Special Guest Column by Charles “FishDuck” Fischer
We know its spring with new blossoms, new buds on trees, and our Osprey friends nesting as usual in the corner of Autzen. The footballs are flying, so it has to be April—right? Baloney. It felt like a December Civil War game as that was one of the coldest scrimmages that I’ve ever been to and ill prepared for! My car thermometer said it was only 41 degrees, but the wind was what chilled you at times, and then add the freezing rain and you have an equivalent of in the low 30s. Like you, I’ve read the numerous reports on various sites and I can’t help but wonder if a few of the ball mishaps were due to leaving the comfy confines of the ‘Mo Center. Considering that so many players were held out on offense, and the weather—it fell easily into a day for the defense.
Bennett Struggles in First Scrimmage as #2 Quarterback
We will have to wait on the coronation of Bryan Bennett; he threw two picks that went RIGHT to the defenders, and we had to chuckle as he’s putting in his dues. He did have to run for his life a few times as the defense just seems to swarm the offense on 3rd down. I’m really sensing that when 2nd or 3rd and long come up—the defensive staff is urging the green shirts into shark feeding frenzy. On one third down play we see DT going back to pass against a seven man zone in back, with five rushing. Because we concentrated our rushers on one side and overloaded the O-Line—it truly looked like a Green Wave gushing to the backfield and swallowing up the QB before he could unload the ball. We disguised the back-side blitz well and our RBs were no match blocking Stuckey or Alonso shooting through a gap. One play saw Asper grabbing the jersey of Jordan in desperation to prevent the sack, but the defense prevailed as DT threw the ball OOB anyway.
Defense Shines: hard-hitting, fast and confident
I do not sense a newbie defense; even the rookies seem to have a swagger that comes from hard hits and knowing what they’re doing. (Like the four tipped passes today WITHOUT Bair) While Oregon is known for offense, the fact is that our defense deserved a National Championship holding the Auburn Offense to 20 points. I was trying to pinpoint the ‘vibe, the aura, the psychic feel I got from our defense and it hit me back at the office later; these guys ARE acting like they’ve been there before, and are acting like an elite college team defense where veterans come back and enjoy making plays and new starters are playing like they are familiar with it all, and are DOING it. It’s not like they are trying to prove themselves, because the truth is—players like Clay, and BoLo and Heimuli have already made their bones in big moments. This felt like an elite team defense reloading for next year, and it is something I’ve never felt before when you lose half your starters and the guts of your defense. Between all the experience of the staff and now the players—it is not a surprise that they schooled the new starters on offense at times.
This defense looked fast and confident, whether it was filling a run-gap responsibility or knowing when to blitz. The young-guns at corner have me intrigued, as Mitchell, Patterson, Mathis, and now Troy Hill take turns showing exceptional talent. I was impressed with some of Hill’s plays and was trying to recall who he reminded me of; Rob Moseley felt Hill had a “Walter Thurmond look” and I think he nailed it. Troy sensed the Bubble Screen on one play, charged up and defeated the block of Hawkins to stick Hoffman with a form tackle and a loss of yardage. He seems to be able to stay close to WRs and not lose contact. I don’t know if Patterson anticipated BB, or if it was a bad pass, but Avery’s pick was impressive. A pass skimmed off the fingers of a WR, and while Clay was charging up to make the tackle he had the eye-to-hand coordination to catch the pick in a bam-bam quick succession. He showed good ability to cut outside and score the TD to put the defense ahead of the offense in scoring. Kaddu just overwhelmed the Tackle assigned to him and made the sack on an outside speed rush before the offense had barely got set in the pocket! Ricky didn’t have time to run around his blocker and just DROVE him five yards into the backfield to force a quick throw by the QB to get rid of it and prevent the sack. That looked a little like an Igor “strong-as-bull” Ohshanski type of power move.
Oregon Spread Offense will always get first billing, but there is a lot to like about this defense. As we get more attuned to what Nick is doing, I believe we ultimately could be as entertained by this side of the ball by the big stops as we do from scoring. For a true elite defensive team—this is a crucial transitional year, and the ‘vibe is that Oregon is stepping forward to show some new teeth. Fun stuff!
Offense struggles in the cold, especially lacking speed at wideout
The offense might survive losing two starters, (Davis and Maehl) but losing Huff as well just left a bunch of possession WRs in Tuinei and the rest. They were not up to the aggression of our defense today. Passes that were tough-but-good catches in the ‘Mo Center, were now dropped outside in the cold. We saw good plays on occasion, but the offense could not sustain it very often and the lack of big-play talent at WR was obvious to me. Put Vaughn on one side, and Blackmon on the other and we’ll sense the tension from the DBs as they pucker up worrying about the long-ball. The absence of that threat makes it too easy for a defense to sell out against the run and play the percentages in giving up some pass plays. Due to excellent coverage the passes had to be thrown fast and hard to WRs on short patterns because they didn’t have time from the pass rush to throw long, and frankly these guys aren’t going to GET open on these defenders. The bullet short passes contributed to the picks and the stopped drives.
So it makes sense that they throw to the TEs, although Paulson was MIA most of the time. Brandon Williams made a great catch keeping his feet in-bounds before going out of the end zone, and this Stanton fellow at TE, has shown up at both practices that I’ve been at. He’s got a good build for the position, has excellent speed to get open and makes the catch! His catch across the middle and then breaking tackles on the sideline to score kinda reminded me of Tim Day pulling the ball in. Looks like a keeper in an offense that needs TEs and H-Backs.
Barner returns a punt for a touchdown
Barner takes the ball in a low trajectory punt, and makes two groups of tacklers miss as he jukes one direction, stops on a dime and bolts another direction, stops and bursts outside. You could sense that evading those groups were the majority of tacklers and now he used his speed to pull away from those who had angle to score. Geez…now who is returning punts? Oh yeah; that guy took one and blew through a tackle, juked a group to left as he went right and just as he was accelerating—someone got a piece of him to knock him off balance. It was only fifteen yards, but Cliff made it seem a lot longer with his moves. Punt returns continue to be a highlight for Oregon!
Seastrunk shows improvement–freezes three defenders with one move
On offense—I felt that Bennett took a big step back, while Darron couldn’t do much without open WRs and three seconds of pass protection. Give them credit for adjusting and finding the TEs, but the passing game was certainly off today. The running game was inconsistent as we shuttled new players on the O-Line continuously and even if it was the #1s—the players changed often. That lack of continuity is no match for an Alliotti defense. Yet I was impressed with the obvious progression of Lache Seastrunk! At first we thought that he gave a dive play a lame attempt as he didn’t seem to have the interest in burrowing for a few yards. Later though he showed us that he WILL go inside when given just a touch of room. Twice I saw him dart for ten yards after he went to the Inside Zone Read hole, (guard/tackle hole) and bounced to another hole and BLEW through it before backside pursuit used angle to stop him. He’s not there yet, but clearly getting better. The play of the day was an Outside Zone Read that must have happened against a Blitz call as he was surrounded by Green Jerseys and about to be overrun by them. He stopped and did a quick “shoulder-shrug” kinda like how JJ used to do at times. It froze three defenders in their shoes and then he took off like a starting gun had sounded. Gageac said it was like he was a ghost running through them like he wasn’t there. Holy Crap.
Kickers show consistency; this group looks solid
After Rice got warmed up, we saw a 40, then 45, and then a 50 yard punt. Robby Baird was on point placekicking and Solis came in and hit some good FGs to hint at a stack of kickers. Yep—Special Teams feel like they’re going to be special again. I love it!