September 15, 2008

Grades and Analysis: Purdue

Grades and Analysis: Purdue Boilermakers

Overall: B-
The Ducks showed grit and determination in overcoming a miserable first half performance. The second half was better, particularly on the defensive side, but even the overall improvement wasn't up to the level to which this group of players is capable of playing. Fortunately, the rest of the PAC 10 with one notable exception looks as miserable as did the Ducks at their worst.

Offense: C
The offense struggled not to shoot itself in the foot throughout the game. Often, they failed and failed miserably. Over and over players tried to do too much. Receivers tried to run before they'd caught passes, ball carries tried to fight for an extra yard or two when they were already in the grasps of multiple defenders and fumbled instead of taking what the defense had given them, and Justin Roper repeatedly lost his poise and made foolish plays by mechanically unsound passes into the teeth of the defense or pitches into thin air. Granted, an oddly uneven performance by the officiating crew, particularly the referee, contributed, but still.

Offensive Line: B
The battle in the trenches is the key to victory in any football game and the combination of Purdue stacking the box in the run game and a less-than-dominant effort in pass protection caused the offense to sputter despite relatively gaudy numbers (no sacks allowed, 306 yards rushing, 7+ yards per carry). The offensive line can perform better than it did against the Boilermakers and with the inexperience the Ducks have in the backfield it must if the Ducks are to be successful this season.

Quarterbacks: D+
Justin Roper had his worst game as a Duck. Justin made miserable decisions and threw the ball poorly. His receivers didn't help him much, but his lack of poise under pressure was a much bigger problem. On the plus side, Justin ran relatively effectively as his 6 rushes for 40 yards attest, but he needs to decide to run more consistently in order to be a true threat and open up defenses for his running backs more effectively. His knee injury could well preclude that in the future - mentally, even if it doesn't physically. Chris Harper came in and did good work after Roper went down, but he'll need to throw more often and also distribute the ball more widely and effectively in the running game. Harper needs to let his running backs carry more of the load and make better fakes to help both himself and his teammates in the running game.

Running backs: B+
The Ducks only used two running backs as ball carriers yesterday and both performed well. Purdue's game plan was built around stopping Jeremiah Johnson and they were relatively effective in doing so, but JJ still rushed for nearly 100 yards on only 17 carries and averaged 5.6 yards on each. That's pretty good, although his third quarter fumble certainly detracts from his efforts. LeGarrette Blount was even better, gaining 132 yards on just 12 carries for a gaudy 11 yards per carry. Even more important, Blount broke a big one in the third quarter that led his own five yard burst to tie the game.

Wide Receivers: D
The wide receivers were easily the worst unit on the field for the Ducks against Purdue. That took some doing given how poorly some of their teammates played, but the wide receiving corps was the only group in which no one played well. A lot of folks will single out Jaison Williams for his play in West Lafayette and it was bad. Twice Jaison dropped balls which would have led at the very least to first downs that he should have caught. Unfortunately, he was looking at wide open expanses in front of him rather than doing a wide receivers first job and securing the catch. Jaison is a senior and he should know better, but then so is Terence Scott who also dropped a pair of passes. Unlike Williams who caught five balls, Scott could only manage to hang onto one. Jeff Maehl caught seven passes, but added a pair of drops of his own and nearly undid the Duck comeback when he fumbled inside the Purdue 20 in a foolish attempt to fight for extra yardage.

Tight ends/H-backs: C+
Ed Dickson once again led the Ducks in catches with seven. He added 18 yards rushing on three carries. That's pretty impressive production for a tight end. Unfortunately, Dickson, like the wide receivers, seems to have reverted to his catch a few, drop a couple pattern of last year. The Duck receiving corps needs to be taught that holding onto the football is a "pretty important" part of their job. Maybe Coaches Pflugrad and Osborne should use Vince Lombardi's old tactic of making them carry it around everywhere with them for a week in the hope that they'll learn that they need to hold onto it. They need to do something because their charges don't seem to understand that that is a basic component of their job.

Defense: B
In some ways the defense deserves a better grade. Their efforts kept the game from turning into a rout after the Ducks had dug themselves a big hole by the start of the second quarter. On the other hand, their awful performance in the first quarter was a big part of the reason why the Ducks were in that hole in the first place. The defense allowed Purdue to score on its first four possessions with a miserably flat and uninspired performance.

Defensive Line: B-
After Will Tukuafu's inexplicable pinch that left a gaping hole for Kory Sheets to scamper through for an 80 yard touchdown run, the Duck defensive line played very well against Purdue. Granted the heat and humidity had gotten to them by the fourth quarter, slowing their rush enough that Curtis Painter was able step up his game and drive Purdue down for a couple of field goal attempts late in the fourth quarter, but Will Tukuafu and Nick Reed generally the heat turned up high on the Purdue quarterback and they made critical plays that helped ensure a Duck victory. Between them the Ducks two starting defensive ends had five tackles-for-loss, four sacks and a fumble recovery. It would be nice to see similar productivity from the interior of the line, but as long as they continue to seal the center of the line against the run, they are doing their job.

Linebackers: B-
The Duck linebackers played a decent game against the Boilermakers, particularly after Casey Matthews became the main man at middle linebacker. John Bacon is talented, but at some point he needs to start making plays instead of hesitating. Spencer Paysinger again led the team in tackles and Jerome Boyd also showed up a little more than he has so far this year. Boyd and Patrick Chung, and to a lesser extent Paysinger, seemed to need a period of adjustment to their pursuit angles on Sheets' as he turned the corner. Once they figured it out, they effectively shut down Purdue's outside running game and with it Purdue's offense.

Defensive Backs: A-
It was nice to see the defensive backs finally demonstrate that they remembered how to pick off a pass. T.J. Ward, Walter Thurmond and Jairus Byrd all had good games. Ward in particular showed a ball-hawking ability when employed in over-the-top help for the corners that bodes well against passing offenses like Arizona's when the PAC 10 schedule resumes. Patrick Chung was less effective. Chung repeatedly took bad angles to the ball and missed tackles that allowed Purdue's offense to purr early. He'll need to work on that and try to remember what happened to him on James Rogers game-winning fly sweep in last year's Civil War.

Special Teams: B+
Like their offensive and defensive brethren the Oregon special teams made mistakes. Generally though, they were rather scarce compared to those of their comrades. More important, if the defense kept the game from turning to a rout, the special teams got the team back in the game.

Kickoffs: B+
Matt Evensen continues to show that he can boom the ball. Unfortunately the wind precluded him from getting the chance all the time and he was forced to offer to squibs to Kory Sheets, who was Purdue's primary return man. .Sheet was effective in returning them averaging nearly 25 yards per return against the nation's leading coverage team. Both kicks bounced quickly to him and hopped right up into his hands. Perhaps pouches might have been more effective, especially given how well they served when Purdue tried them.

Kick Returns: C+
The Ducks got a big return from Walter Thurmond (mistakenly credited to Remene Alston in the official stats) and were effective in returning the five kicks they managed to field. Unfortunately, Andre Crenshaw made what was arguably the Ducks worst mistake
of the day when timidly looked to Walter Thurmond to take a high fluttering pouch kick that only Crenshaw could catch. His timidity resulted in a free possession for the Boilermakers that gave them their nearly insurmountable 20-3 lead at the beginning of the second quarter. It was no surprise that thereafter Talmadge Jackson took over Crenshaw's place as return man.

Punting: B-
Josh Syria's stroke seems to have deserted him. His average of 37.4 yards per punt yesterday is more than 4 yards less per punt than he averaged throughout 2007. He needs to pick up his game in the future. Fortunately, he rarely allows a pun to be returned in part because he has an exceptional coverage team working with him. The Boilermakers were able to return only one of Syria's punts for a measly 2 yards. That's very good.

Punt Returns: A
The punt return team was truly special. The Ducks were able to field three Purdue punts in the swirling winds of Ross-Ade stadium and they averaged better than 34 yards per return. Even better, Jairus Byrd took one of them to the house to bring the Ducks within a touchdown and fully change the momentum early in the third quarter. If Byrd intends to keep up the good work he might try to build up his sprint stamina because he could barely stay ahead of the punter by the end of his 87-yard jaunt.

Placekicking: A
Matt Evensen was once again perfect. If he's not careful and he keeps scoring a dozen or more points per game while kicking flawlessly (as he has in the past two contests), he might just win the Groza Award.

Coaching: C+
The Ducks continue to be one of the most heavily penalized teams in the NCAA. Their seven penalties for 68 yards against Purdue was little different than what they averaged in the first two games. The entire team came out flat and played sloppily. Perhaps the long, late flight and the change in time zones had something to do with that, but the coaches need to take some responsibility for what seems to be a pattern of mental mistakes that is plaguing this team. It's hard to judge the staff's game plans since the players were unable to execute them, but Chip Kelly/Gary Campbell did seem a bit slow in recognizing that Purdue was keying on JJ and turning to LeGarrette Blount. Robin Pflugrad's unwillingness to use the backups at wide receiver more often also seemed odd, especially given the poor performances of his starters. On the plus side, the staff didn't panic and picked the players up at the half, and their decisions led to a victory on the road against a decent Division I team.

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