Oregon football coach Mario Cristobal was pleased with the performance of his team in the 77-6 win over Nevada, especially when the Ducks were able to play plenty of freshmen and backups who dominated the Wolf Pack in the second half after starters built a 35-6 halftime lead.
From a coach’s perspective, offensive play calling is vital. First down sets the stage for the drive — any gain of four or more yards keeps the offense in a category of either-or, which means the next play can be either a run or pass.
The longer the offense can remain in either-or situations, the more it dictates momentum and restricts the attack advantage defensive coaches seek. Defensive coaches want to restrict the offense to less than four yards on first-down because they can then gamble and bring more pressure with stunts and blitzes to force another long yardage situation on third down.
One area Cristobal identified for improvement was the Ducks’ offensive third-down conversions. Winning teams convert at better than 40% and losing teams are in the 30s or less. The Ducks were 28.6% in losing to Auburn and 41.7% against Nevada.
Cristobal’s goal is 50%. "We want to be at that 50 mark," he said. "That would be the best in the country and that's what we strive for." Only seven teams have converted better than 50% over the last two years.
It’s an important statistic for defensive teams, too. Preventing third-down conversions forces punts, which are turnovers, in a way. Defenses want to spend more time on the sideline, enjoying the offensive show.
Kicker Adam Stack left the team to transfer to a better opportunity. That leaves freshman Camden Lewis as the first-string kicker and Henry Katleman, a redshirt freshman, as his backup.
Lewis had all-American credentials coming out of high school, but missed an easy field goal against Auburn in his first game. He is capable of 50-yard field goals and end zone kickoffs and hopefully his miss will help his focus for future kicks.
Coming into this season, the lack of a proven field goal kicker who could convert at better than 90% was a definite weakness for Oregon. A kicker’s value grows as the clock winds down and in overtime situations.
Lewis has the talent and it would be wise for Cristobal to give him game experience when another touchdown isn’t going to make a big difference in the outcome.
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years. He conducts a weekly coach's corner from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the 6th Street Grill.