September 29, 2008

Grades and Analysis: WSU

Grades and Analysis: Washington State

Oregon came out of the chutes on fire in this contest, wracking up 21 points halfway through the first quarter before easing up in the third to coast to a 63-14 win.

Summary Opinion: B+

AJ: Duck fans know all too well that turnovers are costly, and the Cougars buried themselves early and often with them. The Ducks dominated in the trenches and had more speed and size everywhere else than the hapless WSU team. The Ducks performed in a physically dominant fashion much of the game and were able to play second and third string depth in from midway through the third quarter on.

JC: The Ducks overwhelmed an outmanned Washington State Cougar squad on a beautiful day in the Palouse. The Ducks performance, while not unexpected, was in sharp contrast to their performances in their last two contests, games in which they were sloppy and failed to focus and execute well against inferior teams talent-wise. Execution and focus are the keys to football success. They explain why a Boise State squad that is just beginning to recruit PAC 10 level athletes could beat Oregon and why an outmanned Oregon State team could beat vaunted USC. Oregon will need to maintain its focus and execute perfectly if they are to beat an extremely talented and angry USC team when they head to Los Angeles this coming weekend.

Offense B+

AJ: This offense does not have its rhythm yet and the reason why is obvious. Game training four new quarterbacks in five games provides the type of offensive discontinuity that gives teams like Boise State a fighting chance. Not so for the Cougars, as everybody on Oregon's offense was able to perform heroically against their woeful group. Lots of criticism to be leveled at this group based on film for small things, but such nitpicking seems hollow after 63 points.

JC: The offense performed well, but not as well as it can. It didn't commit any turnovers, although it did try a couple of times. The Duck rushing game is exceptional and it was again against the Cougs in Pullman in large part because of its talented offensive line which WSU defenders called "the most physical" that they've faced and gifted running backs. The passing game is still a work in progress, but it was more than adequate to provide the Cougars with something to worry about besides the running game.

Offensive Line A

AJ: As we've said all along, this group is the strength of the Duck team. Against WSU, they looked like they were playing against an alumni club team. The consistent gaping seams were grotesque if you're the WSU defensive coordinator. Oregon's front group imposed their will on Washington State despite rotating nine players. The quality and depth of this group is something Duck fans could only have dreamed about ten years ago.

JC: The offensive line was physical and focused and regularly opened up big holes for backs to run through. The offense amassed nearly 350 yards on the ground thanks to the line and while Chris Harper was sacked, it wasn't the fault of the o-line.

Quarterback B

AJ: How can somebody criticize the quarterbacks after the Ducks romped for 63 points? Here's how. Next time I see an Oregon QB turn and watch the running back after handing off on a dive option I'm going to scream. It could be ugly because it may get me thrown out of a press box. After watching what Chip Kelly was able to do refining Dennis Dixon's off-ball game, it make me sad that he hasn't had the time to do it with all five of this year's group. Spacing on the dive option was a little better, they were attacking the contain man in space better. They went to the other extreme from the BSU game...this time they got a little to close to the DE before the handoff. When Harper gets the timing/spacing part of the dive option down it will be very difficult to stop.

JC: Jeremiah Masoli started at quarterback and played pretty well. While the Ducks did bog down occasionally under his direction, they also scored regularly as they shredded the Cougs. Masoli showed quick feet and ran effectively. He was relatively accurate in his passing efforts although he does show a tendency to air mail the ball, tendency which will jump up and bite him against a better defense like the one he'll face next week. Darron Thomas was the first freshman off the bench and he directed the Ducks on four drives, and two ended up as touchdowns. That's pretty good, especially given his inability to hit the broad side of a bard with his passes in Pullman. Thomas showed some nifty feet in the running game, with his nifty nine-yard TD run that left a WSU safety standing like a statue in his wake. Chris Harper also directed the Ducks to a score on drive which included a brilliant run by Harper that was called back because of a phantom block in the back. Harper's inability to throw the ball continues to limit what he can do at quarterback.

Running back A

AJ: The one-two punch of Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount is doing exactly what was its best case scenario: A heavy dose of lighting and thunder. Against Washington State, they combined for 187 yards and six touchdowns, trading off series and staying far fresher than the Cougar tacklers. Johnson is still doing a little too much dancing, but it's tough to argue with his results. Having two quality backs is paying dividends not just by bringing in fresh explosiveness, but also by keeping them healthy.

JC: Jeremiah Johnson, LeGarrette Blount and Remene Alston each rushed for more than 70 yards. Blount and JJ had three touchdowns apiece. All three averaged better than 6.5 yards per carry. None of them lost a fumble. Throw in Andre Crenshaw's 5.5 yard average and you can't really ask too much more of a set of running backs.

Tight ends/H-backs C

AJ: The tight ends did not get a catch against WSU, but then again only three guys did. Lack of productivity will not be held against Ed Dickson, who made numerous downfield blocks to help the running game. Malachi Lewis saw extensive action to mixed reviews. His athleticism is without question, but he needs to be a better blocker and learn the plays a bit better. He had a dazed look on his face after a couple plays.

JC: The tight ends weren't really given the opportunity to do much of anything but block. Perhaps that was because they weren't needed or perhaps it was because Chip Kelly was trying to save something for USC. Either way, there isn't much to grade Ed Dickson and Malachi Lewis on their efforts since their role was so limited.

Wide receivers B

AJ: After one drop to get it out of their system, the wideouts did well the rest of the meager offerings thrown their way. Jaison Williams stole the receiving show with four catches and two TD's for 102 yards, an extremely solid day in light of the fact the Ducks threw 19 passes (against 53 rushes) all game. Terence Scott had the other notable performance with four catches, while in reserve Drew Davis got himself open a few times though he never got the ball.

JC: Jaison Williams dropped a couple of passes, but he also caught a pair for touchdowns and showed his big play ability. His fellow wide outs caught everything catchable thrown their way and did a creditable job running the ball and blocking, so the group's grade goes way up from those their abysmal performances of the last couple of weeks earned. It was nice to see Aaron Pflugrad and Drew Davis get some opportunities. Hopefully, we'll see more of them when the game matters over the course of the rest of the season. Passing attacks, particularly spread passing attacks work a lot better, when the ball is distributed widely.

Defense A-

AJ: The defense locked the Cougars down for this game. The one score that came against the starting defense was a gift from the referee who waived off an Oregon interception on the prior play with a phantom pass interference call. Even so, the Ducks held WSU to 271 yards total offense and took the ball away four times, a very good afternoon.

JC: This grade might surprise some folks, but other than a flat period in the middle of the first half the Duck defense shut down the Cougars completely. In addition, they forced three turnovers and maintained their lead in the PAC 10 in sacks and tackles for a loss while the Cougars manage a pitiful 3.7 yards per play. The Ducks were vulnerable to underneath routes, but continued their stout efforts against both the run and the deep ball.

Defensive Line B+

AJ: For a unit that went into the season a question mark, the defensive line is awfully stout. Like BSU, Washington State was unable to mount any sort of running attack. When they tried up the middle, Sonny and Cole stuffed it. When they tried the outside, Reed and Tukuafu hunted it down with support from behind. If this unit can develop any sort of depth, it will emerge as one of the strengths of this team. Individually, Nick Reed had a monster game with a sack, tfl, fumble recovery and two quarterback hurries. Sonny Harris has become an unmovable object in the middle of that line.

JC: The defensive line continued to shut down the opponent's running game. They also contributed a couple of sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Their tackle numbers weren't as glossy as last week, and Will Tukuafu had his weakest game of the season, in part, because the Ducks played so many folks, but generally the defensive line did a good job.

Linebackers B

AJ: Jerome Boyd and Spencer Paysinger played some of the best football of their young careers. Particularly active in pass protection this game, Boyd and Paysinger also played nice run support on the edges the few times WSU tried. Brandon Hanna made the most of his reserve opportunity racking up 2.5 tackles in his limited opportunity. Josh Kaddu and Riley Showalter did nice work in their backup roles as well.

JC: A better performance than the one against Boise State. The linebacking corps continues to seem a little lost in zone coverage, but Spencer Paysinger continued his steady play and Jerome Boyd showed signs of life. The backups got a lot of reps and looked lost at times like when Brandon Hannah misread his keys and rushed into a pile of folks as Logwone Mitz rambled through the space he vacated, but if they are going to improve they need to play and generally, they were stout. Hannah, Riley Showalter, Josh Kaddu, and Terrance Pritchett all contributed tackles to the efforts of the defense.

Defensive Backs A-

AJ: Well let's see, Patrick Chung had 7.5 tackles, three of them for loss. Jairus Byrd had four tackles, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Walter Thurmond tackled 3.5 guys and picked the ball off twice, and T.J. Ward had three tackles including a tackle for loss. They also had an interception waived off. That's a pretty active day from this group, who get high marks for being playmakers even if WSU's limited success was through the air.

JC: The defensive backfield looked as good as it has all season. Walter Thurmond showed why Boise State was lucky he was out for the Ducks' contest with them as picked of two passes in the second half. Perhaps more significant was Patrick Chung's reemergence as a force in the game. Chung led the team in tackles and added three tfls and a sack before he left the game early in the second half. Jairus Byrd and TJ Ward were solid as, for the most part, were the backups who fought hard to keep the Cougars first string out of the end zone and did so for most of the second half despite the air assault that Cougars employed to try to make the game respectable.

Special Teams: B+

It's all good and some of it was exceptional. The Special teams made no mistakes and the punting and placekicking units which were miserable last week were nearly flawless.

Kickoffs: B
Not Matt Evensen best day kicking off with only a single touchback and two kicks out-of-bounds. The Duck coverage team continued to hold opponents under 20 yards per return which is very good, especially given that two of their regulars were missing as a result of injury.

Kickoff returns: A
The Cougars only kicked off three times and the Ducks only really got one opportunity to put together a return with one of the three through the end zone and the other a blooper that will put Will Tukuafu in the record books as a kickoff returner (he fair caught it) but they made the most of it. Patrick Chung produced an electrifying 62-yard return that might have been even longer had he cut inside instead of out.

Punting: A-
Josh Syria finally showed us just how good he can be as a punter with a 49.8 yard average per punt. That's right, 49.8. He even put one down inside the 20. On the downside he kicked two through the end zone which resulted in a much worse net than one might expect given that Cougs didn't return even one. His leg was so strong the Ducks appeared to decide to turn to Tim Taylor once when they wanted to punt from just inside their own territory out of fear that Syria would boom another one too far. Taylor produced a creditable 39-yard punt that was unreturnable.

Punt Returns: C+
As a result of a combination of turnovers, lucky bounces and careful punting, the Ducks didn't get many opportunities to return punts. Jairus Byrd and Robin Pflugrad each got a chance to return one. Neither did much with it, but then they didn't make any mistakes either.

Placekicking: A
When your placekickers are perfect they deserve an A and Matt Evensen (seven for seven) and Morgan Flint (two for two) were perfect, ergo.

Coaching B+

AJ: Not much to say in this category. The Ducks were clearly ready to play as they jumped out to a big early lead. The coaches were able to utilize lots of reserve players, testing them while resting the starters. It's difficult to judge how well the coaches did this game, so we'll just leave it by saying that the coaches recruit far better than Washington State has.

JC: The Ducks were ready to play against Cougars. The offensive game plan was sound. Of course, with the disparity of talent and the numerous Cougar mistakes it was hard for the Ducks not to score. The defensive game plan was cautious, but it didn't need to be anything else against the outmanned WSU team. That cautiousness frustrates many Duck fans, but the point is to win games and it was clearly a winning strategy. Nick Aliotti also deserves credit for his halftime adjustments. Whether the changes were schematic or motivational, Cougar quarterback Marshall Loebesstael, who was 14-22 with a touchdown at halftime as he spread the ball all over the field had a second half to forget in which he went 8-for19 with two interceptions and a late TD against the Duck reserves.

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