750/102.9 STAFF WRITER
It took three overtimes, 61 points and a little bit of luck, but the Ducks outlasted the Sun Devils in Tempe Thursday night to get to 5-3 on the season and 3-2 in the Pac-12 Conference.
I know you’re supposed to enjoy the wins “because the losses hurt,” but I have more concerns coming out of this game than any game I’ve seen from the Ducks this season.
Here are five things I learned in Thursday’s victory:
Vernon Adams is a playmaker
Let’s be clear, the Ducks won this game because of one man and one man only, and his name is Vernon Adams. That’s not to say other people did not have an impact. But if Adams were still nursing his broken finger Thursday night, The Ducks have no chance of pulling out that victory.
Adams threw three touchdowns after the third quarter and his pass to Dwayne Stanford on fourth-and-goal with 12 seconds remaining will be one of the most important plays of the season as it likely gave the Ducks a berth in the post season.
He made some mistakes but he came up big when it mattered most. And this win was all thanks to him.
Royce Freeman must be a bigger focal point in the offense
Royce Freeman had 15 rushes in a game that went into three overtimes. Worse than that, there were seven drives, yes SEVEN drives in which Freeman did not even touch the ball. And one drive in which he did carry the ball was a rush to run out the clock heading into halftime.
That’s despite the fact that after three touches, Freeman had already rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown.
This was a guy who had rushed for 547 yards and four touchdowns in his previous three games.
In spite of his neglect, Freeman finished the day with two touchdowns and 112 yards rushing to go along with three catches for 37 yards. That includes a 28-yard reception on third-and-16 on the final offensive drive in regulation – The drive that ended in a touchdown to send the game into overtime.
I’m no offensive coordinator, but I do know that when you get Freeman integrated into the offense, good things tend to happen.
The play calling was atrocious
We’ve already discussed the lack of touches awarded to Royce Freeman. But let’s focus on a couple other key plays:
In the third overtime, I saw one of the stupidest play calls I’ve ever seen in a college football game. Vernon Adams had just thrown a touchdown pass to Bralon Addison to give the Ducks a 61-55 lead. Being that it was the third overtime. The Ducks now had to go for two. So they apparently thought it would be a good move to take the ball out of Adams’ hands and let the starting wide receiver (Addison) take the snap. As expected, the play went absolutely nowhere.
Trick plays only work when you can confuse the other team and catch the players off guard. A mandatory two-point conversion attempt is not the time to try to trick the other team.
Put the ball in the hands of your playmaking quarterback and let him make a play.
Speaking of putting the ball in the hands of your quarterback, that includes handing the ball off. I bring this up because on third-and-two in the most key point of the game, (up to that point) Adams was pulled so that, the Ducks could run a direct snap to Royce Freeman.
Like I said earlier, trick plays only work when you can catch the other team off guard.
It was third-and-two. You pulled the quarterback out of the game. It was obviously a run. The play was swallowed up.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for getting the ball in the hands of Freeman, but he should not be handling the snap. Pulling the quarterback, takes the ball out of the hands of one of your best players and forces someone who’s not used to taking snaps into an unfamiliar position. It eliminates the sneak, the bootleg and the pass. And it’s really easy to defend. So don’t make stupid calls like that.
Field Goals matter
Many people will point to the three missed field goals by Zane Gonzalez as the difference in the game. That’s certainly true, but I’m focusing on something else: The two field goals made by Aidan Schneider. This is a very key issue of the game.
Had he missed one or both of the field goals, the Ducks have no chance to get into overtime or win the game. I bring this up because had the Ducks taken the same approach versus Michigan State, the Ducks may have one more win on their resume.
This is obviously a different team without Marcus Mariota. The offense isn’t as dynamic and there won’t be nearly as many chances to score. So the Ducks have to take the points when they have the chance.
I know field goals are not guarantees, but Scheider is the best kicker Oregon has had since Morgan Flint. Take advantage of his gift. You’re not going to regret taking three points as much as you’ll regret not taking three points.
Mark Helfrich has some decisions to make
I’ve been unimpressed by the coaches all season-long, but I wanted to give them time to see if they turned things around. Last year the Oregon coaches seemed like they were in over their heads, but the Ducks rallied together following the early-season loss to the Arizona Wildcats and found themselves playing in the first-ever College Football Playoff.
I had hopes that the Ducks might have a similar turnaround once Vernon Adams returned from injury. The Ducks could very well find a way to salvage the season, but if that happens, it will likely be in spite of the offensive and defensive coordinator.
This was the first game following the bye week – An extra week to prepare for an opponent and a week to fix some of the problems that had plagued the team all season i.e. tackling, poor coverage in the secondary, poor blocking. Well, by most accounts, this was the worst performance the Ducks have had this season. The secondary gave up nearly 400 yards in the air. Guys continued to whiff on tackles. And when Adams wasn’t getting sacked, he was running for his life for most of the game.
This was the ninth week of the season and the eighth game the Ducks have played and these problems are not getting better.
Mark Helfrich needs to ask himself why these problems are not improving. Are these coordinators really giving your players the best chance to win? Are they coaching up the talent left over from the previous coach? Does anyone besides Charles Nelson know how to tackle?
These questions need to be answered and answered quick. I know you signed a five-year extension in the off season. But Oregon fans and boosters have grown accustomed to winning. And more and more people are losing faith in your ability to lead.
This needs to be a turning point for the Ducks, either get these problems fixed or the wheels are going to be flying off.
Eric Ringering | @ringering45