THIBODAUX, La. — Oregon’s offense is going to have some adjustments this season, but before Ducks fans go too far into rejoicing, understand that these will be more upgrades and modifications than wholesale changes.
Oregon is not reinventing itself or abandoning its power run identity so much as it is tweaking aspects of its offense to better play to its strengths and correct weaknesses.
“We’ve altered and changed a few things,” quarterback Justin Herbert said at the Manning Passing Academy. “Definitely going to stick with the pistol (formation), a lot of play-action, get the ball to outside guys and let them make plays.”
On its face, that does not sound like much of a change — it is not — and Oregon is not looking to get away from what Herbert is so good at.
On play-action passes last season, Herbert was 78-of-122 for 1,050 yards with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions, according to Pro Football Focus.
It was his most attempts, completions and yards in a season when using play-action, per PFF, but also his lowest QB rating compared with his sophomore and freshman seasons.
A big contributing factor to the offense’s inconsistency last season was drops by the receiving corps, which had 52 drops that cost the Ducks eight touchdowns last season.
Manning ‘proud’ Herbert returned to UO
In his December conversation with Manning, Herbert asked if he would still make the same decision to return for his senior season and the five-time NFL MVP and two-time Super Bowl champion said he would.
Beyond the personnel additions of Juwan Johnson, Josh Delgado and Mycah Pittman this spring and J.R. Waters and Lance Wilhoite arriving on campus last week, Oregon is changing its passing-game repertoire to get its wideouts open more frequently.
“We’re putting in a lot of new pass concepts to beat man, man-beaters,” Herbert said. “We kind of got tied up in that last year. Looking forward to taking advantage.”
Though nobody would blame Herbert for frustration with the drops from last season, he has never used that as an excuse. He has cited areas in which he needs to improve, particularly footwork, and decision-making is never perfect for quarterbacks, even if in Herbert’s case his tendency to hold on to the ball was due in large part to receivers not being open.
“It was tough. I definitely could’ve made better decisions last year,” he said. “I didn’t play as well as I think I could’ve. There were times where I made some poor decisions and it’s all a learning process. I’ll take it and I’ll learn from it and hoping to have a better year next year. … I know they’re not trying to drop the ball and I make bad throws too all the time. I’m never going to hold it against them. They’re great guys, great athletes and they’re really getting better.”
Those who have followed Oregon this offseason should not be too surprised.
During spring practice, offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo acknowledged there were “new wrinkles” to the run game as well, with some different run-pass options and utilizing of receivers and tight ends.
Self-assessment and evaluation are always part of the offseason, and Oregon’s coaching staff and players are not being too stubborn to recognize the changes necessary to be more successful.
“I think there’s some little tweaks that we’ve done that we like, that we assessed from last year,” Arroyo said. “I think those things all are fun things that we work with in the spring. I think they’re things we thought about and looked at and thought in some other cases maybe some things we thought were OK and didn’t work as well, let’s move forward with some other ideas.”