant decisions. I’ve had season tickets as long as Lanning or Dillingham have been alive. Both know a ton more football than I, but neither has experienced the devastation of a lost season as we Duck fans have.

When Bo Nix pulled the ball on 4th-and-two versus UCLA on our side of the field and then faced two Bruin defenders cutting off his running lanes–my heart was in my throat. What in the world were he and the coaches thinking? Granted, he juked one defender and knifed past another for the first down–but while everyone cheered I was shaking my head at the low-percentage play. So much of what Lanning and Dillingham base their game plan upon is high percentage, and then at times–they simply get impulsive–as 30-something-year-old men are prone to do.

Is trying to convert a fourth down on your own 34 yard line against a loaded box with a reserve quarterback a high percentage play? No! This goes beyond looking at the analytics or blustering to each other, “let’s go for it.” Experienced coaches such as Mike Bellotti would take in the entire scenario, the game conditions and all other factors to arrive at a calculated decision. Or if you have been a head coach ten times longer than your opponent, as Kalen DeBoer was, you let the opposing rookie coach make the mistake.

The odds of converting an onside kick is only 24%. If you have not done it before–you can catch the opposing team napping, as we did the Bruins. But when you’ve already shown it, teams can prepare for it, and when teams prepare for it the average of success reverts to the mean. Said DeBoer after the game, “we were ready for it.” Sure enough, the Huskies pounced on the ball in plus territory and kicked a field goal that ended up being the winning margin in the Ducks’ 37-34 season-altering loss. Add to this last week’s attempt at a Ty Thompson reverse to start the second half against Utah, and you see an unsettling trend of our young-gun coaches lacking the wisdom to keep things holstered.

A novel idea: let running backs do the the rushing between the tackles?

Don’t Run Your Quarterback Between the Tackles

How many seasons have been trashed at Oregon due to quarterback injury? There are years where the QB injury kept the team from the Playoffs, such as the injury to Vernon Adams in 2015, or to Justin Herbert in 2017. Other years such as 1988 (Musgrave) or 1991 (O’Neil) we see the quarterback go down, and it is disaster for the remainder of the season. Then there’s Dennis Dixon in 2007…whether it’s a routine tackle or vulnerable QB in the pocket, an injury to your starting QB can instantly send your season spiraling down the drain.

With so many Oregon seasons dashed, the typical greybeard-age Duck fan knows the risk to Oregon quarterbacks, and it is hard for us to see additional risk added to the equation. I could not believe my eyes in 2017, as I saw plays designed for the quarterback to run between the tackles? That is the danger-zone, where safeties come up to crash you in front, and linebackers are going for the knees from the side. The week before it happened I wrote how purposely exposing Justin Herbert to additional risk was stupid-as-hell, and I now wish I had written the same thing earlier this season when I was thinking it.

When your quarterback is one of the conference leaders in rushing-yards-per-carry…that is a clue.

The injury to Bo Nix in the Washington game was completely unnecessary, and symptomatic of coaching inexperience. The QB running on a Zone Read is relatively safe as he is running down the backside of a defense in the open field and can slide or go out of bounds. Many running plays called for Bo to run are designed to go outside as we saw against Cal and Arizona earlier this season. Scramble runs off of pass plays such as against Stanford are again–in the open field.

A quarterback sneak is not overly risky and is worth the reward on short-yardage. But regularly running your quarterback between the tackles is not only pushing the odds–it is guaranteeing trouble. Running a quarterback draw for a 10-yard touchdown was risky the first time against the Huskies, but the Ducks had the element of surprise. Running it a second time was asking for trouble.

Getting Bo Nix hurt in one play is not worth impairing the remainder of the season.

Running it yet another time at 3rd and 5 when the tight ends have not been thrown to, where the Ducks have a talented group of running backs built for that play and the Huskies have a freshman corner waiting to be burned–elevates the play-call for the third time to foolhardy. Especially with an offense that had just abused the Husky defense with a ten-minute-drive-for-the-ages. Running the quarterback between the tackles is a poor, low-percentage decision with this dynamic offense at Oregon.

With the resulting injury to Bo, the odds caught up with Oregon and their 30-something-year-old coaches. The impact to the future, the team and the fans is immeasurable. All from one impetuous decision.

Other components can allow for more QB running, like having a deep QB bench such as in 1999 when A.J. Feeley was backed up by Joey Harrington. Or if you have a weak offensive line, so-so running backs, but a great running quarterback in a triple-option offense–where it is your only available offensive attack. Neither is the case at Oregon as the Ducks have no proven QB backups, yet an explosive offense featuring tough and elusive running backs. Utilizing quarterback runs to the outside, scrambles, Zone-Reads and the occasional sneak–but not inside the tackles–seems to be an obvious higher percentage play selection.

My FishDuck Friends, the FishDuck writers have created over a hundred articles in support of this coaching staff, but we are not “suck-ups” to any coaching staff in order to gain access as other sites do.  We will continue to apply “Critical Analysis” and give credit where due, and grief when deserved. The youngest head coach in the Power-5 conferences has confirmed his youthful foolishness at times this season, yet I believe in his growth and the upside of this coaching staff over the longer term.

They simply have to learn how to begin thinking as a 56-year-old coach versus a 36-year-old; try not to learn the big lessons the hard way as you just did with Bo Nix please? Coaches Lanning and Dillingham are building a bank of coaching experience and knowledge while at Oregon, and I just hope that Oregon fans later get to cash that check owed to us for the “learning losses” when they reach coaching maturity.

Offensive Coordinator Kenny Dillingham will have many more celebratory moments as he gains experience.

I do wish to give enormous credit for the innovative game plans unleashing new offensive sets that confuse opponents, but Dillingham and Lanning have been too aggressive too often, and the decisions to run the Oregon quarterback between the tackles has changed the arc and potential of this 2022 season. I understand they are open about being in a “learning-mode,” and that is what makes the future all the more interesting because…

“Oh, how we love to ponder about Our Beloved Ducks!”

Charles Fischer  (Mr. FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo by Craig Strobeck

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