Should Oregon Play to its Passing Attack Strengths?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Editorials

We had an interesting discussion this last week about whether or not the offensive line could be as strong as last year at rushing-at-will as we saw in a number of key moments in the 2022 season where ball control and burning the clock became as important as scoring points. Could the 2023 offensive line improve to where last year’s team peaked at? But after watching three games this season–my question instead has become…

“Should Oregon shift the offensive emphasis to prioritize the passing attack instead?”

That is a revolting thought to many, but I think we ought to address the true strength of the Oregon offense, which is the savvy quarterback and the best receiving corps since 2015. This is not a knock on the offensive linemen, nor am I saying we forgo rushing. Oregon is averaging 216 yards rushing per game thus far, and will end up with good rushing numbers this year with the continued improvement of these men in the trenches.

But that group of receivers is becoming an elite bunch, and I believe they will be recognized as one of the nation’s best by season’s end.

Consider that the receiving yards by Gary Bryant Jr. at USC in 2021 were better than any at Oregon that year, and this was in his freshman year. He has flashed us some greatness, and he is due to explode in a big game later. Tez Johnson is getting his confidence, and has already emerged as a playmaker or “DAT-Light” in my parlance. Everyone can see the Troy Franklin is a possible first round NFL Draft pick, and we cannot forget Kris Hutson or Traeshon Holden from Alabama.

Tez Johnson scores on a Bird-Bomb against Hawaii. (Screenshot from Pac12 Network Video)

The Quarterback Matters…

I was struck by how accurate Bo Nix was on tough crossing and slant patterns, as well as off-balance throws on the run. He connected on some Bird-Bombs, and missed a couple. Yet you know that throwing long so often is new to him and he will get the timing down a bit better. But his overall completion percentage in three games is a crazy 77%?

Not so crazy considering he had a completion rate of 72% for all of last year, thus someone that accurate should be throwing a bit more often to such a talented group of wide-outs. It is not putting down the rushing attack or the offensive linemen, but playing-to-the-strengths of this team. This really becoming an astonishing, elite set of receivers, and it would be nuts to waste the opportunities they bring.

Does it matter how we win games or score points?  For some fans, it does. For some reason–many regard rushing the ball as a superior way to score, and even DazeNconfused pointed out how last year’s offensive line rushed the ball on Georgia like few had. My question in response was…

“How many points did we score?”

There are no style points awarded for rushing the ball; we win by scoring points–however they come. During the Mike Bellotti years, we had a subpar rushing attack due to recruiting challenges, and thus Coach Bellotti brought in a high scoring West Coast passing offense that kept us in the tough games. In 2023, Oregon will have much more balance in the offensive attack, and certainly–throwing the ball a bit more often can put more opposing defensive backs on the field, which sets up explosion running plays by pulling O-Linemen.

Bo Nix and Will Stein are figuring out their new offense. (Screenshot from Pac12 Network Video)

Stein’s Learning Curve Accelerates…

Oregon offensive coordinator, Will Stein, is certainly in his learning curve of what he can call at the higher Power-5 level, as plays that could be stubbornly stuck to at UTSA, may not work against the superior defensive talent that will be evident in the Pac-12. He is also adjusting to what he can do with QB Bo Nix, what running plays work best with this jelling offensive line, as well as what he can call with this improving receiver corps.

As a new OC…he will get better.

Yet I think he is off to a very hot start for a newbie OC; I saw a number of new play series out bunch formations for running plays that I love, along with constraint plays he is revealing in the passing game. I love the flair passes to running backs or WRs where you have two tight ends blocking on smaller defensive backs. Great play designs, and I suspect we will see more that can emphasize our growing advantage in the receiver room.

Of course the irony is that by throwing a bit more, say a 60/40% ratio of pass-to-run can actually open up the running game that much more. Bird-Bombs are already creating much bigger spaces for the mid-level drag routes, and making the running backs completely open in the flat with open field to put their shimmies to work. It is my belief that a modest emphasis on the passing game, and Bird-Bombs could create one of the most explosive Oregon offenses in our history…considering all the weapons at Stein’s disposal.

Bo Nix throws well on the run to Terrance Ferguson for yet another first down. (Screenshot from Pac12 Network Video)

Yes, You CAN Still Ball-Control by Passing…

I can see your eye-roll. But I assert this not just because I believe it, or insist that Oregon can do it. I contend Oregon can do it because they already have. In the Texas Tech contest Oregon had a scoring drive of 12 plays, and another drive of an incredible 17 plays, going 75 yards while taking six and a half minutes off the clock. Guess how the Ducks did it?

Ball-control passing, with medium crossing drag routes, running back wheel routes, flair passes to RBs in the flat, and sweet touch passes between the corner and boundary safety zone coverages.

It can be done, because it has been done by Oregon already. In fact Will Stein, Bo Nix and these superb WRs have demonstrated how they can complete the entire passing attack package of Bird-Bombs, medium range routes and ball control passing if needed. In conclusion, I think the case is pretty clear; Oregon should emphasize the strengths of this team at wide receiver, tight end and quarterback via the passing attack.

Agree? Join me to discuss in the only free Oregon football forum-with-decorum because…

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

Charles Fischer   (Mr. FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon
Top Screenshot from Pac-12 Network Video

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