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Opponent Offense Preview: Oregon Ducks

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The ground and pound Ducks may have found the antidote last week for their offensive woes.

NCAA Football: Montana at Oregon Rob Kerr-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Oregon week. Let’s just get right into it.

Key Stats

Yards per play: 6.38 (#23)

Points per play: .51 (#17)

Percentage of yards from rushing: 36.9%

QB sack percentage: 5.75% (#60)

Third quarter points per game: 11.8 (#4)

Plays per game: 70.4

Offensive Philosophy

Since Mario Cristobal was named Head Coach at Oregon, he has attempted to transform them into a juggernaut of physical running and, wait for it...“SEC style” play. They utilize the pistol formation for most of their run game which averages 176 yards per game. For as experienced and talented of an offensive line that they have, they have struggled to run the ball at times this season, until last weeks 250 yard explosion against Colorado. Much to the frustration of Oregon fans, it seems at times that OC Marcus Arroyo and the offensive staff favor “trying to be physical” over actually putting together the best possible game plan. Frequently, Oregon has just sent RB CJ Verdell running straight into a brick wall with predictable run calls.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Oregon
A former college OL himself at Miami, Mario Cristobal wants the offensive line to be the team’s heart and soul.
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

However, a lot changed during last week’s contest against Colorado. They passed early to loosen up the defense and got more creative with the run game. They broke 250 yards each passing and rushing, didn’t commit a turnover, and were explosive while also pounding the rock. Compared to the Cal and Stanford games this was a huge change where they didn’t break 200 yards on the ground. Against Stanford, they had a measly 90 yards rushing. As a former offensive lineman himself, Cristobal wants the run game to lead the way. The Ducks rank 3rd in “stuff rate”, but just 87th in power success rate. IE, they don’t get stopped much at or behind the line of scrimmage, but are below average on 3rd/4th and short situations when running.

Ultimately, halfway through the season, the numbers say Oregon is a fairly average running team. With QB Justin Herbert running the show, they are better passing. Almost 65% of their yards come through the air and Herbert has been nicely efficient, ranking 27th in Sharp College Football’s Beta Rank. They aren’t super explosive and therefore get tons of opportunities in the red zone - they actually rank #1 in the country in red zone attempts at 5.4. However, they rank 99th in red zone scoring percentage, scoring on just 74% of attempts. It’s important to point out that Oregon did unfortunately lose star TE Jacob Breeland to injury last week, who was easily their best and most consistent pass catching threat. He lead the team in catches, yards, and touchdowns, and was Herbert’s security blanket downfield.

Key Players

QB Justin Herbert: 1,602 yards, 17 TD/1 INT, 69% completion, 8.3 yards per attempt

I’m not sure there is a more divisive Oregon player than Herbert. Is he a future number one overall pick? Or does he suck? I guess these days that’s not mutually exclusive, but Herbert like so many QBs, is put under the microscope constantly. While he hasn’t been perfect, and still has WR drops to deal with, he has been pretty good overall. His TD/INT ratio is incredible and he is efficient, ranking #22 in yards per attempt. He does a lot of work over the middle of the field on RPO plays and can hit small windows downfield. Despite being fairly mobile for 6-6, he doesn’t run much nor are designed QB runs called that often. But, he is more than athletic enough to burn teams if the yards are there. He isn’t the most fiery leader and doesn’t play with much of an edge, but is no doubt having the best season of his career as a Duck.

RB CJ Verdell: 78 attempts, 448 yards, 2 TDs

CJ Verdell is a physical between the tackles runner, but also has enough quickness and moves to make defenders miss. He’s a built very stout at 5-9 and 210 pounds with nice balance and will have no problem lowering his shoulder for extra yards. He’s the exact type of running back Mario Cristobal wants behind his offensive line. However, he does have a tendency to run into the backs of his offensive linemen and show poor vision. Some of that could be due to play calling because he got loose against Colorado when the team went pass first. Behind him, Travis Dye is a shiftier number two option. Finally there is Cyrus Habibi-Likio, the “goal line vulture” who gets all the touch downs in the red zone.

LT Penei Sewell: 6-6, 325 pounds

I don’t often point out individual offensive linemen but Sewell is that good. He is so incredibly large and, surprise surprise, moves unbelievably well for his size. He’s one of the best left tackles in college football and is certainly a future first round, and even top-10 pick. He reminds me of the Cowboy’s Tyron Smith - a mountain of a man who can halt pass rushers in their tracks with just one hand. While Oregon’s offensive line is built off (4 other senior starters) experience, the second year Sewell is easily the most gifted.

X-Factor

With Jacob Breeland out, does someone step up for Oregon to make the big catches they will undoubtedly need? The Husky defense usually does a good job of putting teams in 3rd downs, and with Breeland they would have an easy target with which to torment the Dawgs. There are two other players with double digit catches on the team - the 5-9 Jaylon Redd, and Johnny Johnson. That said, freshman WR Micah Pittman is now healthy and looks to be a future star for Oregon, while senior Brenden Schooler has returned to health as well. That should help bolster the pass game while Breeland is out. The 6-4 Juwaun Johnson transferred from Penn State and picked up right where he left off, dropping passes. He has just two grabs on the year, but still represents a substantial mismatch. I am sure in a cruel twist of fate he will relive his Fiesta Bowl performance from 2017 and be a 3rd down menace against the Dawgs.

Conclusion

It seems like both the Huskies and Ducks found themselves on offense last week, and the big question is - was it just a mirage? If Oregon did find their recipe for success last week, that could be problematic for the Huskies, who have been somewhat average against the run, and prone to some mistakes in the secondary. Does Mario Cristobal go into hostile enemy territory and try to be the physical team and run the ball down the Huskies throats? Or does the Oregon staff continue the smarter game planning we saw last week and go pass first? The former might be better for the Huskies as Oregon hasn’t really proven they can be a true “run first” team. They’ve had a lot more success passing to set up the run, though this is one of the best defenses Oregon will face all year. Auburn’s defense in week 1 was able to stop the run and limit them to 111 net yards on the ground. That being said, Auburn defensively, Washington is not.

Saturday should be a physical and close game. GO DAWGS!

Poll

How many points will Oregon score on Saturday?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    0-7
    (6 votes)
  • 2%
    8-14
    (8 votes)
  • 24%
    15-21
    (91 votes)
  • 44%
    22-28
    (170 votes)
  • 16%
    29-35
    (62 votes)
  • 10%
    35+
    (41 votes)
378 votes total Vote Now