Everyone knows that Oregon's Justin Herbert is an NFL-caliber quarterback with a rifle arm, but it was obvious against Bowling Green last week that Herbert does not have NFL-caliber receivers, yet.
Three passes were dropped in the first half, all of which completed would have been for big gains. What’s the problem? Three main problems receivers face catching passes: not focusing on the ball, not adjusting to the ball or not running through the catch.
Steve Largent, an All-Pro receiver with the Seahawks, gave the best tip for focusing on the ball at a coaching clinic. He had people look at the ball for a moment and then look at where the seams intersect at the tip of the ball. Everyone said looking at the tip was much more precise than just scoping in on the ball; one reason Largent was such a dependable receiver.
Not adjusting to the ball happens when the quarterback throws it to an open window that may not be the exact point where the receiver is; it’s up to the receiver to get to the open area that the quarterback is throwing to.
Johnny Johnson III gave an example of running through the catch on his 40-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter against Bowling Green. He made an excellent, twisting catch and then ran around and through three tacklers who couldn’t stop him from gaining the last 10 yards into the end zone.
The Ducks have receivers who can run through the catch, but need to do a better job of concentrating on the catch itself. To drop a beautifully thrown deep pass is bad for the crowd’s morale and results in flocks of boo birds harping from the rim of Autzen Stadium.
Team discipline is the tangible result of concentration. Last season, the Ducks averaged nine penalties for more than 100 yards per game. Oregon coach Mario Cristobal was pleased to see only three flags thrown for 35 yards last game, but emphasized that was too many penalties — a good sign since past coaches Chip Kelly, Mark Helfrich and Willie Taggart all appeared cavalier about the problem: “We’ll clean it up."
Last year, the offense had an astounding 86 false start penalties. Keep track of penalties and who is getting the lion’s share. The penalty yardage in the stats is misleading, only the yards penalized are tracked. What isn’t tracked is the total yardage, including any gain on the play. The Ducks’ offensive pass interference went into the books as a 15-yard penalty, but it also wiped out an 18-yard gain for a total of a 33-yard penalty.
Talkin’ ball: Oregon is heavily favored, which often leads to poor concentration and sloppy play. Saturday will be a test in discipline.
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years, including as an assistant at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State.