Oregon Football: Let’s Pump the Brakes on Trick Plays

Jordan Ingram Editorials

There’s something special about executing a play that catches the opposing team completely off guard. The shock, coupled with the dazzling precision necessary to pull off a trick play, can be humiliating for an opponent and ignite a crowd.

If you don’t pull it off? It’s just embarrassing.

The No. 12 Oregon Ducks have been a mixed bag when it comes to trick plays. When the Ducks played against Colorado earlier this year, Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham put on a magic show — Offensive tackle Josh Conerly Jr. caught a four-yard touchdown pass, running back Bucky Irving threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Bo Nix and linebacker Noah Sewell lined up as a fullback for a one-yard rushing touchdown in the Ducks’ 49-10 rout of the Buffaloes. Pop the champagne. Each play worked as designed and everybody looked like a genius.

And then there are the other less successful plays, often risky and poorly executed. For example, the Ducks led Utah 17-3 in the third quarter. After making a defensive stop, Oregon was set for its first offensive performance of the second half on their own 15-yard line. But Nix, who had played the previous two quarters remarkably efficiently on a bum ankle, was standing on the sideline.

Craig Strobeck

Offensive lineman Josh Conerly Jr. celebrates a touchdown reception against Colorado, one of several trick plays in the Ducks’ 49-10 rout of the Buffaloes.

Freshman quarterback Ty Thompson snaps the ball to run a flea flicker but botches the toss, leading to a Utah scoop and score, quickly cutting Oregon’s lead in half. Why take out Nix on what is arguably the most important drive of the second half? Why try something like that with a freshman backup deep in your own territory? The decision was way too cute for a fairly tenuous situation.

Looking back, I remember the trick plays and two-point conversions from the Chip Kelly era. They were unpredictable and fun, demonstrating the wizardry of Kelly’s offensive mind. When Mark Helfrich took over for Kelly, he tried some of the same stuff. But all of a sudden, the Ducks weren’t converting their two-point attempts. The fakes and flickers were predictable and the mechanics sloppy. Fans started to boo Helfrich. The party was over.

As young, talented coaches, Oregon head coach Dan Lanning and Dillingham like to mix things up with their players. I think the Ducks should continue playing with an edge and creating situations where the offense becomes completely unpredictable. But these plays should be fewer and farther between. While everybody loves a little razzle-dazzle, Lanning should slow down on the trickery.

Jordan Ingram
San Diego, California
Top photo by Craig Strobeck

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