STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL/GAME BREAKDOWN
Scouting the pass offense: Oregon’s passing offense begins and ends with Dillon Mitchell, the top receiver in the Pac-12 in nearly every major receiving category.
Since conference play, Mitchell has been unstoppable, amassing league-high in receptions (58), yards (904), touchdowns (7) and yards per game (129.1). Even when double-teamed, he has found countless ways to get open, being the only target quarterback Justin Herbert consistently looks for.
On the season, Mitchell has accounted for well over one-third of Oregon’s passing offense and over one-fifth of the Ducks’ total offense. His combination of size (6-foot-2, 189-pounds) speed and athleticism make him as difficult to cover as any player in the conference. He has the capabilities to win jump balls in the endzone, outrun defenders on deep routes and make opponents miss when he catches the ball short. Most importantly for Herbert, Mitchell is as reliable as they come, running precise routes and rarely dropping balls.
The same can’t be said for the other pass catchers on the roster, as they’ve all constantly struggled with getting separation against man coverage and catching the ball. Last week alone, the Ducks not named Mitchell dropped six passes, three of which would’ve been first downs but instead killed drives on third down.
So far, the Herbert-Mitchell combination has carried the offense but to take the next step forward, players like Johnny Johnson III, Jaylon Redd, Jacob Breeland, Brenden Schooler and Kano Dillon must evolve into better players, something they’ve all shown flashes of.
Making life easier for them is Herbert, one of the better quarterbacks in the country.
Herbert has thrown for 2,621 yards and 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions on the year. While he’s only completing 59.4 percent of his passes, some of which is due to drops, Herbert does have a tendency to throw the ball into to tight of quarters or trust him arm strength more than his mind. Still, Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards is a fan of his.
“He can throw the football anywhere on the football field. Nothing is out of his range, as far as accuracy and his ability to fit the ball into tight windows,” Edwards said. “He has the ability to run, too… he can make the unannounced play with his legs.”
The Sun Devils counter with a passing defense that gives up 232 passing yards per game. They’re susceptible to the big play, giving up an average of 7.7 yards per attempt and 15 scores on the year.
Freshman Aashari Crosswell has been the most active Sun Devil in the secondary, totaling 15 passes broken up or defended on the season.
But sophomore Chase Lucas is the best player, leading the team with two interceptions and showing the ability to cover opposing teams’ top receivers or make life miserable as a blitzing defensive back. He was named a freshman all-American and all-Pac-12 second team member last season.
As with any Oregon offense of late, it all comes down to the Herbert-Mitchell and if opposing defenses can shut that down. Last week against Utah, the Utes were getting decimated by the Ducks duo and decided to put their best cover corner on Mitchell with a safety over the top, daring the other Oregon players to beat them. It worked for the Utes as Herbert still tried to force the ball into Mitchell, unsuccessfully, and the rest of the Ducks failed to produce, leading to a stagnant offense.
Expect Arizona State to do the same but hopefully, Herbert and Mitchell have learned to beat the double-coverage, or at the very least another Duck steps up.