The big question after Oregon’s 55-15 Civil War win over Oregon State was whether Duck quarterback Justin Herbert was seriously injured after he was helped off the field with about five minutes left in the first half after being sacked by the poorest defense in the Pac-12.
A combination of sloppy, undisciplined pass blocking by Oregon’s running back and an offensive lineman allowed the Beavers to sack Herbert for the second time in the game. As he got to his feet, he moved his left hand up to his right shoulder, reminiscent of the injury he suffered against Cal last year that cost him five games on the bench to recover from a broken collarbone.
In this game, the injury did not seriously derail the victory coach Mario Cristobal was going to enjoy after pounding out 392 yards rushing against an out-manned OSU defense. The coming bowl game might be a different story for the Ducks if Herbert can’t play.
Cristobal has spent zero time developing his two backup quarterbacks and giving them quality reps both run and pass, in games the Ducks had in the bag in the fourth quarter.
Well, actually Braxton Burmeister and Tyler Shough did get in some, but mostly just handed off rather than throwing passes around the yard. Shough came in immediately after Herbert’s injury, but for only three plays and Burmeister played the third and fourth quarters.
Who is the backup? And who is the starter next year if Herbert decides he’s had enough of World War I football and moves on to the next level? For yet another time, the Ducks face going into next season without a quality quarterback with quality experience to lead Cristobal’s offense. Maybe it doesn’t matter if the quarterback is going to mostly hand off, which seems to be Cristobal’s preference as he works to develop the rushing offense and play with physicality up front.
If you look at the won-loss records of the teams the Ducks defeated this season, it comes out to 36-57 and a measly 6-27 for their nonconference opponents. The records of the teams that knocked off the Ducks were 31-16 and included a 5-7 Arizona squad that ran roughshod over Oregon down in Tucson. In two games (both defeats) Cristobal’s offense could only score two touchdowns, which is not going to cut it in the Pac-12.
The immediate concern for Oregon’s offensive coaches is the opponent in the bowl game. Can the Ducks depend on just the run, mostly, like in the Civil War, or will it take a decisive passing game to complement the running offense?
One thing for sure, Oregon’s offensive line will not face a weak defensive team like OSU. The question is, will the Ducks be able to count on 200 yards per game on the ground? This is a number most coaches (except Mike Leach of WSU) point to as a requisite for a winning offense in the Pac-12. Fans need to remember the WSU and Arizona defeats when the Ducks could not squeeze out 100 yards.
Onlookers at the Ducks’ awards banquet reported Herbert looked fit, and was shaking hands with his right hand without looking like he was in pain. This is good news for now, and so far, the athletic department has not released any information about his condition.
Cristobal has done an excellent job selling his team on his vision and the culture necessary to achieve the goals he has in mind. When you hear players being interviewed, it is obvious they have bought in on Cristobal’s vision. Can an SEC mentality work in the Pac-12? Time will tell, but fans need to remember there are differences in the culture of the league and how its teams play football.
It is a fascinating question. The Ducks can look at a couple of games and a few critical plays this past season and see that better days lie ahead of them given their present trend line. This coming bowl game will feature a decent team and hopefully present a physical challenge to test just where the Ducks and hopefully, Herbert, are at in the present.
The crucial stats for the Oregon State game:
No. 1 (explosiveness, yards per play) — Oregon State 5.0, Oregon 6.7. (Oregon. Leader wins 86 percent of the time);
No. 2 (efficiency, third- and fourth-down conversion — Oregon 9-of-15 for 60 percent, Oregon State 7-of-17 for 41 percent (Oregon. Leader wins 83 percent of the time);
No. 3 (drive-finishing, points per trip inside 40) — Oregon 8-of-8 for 100 percent, Oregon State 3-of-6 for 50 percent (Oregon. Leader wins 75 percent of the time);
No. 4 (average starting field position) — Oregon 36.8-yard line, Oregon State 24.7-yard line (Oregon. Leader wins 72 percent of the time);
No. 5 (turnover margin) — Oregon 0, Oregon State 5 (Oregon. Leader wins 73 percent of the time).
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years, including as an assistant at Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Utah State.