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Oregon Strategy Session: Trouble Through The Skies

Fletcher JohnsonCorrespondent ISeptember 23, 2009

After Oregon ended Utah’s 16-game win streak on Saturday, the talk wasn’t about what a great accomplishment that was, but rather Jeremiah Masoli’s poor passing performance.  Masoli is partially to blame for his problems last weekend, but here are some other reasons why Masoli has struggled and what the coaches can do to change this.

Does Helfrich Fit?

As a fellow Bleacher Creature said in an article of his own, the Goducks.com bio of Mark Helfrich says he has been brought in to focus on the passing game. 

Unfortunately, it seems that the creativity that Helfrich brings to the passing game is similar to that of Andy Ludwig and Gary Crowton.  His schemes seem easily decipherable by the opposing defense.  There are very few routes over the middle, or that try to cross the defensive backs up. 

Masoli’s one long pass play last Saturday was on a complete breakdown by the Utah defense.  The Utes were confused on the defensive call and Maehl was never covered from the time he lined up in the slot.

The last thing the coaches, including Helfrich, should do is listen to the fans.  Fans are irrational because they are passionate, but Helfrich must include tight end Ed Dickson more in the offense. 

I spotlighted Dickson on at least 15 plays in the first half, eight of which were passes.  On at least seven of those, Dickson was open.  In Helfrich’s defense, players have to make plays, and unfortunately three games into the season, Masoli isn’t making those through the air. 

Masoli’s Decision-Making

Some pass plays are designed to go to a certain receiver, but there is some disconnect between what Helfrich is teaching and what Masoli is seeing. 

It became evident early in the Utah game that either almost all the pass plays are designed to go to a certain receivers, or Masoli is no longer going through his progressions.  His offensive line gave him ample time on many occasions last Saturday, but Masoli still seemed to have happy feet.

On top of that, rarely does Masoli step into his throws anymore.  Many will say he has been known for throwing the ball on the run, but Masoli is never allowed to get in any rhythm when he is running and trying to throw 25-yard out routes.

For all Duck fans who heard about Masoli throwing to his receivers in the offseason, he sure does not seem to be in sync with anyone not named Jeff Maehl.  He is missing players in front, behind, too high, and too low.  You can attribute some of this to pressure, but you wonder how he mentally feels with certain players like Lavasier Tuinei and D.J. Davis. 

It is unfortunate that current Arizona State wide receiver Aaron Pflugrad left, but Masoli should have an understanding of the speed of his current receiving core.

Receiver Drops

In many cases, Masoli’s receivers have not helped him out:  Jamere Holland has dropped two touchdowns, and Maehl has dropped his fair share of passes as well.  It should make you wonder if our receiving core was overrated coming into the season. 

Something else to watch is how defenses play our receivers.  I would expect to see a ton of man coverage from California as they gear up to stop the run, so the Oregon receivers must shed their defenders in bump and run coverage.  If they get stuffed off the line, then we have another reason that the Oregon pass game is struggling.

Offensive Line Still Struggling

This one is very low on my list because I feel the offensive line has vastly improved from the Boise State game.  If we would have lost line coach Steve Greatwood  in the offseason, our offense might be in complete shambles, but that is for a different story.

The line gave Masoli plenty of time last Saturday to complete passes, and he still had big struggles.  After halftime, the Ducks only threw the ball three times, but halftime adjustments and stubborn head coach Chip Kelly didn’t allow Masoli to throw. 

If they can avoid injuries, the offensive line will continue to gel, leading to the slight possibility that the Ducks and Masoli could show flashes of greatness like the team that finished 10-3 in 2008.

Improvements

We start off with the need for creativity out of the coaching staff.  Run some quick slants and 10-yard ins.  Give Masoli a chance to get in a rhythm early because running the ball on every down won’t work against the big boys in the Pac-10.  Coach Kelly needs to be balanced to start off the game, otherwise his run is going to get stuffed all day.

Masoli has to calm down and remember to trust the team around him.  He seems to have this feeling that he needs to do everything himself, but he has some great playmakers around him that he needs to trust. 

Also, he must trust his arm.  He has started to guide the ball instead of throwing it.  That is another contributing factor to his lack of accuracy.  If he goes back to just throwing it and not trying to guide it, we should see his numbers improve greatly.

There have been some midseason predictions out there this week predicting the Ducks won’t win more than three games the rest of the season.  As much as I want to discredit these, if Oregon can’t move the ball through the air, these predictions are suddenly within the realm of possibility.      

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