Oregon is Putting on a Master Class in Offensive Game Prep

David Marsh Editorials

For three straight games the Oregon Ducks have absolutely throttled their opponents with well-designed offensive game plans. They may have started off slow against the Washington State Cougars and given up garbage time points, but the game plan left no doubt who was in control of that game. The Ducks defeated the Cougars 38-24.

Then came the best game of Dan Lanning’s head coaching career against the Utah Utes where Oregon shut down any semblance of offense and cut through a physical and vaunted Utah defense with relative ease. The Ducks came in focused and played a complete game from start to finish — and the scoreboard reflected it with a complete victory of 35-6.

Finally we had the Cal Golden Bears this past weekend. The game started with a bizarre first quarter where Oregon had two freak turnovers, with the fumble going for a Cal scoop and score. But game plan itself was still masterly designed; those early problems were some uncharacteristic mistakes while some frankly head scratching penalties.

Offensively, Oregon ran the ball efficiently enough and the Cal defense started to bite down on the run game, but this was a “down” game for the rushing offense as the Ducks only put up 153 total rushing yards. Bucky Irving’s numbers don’t exactly jump off the page — during this game he only had 89 rushing yards and one touchdown. Jordan James’ numbers are even less remarkable with only 44 rushing yards and one touchdown.

Oregon’s run game did more than enough to occupy the Cal defensive front, which exposed their back end to the Oregon offense and it is clear Oregon’s coaches expected this to be the case. Bo Nix absolutely shredded the Cal defense by piling up 386 passing yards and four touchdowns.

Cal did a pretty good job keeping the Ducks’ top receiver, Troy Franklin, in check. Franklin only tallied 79 yards, but he still managed to catch a touchdown pass and make a reception for over 30 yards. It became clear that Cal’s game plan was to try to slow Oregon’s run game and keep Franklin from having a big game. It would seem Oregon’s offensive game plan was one step ahead of Cal’s defense, as Nix found a new favorite target in Tez Johnson.

Tez Johnson catches Bo Nix’s pass on 2nd and 37 to run it in for a touchdown. Notice how open he was to catch this pass.
(Photo from Pac-12 Media from YouTube)

Johnson had a career day as he hauled in 12 catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns — including one of the biggest plays of the game, in that strange first quarter, where the Ducks were at second and 37 and Nix hit Johnson right down the seem and Johnson did the rest. Cal didn’t even touch him. This was a play drawn up to exploit the Cal defense and in a typically impossible set of downs, the Ducks obliterated all those penalty yards in a single play and turned it into a touchdown.

Nix kept going back to Johnson for the rest of the game because he was open, and Johnson made the most of it as he continued to rattle off big plays. However, Johnson wasn’t the only receiving target as Traeshon Holden and Terrance Ferguson both had one touchdown each, and Gary Bryant also got a few targets for significant yardage. Oregon’s depth at receiver really showed itself on Saturday because Cal focused on Franklin and it opened up opportunities for everyone else. It feels like that was part of Oregon’s game plan and Nix, being a veteran quarterback, knew to look to his second or third choices at receiver when Franklin struggled to get free.

It was also nice to see that the Ducks weren’t afraid to lean on their strengths at the goal line as they pulled out the jumbo formation and ran Nix for two touchdowns on two quarterback sneaks. Cal, again, couldn’t stop it — and the coaches knew it and weren’t afraid to run the same play twice.

Cal had Troy Franklin covered on Saturday but he still managed to make a few plays and allow other receivers to get open.
(Photo by Craig Strobeck)

This offensive coaching staff is putting together some incredible game plans. The other two offensive juggernauts in the conference, USC and Washington, both put up big numbers against Cal — but neither put up 60 points on the Golden Bears.

Sure, this Cal team isn’t all that good this year, but they are better than their record implies. Their defense has been a bit shaky this year, but their new quarterback Fernando Mendoza is a star in the making and for the first time under Justin Wilcox, the Cal offense is rolling.

This week the wounded Trojans will come into Autzen with a new interim defensive coordinator, and these Oregon coaches will make a fool of him as well. These young coaches are improving every week and it is exciting to see where they can take us by the end of the season.

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By Craig Strobeck


Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in technology in SLC, Utah.

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