Our Oregon Ducks football team’s ability to finish games was brought into question heavily after this past season. Now that the 2022-2023 season is behind us, I think it’s time we start looking to the year ahead, and what this team can do differently to be more successful in the fourth quarter of games through 2023. Hopefully, these changes will translate to not only wins in the regular season, but even bigger wins in January.
4. Clock Management in the Fourth Quarter
This was one of Oregon’s bright spots overall from what I saw in 2022 because of an absurdly effective rushing attack. The big difference is the anticipated shift of the coaching staff protecting its best asset: Bo Nix. With his rushing ability and newfound deep accuracy, he was able to take over games and put the nail in the coffin for many squads coming to Autzen.
However, his injury against Washington derailed the Ducks’ whole season. Not to say that was anyone’s fault, as freak injuries can happen to anyone, it just is cause for concern on how to approach limiting his play in the last season of his career. Regardless of how much of the gameplan is going to revolve around designed quarterback runs, there is almost definitely going to be a change in thought process here. Nix needs to stay healthy all year for the Ducks to have a shot at the College Football Playoff. If this team’s going to go the distance, he cannot be the sole rushing threat at the end of big games and risk unnecessary injury. Luckily, Bucky Irving burst onto the scene towards the end of the season, and was able to at least stabilize the rushing attack without Nix as much of a threat in the Holiday Bowl.
Hopefully, Lanning and the new offensive minds in his room will be able to tailor late-game strategies more around the skill position guys. I’m not saying Nix should never take off and scramble, just perhaps limit the designed run concepts a bit at the beginning of the season, and see how far we can get. Troy Franklin will also look to build on his breakout season as a deep threat, so at least Nix will have some solid talent around him to distribute the ball downfield late.
Overall, I’m really looking forward to seeing how this component of the game evolves for Our Beloved Ducks, and turns those heartbreaking losses into sweet wins.
3. Opportunistic Defense
Oregon’s losing a lot of star power this offseason to the NFL Draft. Superstar transfer of a year ago Christian Gonzalez is currently projected as a top-10 pick, and deservedly so. He was a ballhawk at Colorado and still was able to elevate his game when he joined the Ducks as a transfer.
However, even with his departure? This group shouldn’t skip a beat. I expect them to step up in his absence, especially Trikweze Bridges, as he elevates to true lockdown-corner status. He was playing outstanding football down the stretch, and I think his ceiling is extremely high as a difference-maker late in close games.
Collectively, Oregon’s cornerbacks are outstanding, while both Dontae Manning and Bridges are going to need to force late-game turnovers if Oregon’s going to win close games. With such little security in the Ducks’ pass rush, it’s safe to say the secondary is a huge strength the team will need to lean on more. Of course, we’d all absolutely love the pass rush to elevate and make our DBs’ lives easier, but that isn’t a guarantee in 2023. The Ducks did manage to land Matayo Uiagalelei, which is huge for Oregon’s future. Unfortunately, we can’t expect him to be the leader of the defensive line in year one, though. Bridges and Manning are going to have to lock it down for the Ducks to pull through in some close ones.
2. Coaching Decisions on Fourth-Down Plays
This isn’t going to be a badgering of how the Ducks would have beaten the Huskies if Nix was on the field instead of Ty Thompson for a pivotal fourth down. Instead, the philosophy of how fourth down is treated is what I think needs to be revised.
Fourth down has become an entirely different entity it seems over the past few seasons. Punting is incredibly infrequent for top-performing offenses, and even the NFL is starting to get more aggressive when electing to go for it or not. How Nick Sirianni chose to call plays on fourth down in the Super Bowl I feel encapsulates a pivotal shift we need to continue to acknowledge. Coaches are getting younger, and offensive-minded guys are looking to make that splash play fast. Oregon is one of those teams. Of course, the exciting thing to do is keep the offense out there. If there’s a fourth & one as we saw in the Super Bowl at least half a dozen times, why not just sneak it and keep the drive alive?
I wholeheartedly agree with those choices. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case it seems with so many of these go-for-it calls.
Lanning’s going to have to make some big strides in this area for Oregon to have a better chance late. Even if it’s just reshaping the offensive scheme on how Oregon’s going to pick up a fourth & long. I think we all got a bit too comfortable with how Nix could convert from the UCLA game on. Hopefully this squad can find a way to execute on a higher level with some innovative new offensive ideas after Kenny Dillingham departed this offseason. He’ll be a major loss for the Ducks, surely, yet there’s still room for optimism. Adversity spurs creativity.
1. Developing a New Superstar Pass Rusher
This group as a whole has needed to be retooled since Kayvon Thibodeaux left in 2022. While they did make progress and some significant strides forward this past season, there’s still a long way to go. Especially with players like DJ Johnson moving on and that seniority, veteran instinct missing, the Ducks are going to have to rely on some younger talent to start making a difference up front. Brandon Dorlus is thankfully returning and will lead this group, while Popo Aumavae and Keyon Ware-Hudson will look to step up their impact.
In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter who steps up, it just needs to be someone. Someone that can draw a double team consistently, and open up lanes for others to make plays. Even though this aspect of the game doesn’t just pertain to the fourth quarter, it’ll change a lot of what Oregon’s able to do to close games out in years ahead.
Overall, once our Oregon Ducks football program’s got their pass rush locked in, the other three aspects of the game should become far easier. I expect a whole lot of the Ducks in 2023, and it starts with how they finish games. Oregon needs to elevate their play if they’re going to reach the College Football Playoff with so many players leaving for the NFL Draft or transferring, and late-game execution needs to be a strength if they’re going to overcome that missing veteran talent.
Anyway, enough from me. What do you think, Oregon fans? Should Lanning and his staff rethink their approach to clock management in the fourth quarter? How do you think they’ll treat fourth down differently in 2023? Is there a superstar edge rusher on this roster that we just haven’t seen yet?
Let us know in the FishDuck Forum with decorum!
Los Angeles, California
Top Photo By: Craig Strobeck
Alex Heining is an Oregon alumni from the graduate class of 2021. After studying sports business and media studies, he has moved into the field of digital marketing as a copywriter and content manager in the Los Angeles area. Still, he loves his Ducks and goes to local high school games all over the Los Angeles and Orange County area to check out new recruits of the future (and a SoFi game or two with the pros). On any given Saturday, expect to find him doing martial arts, playing the guitar, or screaming at the tv over a missed holding penalty.
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