QB Bo Nix has gone from college football punchline to serious Heisman Trophy candidate in a matter of months. In his Auburn days, he was an exceptional improviser but struggled playing within the confines of an offense. He would have stretches of miserable play, constantly trying to force things which lead to turnovers. Since teaming up with OC Kenny Dillingham in Eugene, he’s taken his game to another level. In particular, he has been checking plays and identifying defenses much better this season. Perhaps it is no surprise that Dillingham was also Nix’s OC during his freshman year at Auburn, arguably his best in the SEC.
With Nix and Dillingham, there is a high level of trust and understanding between the two and it has resulted in the star quarterback throwing for 2,495 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 9.1 yards per attempt. He’s completing 73.3% of his passes and has taken just one sack. He’s also rushed for over 450 yards and 13 touchdowns, with a healthy 6.6 yards per rush. He’s still the same playmaker he was at Auburn - making off platform throws and scrambling to extend plays - but is playing with a level of control and precision almost no one predicted.
Alongside Nix in the backfield will be the main duo of RB Bucky Irving and RB Noah Whittington. Each averages well over 6 yards per carry, and have taken their combined 182 carries for exactly 1,200 yards and 5 touchdowns. Irving - a Minnesota transfer - is a more compact at 5-10 and 194 pounds, and has good quickness and burst. He can pick his way through traffic, showing good vision and patience. He’s also consistent receiving out of the backfield with 3 touchdowns on 17 receptions. RB Noah Whittington is a transfer as well, from Western Kentucky, and is another smaller back at 5-8. He has 10 catches for 93 yards and a touchdown in his last two games.
At wide receiver, the clear number one is the 6-3 and 178 pound Troy Franklin. He’s a player with exceptional first step quickness for his size, and combined with his lateral agility, can easily beat press coverage. He can contort his body to haul in difficult catches and make explosive plays. He’s averaging over 16 yards per catch this season, with 39 receptions and 5 touchdowns. He had a monster game against UCLA - 8 receptions 132 yards and 2 touchdowns - but has been relatively quiet in two games since, blowouts against Cal and Colorado. WRs Kris Huston and Chase Cota are Nix’s next options, though Cota may be out injured against Washington. TE Terrance Ferguson is a popular red zone target - his longest reception this year is just 25 yards - but has 5 receiving scores.
OC Kenny Dillingham operates a spread offense with the goal of being balanced (compared to say, Chip Kelly spread teams, designed to mostly run the ball.) It is an incredibly varied attack with I-formations, and even jumbo packages with 7 blockers on the line of scrimmage and Nix and a running back in the shotgun. Against Cal they unveiled more twin-back formations and pistol sets. You can expect to see plenty of RPOs and Nix is a threat to run each time. This keeps defenses completely off balance, helping Oregon to be tops in the country in fewest third down opportunities per game. Per our very own Max Vrooman, on passes 10+ yards down the field, Nix has thrown 42 passes in the middle third and 29 outside the numbers. This offense does not take a ton of sideline shots and likes to work the middle of the field and attack the linebackers when passing.
Oregon took one on the chin in week one against Georgia, but has since scored at least 41 points per game, including against some solid defenses like Cal and WSU. They are number one in the country in expected points added when rushing, and eighth when passing. Meaning, they are extremely efficient and always get the yards needed for a play to be deemed “successful.” They are also number one nationally in points per drive (3.6) and ninth in three-and-out rate. Behind an offensive line that’s one of the best nationally in sack rate, Bo Nix is displaying the rare combination of explosive playmaking and controlled efficiency avoiding turnovers.
When it comes to matching up against UW, the best part of Washington’s defense is the edge play and ability to pressure quarterbacks, but moving Nix off his spot might play right into his hands. Washington hasn’t played an offense - nor will it this season - this balanced and efficient. Whatever Washington decides to “take away”, Oregon should easily be able to counter.