After a frustrating up and down season, the Ducks returned to Autzen, after nearly a full month, to put on an impressive performance at home against the Cal Golden Bears.
The Ducks not only left Autzen with a 44-28 victory but also managed to ink a new single game offense record after gaining 777 total yards against a competitive Cal defense. When asked what came to mind when hearing that number, Oregon Offensive Coordinator, Scott Frost, jokingly replied, “A slot machine.”
Call it luck, or call it preparation but whatever it was looked really, really good.
For much of the season, it has seemed Oregon wasn’t connecting in any phase. The pieces have been there but just didn’t seem to be working together. Against Cal, all that changed.
So what has made the difference in turning Oregon’s lack-luster season around? A lot of things.For the sake of time, however, here are three X-factors that have helped elevate Oregon’s game:
1. John Neal Moving Upstairs
The Oregon secondary was about the worst it had been in years and there was little hope among fans and pundits it could get any better without a long off-season of rebuilding. It turns out one minor adjustment proved the doubters (including me) wrong. Against Cal, Secondary Coach, John Neal sat in the booth and watched from above, a decision that seemed to earned positive reviews from both his Head Coach and his players.
Coach Helfrich said the move allowed Neal to “See everything exactly how it needs to be seen,” while safety Charles Nelson said it allowed him “To recognize things a lot faster than usual and he could get it (the call) down there faster.”
Coaches had said communication was lacking in the secondary but with Neal in the booth, Nelson said he felt communication was much improved. Given the much better secondary performance, he’s probably right.
2. Time of Possession
We all know Oregon’s success over the past decade has been helped in part because of it’s hurry up offense. They struck fast and wore down defenses better than any other team in the country could. And it worked.
Things are a bit different. Now
For a number of reasons, this Oregon team is not ready to play at the Maserati pace we’ve all grown accustomed to. But that’s ok. For right now, slowing things down a bit, at least against Cal, worked well. Going against a projected 1st round NFL Draft pick in Jared Goff meant the Ducks needed to minimize his time on the field. They did just that.
Over the past two years, the Ducks have had the ball far less time than their opponents. Last night, they kept it nearly 8 minutes longer than their longest time of possession this season. Against a different offense, it may not have mattered much, but against Goff and Co., it did two things. It kept Goff at bay and it kept the Oregon defense rest- a win/win if you ask me.
3. Big Plays
Though quarterback Jeff Lockie had pretty consistent passing stats while playing in Vernon Adams Jr.’s absence, what seemed to be missing was that “big play” factor that can electrify an offense.
Vernon Adams Jr. arrived to Oregon with his “Big Play VA” nickname and with him back at the helm, the offense has become confident and more potent. Between Adams Jr.’s ability to scramble out of the pocket, dive into the end zone and throw a million deep passes per game, the Oregon offense has managed to keep its last couple of opponents on their toes. This has allowed Oregon to spread out and utilize its offensive monster aka too many players to name. That monster also has a lot of trust in Adams Jr. and vice versa.
“Whenever the play breaks down or even close to breaking down,. He’s gonna look deep and at least give us a chance,” receiver, Darren Carrington said after the game.
The way the Ducks played last night has Oregon fans certainly wondering what could have been. What if Oregon had peaked just a bit sooner?
It turns out the players share the same sentiment. “I wish we would have peaked a little bit earlier,” Carrington said.
“. . .People counted us out. Still now, when we are looking on ESPN the night before, we don’t see nothing about our game. It’s just kind of an underdog mentality. Whenever we step on the field, we just want to remind people that we’re still the Ducks.”