Oregon Football: 10 Changes the Ducks Must Make to Keep Winning
It takes a special kind of (spoiled rotten) fan to feel letdown after a game where your team just beat a conference opponent by more than 3 touchdowns, but that's exactly how I felt after Oregon beat California 43-15 last Thursday night in Eugene.
There seems to be a spark missing with this Oregon team, perhaps a lack of vision and chemistry that comes out when analyzing their games so far. Sure they beat their opponents by an average of 28 points and have only lost to the No. 1 team in the nation, but unlike last year's squad that went 12-0 in the regular season, the 2012 Ducks have glaring faults that need to be addressed if they plan on beating anyone good, namely ASU, The Huskies, USC and especially Stanford.
The following slideshow is my attempt at playing Monday Morning Quarterback and second guessing the great Chip Kelly.
10. Reality Check: Ducks Must Realize That They Have Yet to Beat Anyone in 2011
Sure they're 4-1, but Oregon's victories have come against teams with a combined record of 6-16. Not exactly powerhouses lighting the college football world on fire.
Compare that with their remaining schedule where the teams are a combined 23-14, have two top 25 programs, both rivals (Huskies, Beavers) and a trip to Stanford to face Andrew Luck and company.
So far, the only time they've faced any real competition they were beaten badly by LSU in a match that was nowhere near as close as the 40-27 score implies.
It's time for the Ducks to make some major adjustments or the rest of the season could be a very rocky road.
9. Oregon's Defense Needs Leadership and Inspiration
Oregon's opponents average 6.9 rushing yards per carry against Oregon's defense. Opposing teams are not afraid to pass against their secondary.
With an average of 22.6 points scored on them per game, there are 44 teams in the country that have more effective defenses.
I'm looking at you, Nick Aliotti. It's time to start executing like the A-list defensive coordinator that we all know you are. It's difficult losing team leaders like Casey Matthews and Kenny Rowe, but look at what you have in Dion Jordan and John Boyett.
Gang Green is alive and well, they just seem to be lacking inspiration and that killer spirit Duck fans have come to expect in a defensive unit.
8. Bench Wide Receiver Lavasier Tuinei
Chip Kelly (or Oregon wide receivers coach Scott Frost) needs to bench senior wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei because he is soft. Meaning he is good for next to zero yards after catch, drops catchable balls and is terrible at blocking (a key component with Oregon's offensive scheme.)
It takes more than just being 6' 5" to be effective at the WR position. The Ducks need someone who is oblivious to hearing "the footsteps" of an approaching DB or safety, someone who is good for 10+ hard-fought yards after catching the ball and someone who can blaze a trail for Oregon's running backs when the Ducks choose to go with the ground attack.
Since there's probably no chance the Houston Texans would trade Tuinei for Jeff Maehl, I would suggest giving Daryle Hawkins the slot. Hawkins is not afraid to block and doesn't have the butterfingers like LT.
By the way, this is how you pull in a catch:
Josh Huff makes the grab against Cal. Photo by Joel Conrad Bechtolt
7. You Burned Colt Lyerla's Red Shirt, Now Use Him. On Defense!
Hillsboro's Colt Lyera was one of 2011's hottest recruits because of his tenacious play on both sides of the ball. At 6' 5" and 238 lbs., running a 4.4 second 40 yard dash, Lyerla is exactly the high-motor type of player that the Ducks need to get their defense going.
Colt was a five-star recruit at outside linebacker. He chose Oregon over USC. He is a large, intimidating human being. While the Ducks are busy dropping passes and letting opponents run all over them, Colt is on the sidelines. What gives?
6. Pull Eddie Pleasant Immediately
The last thing "rover" Eddie Pleasant hit hard was a mini van containing a mother and her infant.
It's enough already.
5. Make John Boyett Team Captain
Oregon has 16 team captains, it's either one for every position, or one for each uniform combination, I forget.
This season there hasn't been anyone at any position more willing to sell out on a play than senior safety John Boyett.
Boyett is playing the game like a man possessed both on defense and special teams; he wants that ball like my dog wants the ball.
Hyper-focused doesn't begin to describe it. Boyett has even leveled Oregon DB Cliff Harris on a couple of occasions while breaking up a pass. Shouldn't have gotten in the way, Nacho.
Somehow Boyett's enthusiasm needs to permeate the rest of the defense to give them that much-needed spark for the second half of the season.
4. Stop Dropping Interceptions
An elite college football team needs to be one thing above all to have success: Opportunistic.
If an Andrew Luck or Brock Osweiler tosses up a wobbler, or if a Husky receiver bobbles a catch, Oregon's secondary must capitalize on their mistakes and get the ball back for their offense.
The second half of the Cal game was a brutal display of missed opportunities with the Ducks dropping several of Bear's QB Maynard's errant passes.
Perhaps the equipment staff needs to keep the sticky glove spray and the Astroglide at opposite ends of the locker room.
3. Pull Starters in Blowouts
This one is a no-brainer. If you're team is leading by more than three touchdowns, put the second string in.
There's a couple obvious reasons for this.
First, you eliminate the risk of your superstars getting injured. LaMichael James should not have been in the game against Cal when the Ducks led 36-15 in the fourth quarter. Same could be said about his playing when the Arizona game was already decided, just to get a school record.
Oregon has a stable of able bodies at every position waiting to get their chance to gain experience in a real game situation. Rest your starters to fight another day and build for the future at the same time.
2. Run, Darron, Run!
What I know about football, coaching or the spread option offense could be fit inside a thimble with room to spare. I do know, however, that for an option play to be effective, the defense needs to believe that the quarterback could hand off or toss the ball, or keep it and run himself. This keeps them guessing and makes the scheme effective. Teams like Georgia Tech and Navy seldom run anything else it works so well when properly executed.
With Oregon this year, it's a different story. Darron Thomas rarely runs the ball and almost always hands it off to LaMichael James or Kenyon Barner.
Coach Kelly and DT himself have stated that all of the reads have been correct and that teams have been consistently having the defensive end stay home, thus effectively eliminating the QB keeper facet of the option.
Fans who have been paying attention know that this just isn't true. We've seen Thomas miss reads over and over leaving huge running lanes that the QB could have bolted through.
If this is a case of Coach Kelly keeping a big aspect of the offense in his back pocket until Oregon faces some tougher opposition, what was going on in Dallas against LSU?
1. Start and Play Cliff Harris
Cliff Harris is an All-American corner and punt returner. Put him in or cut him from the team. Enough of the mind games, lesson-teaching, crowd teasing nonsense. Teams are passing well against your defense and your best guy is standing on the sidelines with his uni and helmet on, fully eligible.
Cliff Harris gives Oregon it's best chance at containing Osweiler, Price and Andrew Luck's passing attacks.
Kiko Alonso is playing every defensive down and he was arrested for burglary. Cliff got a speeding ticket. Granted it was a big speeding ticket, but still, he's the best at his position and he's sitting.
I don't believe any fan would think less of Chip Kelly or think Oregon was running a dirty program if Chip played Harris. I believe Oregon fans think Cliff has learned his lesson and that Oregon's secondary is much better off with him.
After all, he was polite during the traffic stop and never once hit a mini van...