The Joe Moore Award is given annually to the “best offensive line” in college football on six criteria: toughness, effort, teamwork, consistency, technique and finishing. It is the only major college football award to honor a unit or group and the 2019 Duck offensive line has declared the Moore Award as high on its list of goals this season.
It is hard to judge so many players on so many teams, but there are several statistics 13 evaluators use in determining who wins the Moore Trophy: points per-game, yards per-game, yards per-play, (fewest) sacks given up, third- and fourth-down conversion rates, points per play and blocks downfield.
After three games the Ducks are averaging as follows (with Oklahoma, the 2018 Moore Award winner’s averages in parenthesis). Points per-game: 44.3 (49.5); yards per-game: 505 (577.9); yards per-play: 6.7 (8.7); plays per-game: 75.3 (66.1); and points per-play: .59 (.71).
I don’t have statistics for the other areas, but after three games this season, the Ducks have allowed five sacks (four against Auburn); 11 tackles for loss, one fumble and no interceptions, with the fumble coming by the punt return team. These are actually excellent stats except for the sacks allowed.
It appears that Oregon’s propensity to get conservative offensively would hinder the likelihood of the Ducks’ offensive line to get to the Sooners' level of points per-game, which would affect the points per-play category. It will be interesting to see how that goes this season.
Currently, the Duck offense is converting only 15-of-39 third-down conversions (38%) and 6-of-11 fourth-down conversions (55%), with a total of 21-of-50 combined conversions for 42%. After a losing performance against Auburn, the Ducks have been only one conversion away in both the Nevada and Montana games of achieving Oregon coach Mario Cristobal’s goal of converting third downs at a 50% clip.
A problem with a failed fourth-down conversion is that it can be counted as an offensive turnover of possession. Something for Cristobal to think about is that if you kick a field goal on fourth down and it’s successful, it can count as a conversion in my book.
John Madden, legendary coach of the Oakland Raiders, drew criticism for his philosophy of going for field goals when facing fourth downs in the red zone. The fans, of course, always want to “go for it,” but Madden believed you should get points instead of gambling on possession with a failed fourth-down try.
Further, he believed a fourth-down stop was a tremendous emotional and motivational lift for the defensive team and a devastating letdown for the offense. It could be even more calamitous for the fans in the stands; upsets are made of this.
Madden stuck with this conviction and never had a losing season, won more games than any NFL coach (.763 percentage), seven conference titles and a Super Bowl win. “I’m going to kick it every time unless the game is riding on scoring a touchdown, “ was his mantra. It also made for a quick, easy decision when it came to that situation, one that often paralyzes coaches who have not thought it through before game time.
In 2012, Chip Kelly ignored that option and chose to “go for it” on the Ducks’ third series of their game with Stanford. Quarterback Marcus Mariota had sped down the sideline to the Cardinal 15-yard line in the first quarter. Five plays later, on fourth-and-goal from the 7-yard line, Kelly tried a running play instead of the field goal, which would have been like a point-after-touchdown kick. The play was stuffed, and the Ducks lost in overtime; a field goal would likely have changed the game’s outcome, and it did — for Stanford.
On Saturday, one weakness Cristobal has to consider is that he can’t say he has an accomplished field-goal kicker, at least by game performance this season. Freshman Camden Lewis is that man, and his head coach chose to ignore at least one opportunity for Lewis to attempt a field goal, and gain valuable experience, against Montana, saying “… felt we needed to keep playing football.”
Last time I checked, “football” includes kicking field goals and one can go back to 2011 and 2012 when the Ducks’ failure to develop a strong field-goal kicker led to defeats that came in the last seconds of the USC game when Oregon’s kicker missed a field goal and in overtime against Stanford the next year, when the kicker flubbed a 41-yard attempt. Although the Ducks would earn a Rose Bowl win in 2011 and a Fiesta Bowl win in 2012, the losses, both at Autzen, kept Oregon from going to the National Championship game each year.
Last season, Stanford’s field-goal kicker calmly booted a 32-yard field goal as the gun sounded to send the Oregon game into overtime, when the Cardinal put the Ducks away for the third straight year.
It’s good to have a strong field-goal kicker. It’s still a mystery to what kind of kicker the Ducks have this season.
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.