There was a double standard going on in the win over Bowling Green and it had to do with who was, or wasn’t, on the field after making mistakes.
Three different receivers stayed in the game after dropping big-play passes in the first half. Quarterback Justin Herbert showed no inclination to avoid throwing to them as the game wore on and after the game, stressed his complete confidence and trust in those players.
At quarterback, backup Braxton Burmeister was inserted into the game with six minutes to go in the third quarter and a lead of 51-17. He converted a third down with an 11-yard completion but then bogged down the next series.
Bowling Green scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 51-24. Head coach Mario Cristobal sent in the first string offensive line and Herbert because he wanted the offense to “finish strong.” Trouble was, Justin’s first drive ended in an interception, his second a three-and-out punctuated by two incomplete passes. The next drive was another interception, this one on first down. So much for finishing strong.
It was anti-climatic that Herbert threw a 48-yard scoring pass with 7:32 left in the game and Burmeister re-entered the game with 5:26 left in the game, having two drives: a three-and-out and a first down on the last series that ended the game.
Question is: who is the backup quarterback for the Ducks and does anyone have confidence in him? Cristobal’s stance on putting the first team back in the game is understandable, but that is just one way of looking at it. The other way is that to build a quarterback’s confidence, you need to let him know that you will stick with him despite some rough spots, in this case, a little easier with a 51-24 lead.
When Tennessee played in Eugene several years ago, sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota was terrible in the first quarter; you might have expected to see someone else warming up, but no one was. Chip Kelly was staying with Mariota. Needless to say, Marcus centered himself and began his trek to the Heisman that day
Vince Lombardi, the coaching legend, once ripped his quarterback, Bart Starr in practice in front of the whole team. Afterward, Starr who always was on the shy, reserved side, came to Lombardi’s office and closed the door.
“Coach,” he said, “don’t ever rip me in front of the team. I’m supposed to be the leader of the offense and it undermines me when you do that. If I have a chewing out coming, let’s do it in your office.”
Lombardi thought about that and decided Starr was right, you had to treat your quarterback a bit differently than players at other positions
And that’s the point in this instance. Willie Taggart’s management of quarterbacks last year was terrible. When Herbert got hurt and the backup went down, he was left with a quarterback who had few reps during fall camp and was unprepared, mentally, to run an offense. The lack of favorable formations and simple routes hurt the backup’s chances for success — and he just seemed to lack confidence. He had not been coached to the extent necessary, even for a backup to a backup.
Smart coaches know how to coach confidence in quarterbacks, primarily by putting them in positive situations and instilling confidence day and night. To some it might seem pampering, but it is necessary and it really works. If you want a player to be great you’ve got to tell him he is, paint a picture for him, have him visualize what being successful looks like. You can’t just stick him out there without constant support, sometimes when he may not deserve it
In this case a 24-point lead caused Burmeister to be pulled for Herbert who, ironically, didn’t have good results. Maybe keeping Burmeister in the game behind the first-string line might have been an option, but at the end of the game you could see a backup quarterback not appearing confident and the question is, do the Ducks really have a second quarterback coaches have confidence in? If it isn’t Burmeister, then throw Tyler Shough in there. You have to have a good backup both for this year and as a potential starter next year.
Bits and Pieces:
The Bowling Green game took 3 hours and 24 minutes — shortening halftime by five minutes and timeouts did not appear to make a difference. The games are too long!
The new kickoff rule allows the returner to call a fair catch on a ball inside his 25-yard line that puts the ball on the 25 to start play. The Falcons should have called fair catches on all their returns from inside the 25; the only time they started from their 25-yard line was after touchbacks, and of the six kicks returned, never made it to the 25-yard line. The Ducks fielded seven kickoffs, returned five of them past the 26-yard line, three past the 33-yard line and one to the 40-yard line.
Keep your eyes on the actual yardage lost on Duck penalties, it’s not always just the yards stepped off for the penalty. What is not counted is the actual yardage lost on the penalty, which includes the walk off and the yardage lost on the play. An example would be the 15-yard offensive interference penalty on Oregon that wiped out an 18-yard gain, a total of 33 yards penalized, which will not show up in the game statistics.
During the past two seasons, Duck defenses have done a poor job on their opponent’s last possession of the first half, giving up scores in seven games the past two years, and on the first possession of the second half, with eight last season. Against Bowling Green, the defense gave up a touchdown with six seconds left in the first half, but turned it around in the third quarter, actually scoring on an interception on the first series and stopping the Falcons cold on their second series to set up a score by the offense.
Making adjustments and coming out with an attitude are very important if you want to be a good football team. It would appear that the Duck defense was aggressive and ready to play after halftime, which is a major improvement from the past two disappointing seasons. This goes along with Cristobal’s mantra of finishing “strong.”
No. 1 (explosiveness, yards per play): Oregon 7.4, Bowling Green 4.4. (Leader wins 86 percent of the time);
No. 2 (efficiency, third- and fourth-down conversion: Oregon 7-of-15, 47 percent; Bowling Green 6-of-23, 26 percent. (Leader wins 83 percent of the time)
No. 3 (drive-finishing, points per trip inside 40): Oregon 8-of-9 88-percent; Bowling Green 4-of-6, 67 percent. (Leader wins 75 percent of the time)
No. 4 (average field position): Oregon 37-yard line; Bowling Green 26-yard line. (Leader wins 72 percent of the time)
No. 5 (turnover margin): Oregon 3; Bowling Green 3 (tie). (Leader wins 73 percent of the time)
Ken Woody is a former Fox Sports football analyst who played for the University of Oregon (1966-70) and coached college football for 18 years, including stints as an assistant at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State, and was head coach at Whitman College and Washington University-St. Louis.