Many Oregon football fans worry that quarterback Justin Herbert is not being used enough, and to his best effectiveness, as a passer. A look at Pac-12 stats shows that Herbert is actually the No. 1 quarterback in the league if you go by pass efficiency (171.2), yards per attempt (9.6) and yards per completion (11.2).
The stats show a side of the issue many fans are missing — coach Mario Cristobal has put together a physical running attack (with a collection of running backs) that has consistently matched time of possession with Oregon’s opponents.
This is important for several reasons. It allows the Ducks to wear down opponents in the latter stages of the game, and it also keeps the opponents’ offense off the field.
Although improved, Cristobal’s defense is still a weak spot for the Ducks — they lack speed and skill in the secondary and do not have depth at linebacker. It is still a work in progress. However, they have been able to come up with big plays in the past two games in wins over Cal and Washington.
Against the Huskies, Oregon allowed only five possessions in the second half, which is outstanding. Currently, the Ducks are third-worst in pass yardage allowed in the Pac-12, so a key against Washington State on Saturday is going to be field position.
The Cougars lead the league in punting (47 yards per kick) and kickoff returns (27) while Oregon has the third-worst punting average (39.5) and second-worst kickoff distance (58). Any exchange of kicks may be a big advantage for the Cougars.
Gardner Minshew is the Cougars' quarterback, replacing the record-breaking Luke Falk, who graduated. Falk set lots of passing records but had a propensity to get sacked and tackled for loss attempting to scramble.
Minshew is just the opposite. A senior NFL scout said he thought Oregon’s Herbert was a first-round pick, but he would take Minshew because he’s a better scrambler. Perhaps because Herbert doesn’t have to scramble as much, the Ducks’ pass protection has been exemplary. Look for Cristobal to continue a stubborn ground attack as a way to protect his own defensive unit.
Rating Duck defenders, there are only a few talented enough to start for a stellar defensive unit such as, say, Washington's. Among them would be Troy Dye, Justin Hollins and Jalen Jelks, who have athleticism and speed, and Jordon Scott, who is a one-man wrecking crew in the middle. Coordinator Jim Leavitt’s defense makes up for this by discipline, hustle and hard work.
The Ducks need all this, and field position, to secure a win over WSU in Pullman, which has been likened to playing in Stalingrad, a truly hostile place to play.
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years, including as an assistant at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State.