Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Low-key Kenny Dillingham getting Duck fans JACKED for a new-look offense

He said it twice in seven minutes, so he must have meant what he said.

"It's about explosive plays," Kenny Dillingham said, meeting the media after Monday's practice.

Oregon's new offensive coordinator woke the echoes in his brief remarks, providing clipped answers to questions about developing and evaluating the roster, choosing a quarterback, and rotations at running back and receiver.

After three years of ground, pound, and check down, it's sweet music to a fan base energized by 50 years of big-play football, from Ahmad Rashad breakaways to LMJ bolting through the Stanford front 7, Marcus Mariota scurrying through a crease, or Samie Parker burning the Buffaloes for an early six.

At Oregon there is a legacy of exciting offense, but the last few seasons have been dreary by comparison. Too predictable. Too conservative. Too tentative with a lead.

The Ducks used to be innovators. They used to stretch the field, demoralize opposing crowds with big runs, pick sixes and long passes. First down could mean a post pattern for 80 or a slashing, darting run to go the distance.

Somehow that tradition grew cobwebs in the Cristobal tenure. Last year, for example, Oregon had just 10 plays from scrimmage of 40 yards or more, 94th in the country.  In 2010, when the Ducks led the nation in scoring at 47 points a game, they had 24, more than twice as many.

Scoring points and being explosive is a mindset. This off season the Ducks bolstered their offense with targeted transfer portal moves, acquiring wide receiver Caleb Chapman from Texas A&M, 6-5 with a sub-4.5 40, a true vertical threat. They added running backs Noah Whittington, a speedster from Western Kentucky and Mar'Keise Irving, a bruising runner from the University of Minnesota who averaged 5.3 yards a carry as a freshman, gaining 699 yards in spot duty.

Twin sophomore sensations Seven McGee and Sean Dollars are ready for a bigger role in the attack, and both are capable of turning any routine touch into a big play. Lead running back Byron Cardwell displays great recognition, hitting the hole quickly when he has a seam, letting the blocking develop with patience on wide plays. Tall outside receivers Troy Franklin and Dont'e Thornton both flashed big-play capability last season and in the spring game.

Likely starting quarterback Bo Nix has improved his footwork and touch this off season. He's more settled in the pocket and more mature as a leader, a confident, experienced passer who loves to throw the deep ball.

At Florida State last season Dillingham's offense ranked 18th in the nation with 6 plays of 60+ yards, including three TDs of over 75 yards.  At Memphis in 2017 the offense cranked out 45.5 points a game, good for 2nd in the country. In 2018 they averaged 523 yards a game on offense.

Dillingham believes in spreading the field and attacking the defense, and he's never had the array of weapons that he'll have in Eugene. They'll be wide-open and exciting, disciplined and well-taught.

With a new coordinator, a new offense and a new philosophy,  Saturdays in Autzen might feel like coming home to a place that you remember. 



Monday, August 8, 2022

Lanning's gift for genuine connection will make Ducks stronger in adversity

A healthy Justin Flowe could give the 
Oregon defense more energy and punch.

Last fall Oregon fans witnessed the collapse of a culture and a thorough failure of leadership.

In mid-November the Ducks were ranked third in the country, 9-1 and in control of their own destiny for the College Football Playoff. Over the next six weeks they would lose three games on national television in embarrassing fashion, twice manhandled by Utah, 38-7 and 38-10, bludgeoned in the Alamo Bowl by Oklahoma 47-32. They fell to #22 in the final AP poll.

By the time of his messy exit Mario Cristobal had molded a broken, worn-out football team, loaded with talent by the measure of recruiting rankings, exhausted and ill-prepared on game day. November 20th they trailed Utah 28-0 at halftime, demolished in every phase of the game.

Two weeks later in the PAC-12 Championship, as rumors swirled of Cristobal's departure to the U., the Ducks were again flat and dispirited, pummeled at the half 23-0. There was no energy. Key players had to stay home with injuries. 

They were beaten and demoralized. A rumor swirled that a star player stood up at halftime and angrily denounced the head coach. Helmet in hand, he pointed a finger toward his face. "You're a fucking fraud," he said.

If it didn't happen, it should have. 

The bowl trip proved to be equally fruitless. The Sooners rolled, closely following the Utah script, building a 30-3 first half lead. Kennedy Brooks ran for three touchdowns, virtually uncontested. With ample time to throw Caleb Williams torched the Oregon secondary for 242 yards and three scores on 21-27 passing.

Cristobal's rebuild of Oregon as a national brand ended in disarray.

Enough of the old story. The Hurricane has returned home to work his schtick, and the Ducks are in a new era.

While it's still very early, watching Dan Lanning address the media and listening to his players talk about the program and his approach, it's evident that they are working for sounder and more resilient foundation.

Swinson is right about the talent. According to Adam Gorney of Rivals, the Ducks have the sixth-most talented starting lineup in college football:

Based on star rankings of projected starters, this is how teams would be ranked:

Clemson - 92 (total stars among starters)

Texas A&M - 91

Ohio State - 89

Georgia - 88

Alabama - 85

Oregon - 84

Penn State - 83

Oklahoma - 81

Texas - 81

Florida - 80

Miami - 80

Notre Dame - 80

Cristobal could recruit, no doubt. Early indications are that Lanning and his staff can recruit as well. But was missing then, what Lanning recognizes and strives to create now is a level of realness and connection that sustains a team in the fourth quarter and late November. 

Football is a game that demands toughness, the ability to come together and dig deep. That has to come from within. It has to be felt, and shared, found in each other. Empty mantras and cliches won't get it done.

There's a lot Dan Lanning has to master to become a great head football coach. At the outset, however, this commitment to core values and making football fun will go a long way toward building a team that reaches its phenomenal potential.

They will be less likely to lose games they should win, clunkers like Stanford in 2021 or Arizona State in 2019, inexplicable self-destructions that cost them a shot at the playoffs. They will be less susceptible to flat performances. They'll have a stronger rudder in clutch moments, more able to seize the momentum.

A team with a real center, genuine connection, plays with more heart. They don't fear challenges. They find strength in each other and rise to them.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Ducks need Nix to emerge as the star of Celebrity Quarterback Rehab

At Oregon, Bo Nix has all the tools to be better 
than he ever has: veteran offensive line, strong 
running game, talented receivers, and an OC
who believes in him.
 Bo Nix was a three-year starter in the vaunted SEC, but all three years were decidedly mediocre.

The former five-star recruit finished 84th, 82nd and 85th in passer rating over his tenure with the Tigers, throwing 16 touchdowns as a true freshman, 12 and 11 as a sophomore and repeat-sophomore.

In 2021 he was the 9th-rated passer in the conference.

Last fall the Pinson, Alabama native shredded the Akron Zips for 275 touchdowns and three TDs on 20-22 passing. Against Georgia and Texas A&M, though, his two toughest opponents, he was harassed and ineffective, 41-79 for 370 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 INTs.

He missed the last two games with a broken ankle as the team finished 6-6.

Already some Oregon fan sites are questioning new coach Dan Lanning and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham for entrusting their first season in Eugene to the Auburn retread. True, Nix is a former five-star with a lot of game experience, but most of that experience is bad. In fact, Oregon's new number 10 and the starter-apparent had worse numbers than Anthony Brown did as a junior at Boston College.

Yesterday Fishduck writer Dazenconfused wrote, "Brown averaged 9.1 yards per completion, while posting a passer rating of 154.5, while Nix averaged 7.1 yards with a passer rating of 130."

Still, if you can't be optimistic in August, why invest yourself in a college football team? 

Yet it's always better to know the facts before you choose to ignore them.

Here's the beginning of the case for hope: Fifteen years ago Oregon hired a young, high-energy offensive coordinator with a knack for scheming plays and getting players to believe in themselves. 

The year was 2007. The Ducks were coming off a 7-6 season that ended with an embarrassing loss to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. 

There was a quarterback competition, and the more athletic and talented guy, Dennis Dixon, entered fall camp in head coach Mike Bellotti's doghouse after deciding to skip summer workouts to play minor league baseball.

The season before as a third-year sophomore Dixon had been a decidedly mediocre quarterback. There were flashes of "Whoa Nellie!" athleticism and speed, but over 12 games he threw just 12 touchdown passes against 14 interceptions, compiling a passer rating of 120.7.

You know the rest. Under the tutelage of Chip Kelly, Dixon exploded as a junior, tossing 20 TDs with only four INTs. He led the Ducks to an 8-1 start and a number-one ranking before a debacle in the desert.

DD blew out all three ligaments in his knee while running mate Jonathan Stewart limped through the final few games with a debilitating case of turf toe.

Still, in those nine magical games Dixon had those chain-mail-wearing, Nike-clad Ducks on the cusp of their first national championship, with maybe the most explosive and exciting offense they'd ever had. His passer rating jumped 40 points to 161.2 while his completion percentage climbed from 61%  to just under 68%. The average gain per pass attempt rocketed from 6.7 to 8.4.

Historic wins over Michigan and USC highlighted their rise to #1.

Understand the nuance: Nix isn't Dixon. He isn't the gliding runner with afterburners and hands that can make a football disappear. 

The point of the comparison is that a quarterback can make huge gains in effectiveness in the right situation. Like Dixon, at UO Nix will enjoy a veteran offensive line, a strong running game, a talented cast of receivers (this year's group may be the most explosive in Eugene in 20 years) and a coordinator who believes in him.

Factor in the trust and experience, a fresh start and a supportive fan base, the new-found stability Nix has attained from his recent marriage, and there's a case to be made for hope, for dramatic improvement.

Expectations remain high in Oregon football and among the fan base. Success means 10 wins and a conference championship.

Under Lanning and Tosh Lupoi, with Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe anchoring the middle and Brandon Dorlus and DJ Johnson providing the havoc, this new defense has the potential to be special. To reach Las Vegas, though, the Ducks need Nix to make a Dixon-like leap.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Oregon fans ready for the Dan Lanning experience after Georgia championship romp


Dan Lanning's Georgia defense throttled the Alabama Crimson Tide offense in a bruising 33-18 win in the National Championship Game Monday Night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The Bulldogs kept constant pressure on Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young and forced two interceptions, the second one returned 79 yards for a touchdown by safety Kelee Ringo.

Ringo's Pick Six came on third and 10 with :54 seconds to play, icing Georgia's first national title in 41 years.

The Dawgs sacked Young four times and hurried him throughout. They held Tide tailback Brian Robinson, who gashed Cincinnati for 204 yards on 26 carries in the semi-final, to 68 rushing yards in 22 attempts.

In all, the Lanning crew held the SEC champs to a net 30 yards on the ground. Young connected with tight end Cameron Latu and wide receiver Jameson Williams on big pass plays, but Georgia's big, quick, physical Front 7 stiffened in scoring territory, holding their opponent to four field goals through three quarters.

Bama's only touchdown came after a fumble recovery at the Georgia 16. With 11:35 to go in the fourth quarter Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett rolled right, pressured by Christian Bennett. Trying to avoid the sack as he was being tackled he attempted a pass but lost control of the ball. Though it went forward, officials ruled it a fumble. 

The call stood after review and The Tide scored four plays later on a short pass to Latu.

In all, though, the game was a triumph for Lanning and the Georgia defense. In the league championship game they'd been embarrassed by the Alabama passing game while losing 41-24. This time they dialed up more pressure and showed better conditioning, holding the nation's number three scoring offense (41.4 points a game) to just 18 points.

The relentless D gave Bennett and the Georgia running game time to get untracked.

For Duck fans, the game was a glimpse into the new head coach's vision for his future defense at Oregon. Though it will take a couple of seasons to amass the kind of talent Georgia employs on a squad with 19 five-star players, the cupboard is not bare in Eugene. A unit led by Noah Sewell, Justin Flowe, Brandon Dorlus, Popo Aumavae, Jeffrey Bassa, Bennett Williams and Christian Gonzalez can readily duplicate the pressure and aggressiveness against PAC-12 competition.

Monday's win in the rematch showed Lanning's ability to scheme, adjust and motivate. Already, recruits have taken notice.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Ducks lose again at the Alamodome

They call this the dead period, and for Dan Lanning and his new Oregon staff, it feels like it's almost time to visit Miracle Max.

Saturday morning at the All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Oregon suffered another decisive defeat, this time in the recruiting battle.

In a game full of top prospects from the 2022 class, Oregon had no breakthroughs, no commitments and no surprises.

MVP Rayshon "Speedy" Luke of St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, California announced he was choosing Arizona. He's a 10.5 sprinter with electrifying open-field moves, the closest thing this 2022 prospect group has to De'Anthony Thomas.


Jedd Fisch and the 1-11 Wildcats are kicking Oregon's butt in recruiting right now. The Wildcats have climbed to #22 in the Rivals Team Rankings after flipping Tetairoa McMillan in the early signing period and nabbing Luke today. They also grabbed another Duck target from the transfer portal, wide receiver Jacob Cowing of UTEP.

After 15 decommitments since the departure of Mario Cristobal, Oregon has fallen to 66th in the Rivals Team Rankings. The new staff is loaded with top recruiters, but they have a lot of work to do to avoid a lost year and damaging gaps in the future roster.

As the telecast unfolded and recruiting decisions were made, it got worse for the Ducks, a bit like falling behind 30-3 at halftime. Edge Rusher Cyrus Moss, a UO target who visited Eugene twice over the last year, chose the Miami Hurricanes. Dynamic wide receiver Kevin Coleman of St. Louis, Missouri shocked the college football experts by picking HBCU Jackson State, coached by Deion Sanders.

Coleman would have been a great pickup, fluid and super fast. Just this week Stephon "Boogie" Johnson decommitted from Oregon, leaving new wide receiver coach Junior Adams with zero new arrivals in his receiver room for 2022--McMillan, Coleman, Isaiah Sategna and Johnson, all gone.

The returning receiver candidates, Kris Hutson, Troy Franklin, Isaiah Brevard, Dont'e Thornton, Isaah Crocker and Seven McGee are all good players, a young group that had a good showing in the 47-32 loss to Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl, but it's important to replenish the depth after losing Jaylon Redd, Johnny Johnson III, Devon Williams and Mycah Pittman.

That's a huge talent drain, especially when you consider that Lincoln Riley and USC nabbed Mater Dei 4-star wide receiver CJ Williams of Mater Dei. At the A-A Bowl Williams hauled in a touchdown bomb in the right corner of the end zone, then announced his college choice a few moments later.

It takes dudes to win in college football. Due to the unfortunate timing of losing a head coach just two weeks before Early Signing Day, Lanning and his new staff were placed in a very challenging position. After the National Championship Game on Monday, they'll immediately have to get to work on a salvage operation, patching and rebuilding a demolished recruiting class.

It'll be a bit like the aftermath of a hurricane.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Saturday Night Live offers a glimpse of Oregon football's future

 This Saturday night at 4:15 p.m., Mario Cristobal hosts the fifth annual Saturday Live Camp at Autzen Stadium.

50-75 high school prospects will be there from the 2022, 2023 and 2024 classes, working out and getting coaching from the Oregon staff.

The public is invited. Admission is free. The concession stands will be closed but fans can bring food and drink. For safety's sake, no glass bottles are allowed.

For the players, it's an opportunity to get some topflight instruction while touring Oregon's facilities and getting to meet Duck players and their coaches.

For fans, it's a first look at some of the standouts in the 2022 Oregon recruiting class including acrobatic Texas wide receiver Stephon "Boogie" Johnson and powerful defensive tackle Sir Mells  of Nevada.

Though not yet committed San Diego teammates Jalil Tucker and Jahlil Florence are two players to watch as well, agile Spidermen at cornerback. Both of them have run 10.7 in the 100 meters for Lincoln High School.

The quarterback group at SNL features 2022 commit Tanner Bailey from Gordo, Alabama and local product T.C. Manumaleuna of North Salem High, a 2024 prospect with advanced skills. He's from North Salem High. Though just a freshman, he's got a strong, accurate arm and tremendous promise.

With Kayvon Thibodeaux likely in his last season as a Duck, Oregon is shopping furiously for athletic pass rushers. The camp features two of the best in the West, San Diego standout Gracen Halton (already committed to UO) and Cyrus Moss of Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, Nevada (rumored to be announcing soon.)

The offensive line group is highlighted by 6-5, 330-pound guard David Iuli of Puyallap, Washington, who pledged to the Ducks earlier this month.

It's a great show with drills and a passing scrimmage. Sunshine, Autzen Stadium and a chance to picnic with fellow fans while enjoying a cold beverage.

Several of Oregon's current players will be on hand to watch the event. For the kids, they may be able to get a coveted autograph or three.

From Steve Mims, formerly of the Register-Guard, here's a glimpse of the 2019 event:

The Decision

 Yesterday a leaked internal report from the CDC surfaced, reported in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

It stated that the Delta Variant of the Covid Virus is more contagious than the measles, chicken pox or common cold. 

The report recommends an immediate return to masking and social distancing strategies, and urges unvaccinated people to get vaccinated.

A separate document urged caution, because the strain is so contagious that it can be spread by vaccinated people. 

The Delta Variant causes infections that are more severe. Rates of illness are surging around the country and the world.

Mask up, the CDC says, and get the jab.

This is a football blog. My reasons for posting this are simple. I want to do everything I can to keep my family safe and be able to enjoy sports again. 

"The war has changed," the CDC said. 

 Viruses mutate. Human civilization is in a race between insanity and misinformation and responsible personal behavior.

Research at the University of Alabama Birmingham concluded that the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are safe and effective.

Mask up and get the shot. And go Ducks.