The Oregon Ducks have spent their bye week practices focusing on a few specific areas in need of improvement, including third down execution.
No. 12 Oregon (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12) is at or near the top of the Pac-12 in rushing offense and run defense, total and scoring offense and sacks allowed. The Ducks are also at or near the bottom of the conference in pass defense, third down and red zone defense and a couple of special teams units midway through the season.
“We got these four things on offense that we’re going to get better at, these four things on defense that we’re going to get better at, special teams (is) where we want to see cited improvement,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said. “I think you have to be really clear. This is really a big week for self-scout where we go back and self-evaluate what we’ve done well, what we’ve done poor and then how we can build off of that and grow from that.”
Oregon allowed a season-high 10 third down conversions on a season-high 17 attempts in its 49-22 win over Arizona last week. It was Arizona’s highest conversion rate (58.82%) against a winning FBS team since 2015, and particularly alarming considering UA went 5 of 7 on third-and-medium.
“It was really actually poor on both sides (offense and defense),” Lanning said. “I know we only had I think eight opportunities for third down on offense, but in general third down is an improvement piece for us. We’ve evaluated it pretty close.”
The Ducks rank 11th in the Pac-12 and 127th of 131 FBS teams in third-down defense (50.6%), a figure that increases to 52.86% when accounting for only FBS competition.
Oregon’s pass defense (275.3 yards per game, 12th in Pac-12 and 114th nationally) has been a major issue thus far, especially on third downs and few of the situational splits are favorable for the Ducks.
With UO leading so much against Eastern Washington, BYU, Stanford and Arizona, teams have had to throw more. But opponents are 35 of 53 for 450 yards (120th) against the Ducks on third down, with three touchdowns, an interception and 27 first down conversions, the second-most allowed nationally. Teams are 7 of 9 with six conversions throwing on third-and-three-or-less and only eight of the 30 teams to allow at least eight passing conversions on third-and-four-to-six have faced less pass attempts than Oregon’s 16. Most concerning, teams are 10 of 13 with two touchdowns and seven conversions against the Ducks on third-and-seven-to-nine, which is supposed to favor the defense.
Offensively, Oregon is converting 45.9% of third downs (6th in the Pac-12, 31st nationally), but that drops to 40% when removing the Eastern Washington game. UO has converted 18 times on 32 runs on third downs, including 10 of 12 from short range, but just 3 of 11 from mid-range. Oregon is 26 of 42 with five touchdowns, an interception and 14 conversions on third downs, including five conversions on 12 attempts from mid-range.
Third down isn’t the only area of focus this week though.
Penalties were vastly improved against Arizona, compared to the 14 Oregon committed against Stanford, but several on defense could have been avoided. Special teams remains inconsistent in terms of kickoff coverage and at punter.
Even Oregon’s Pac-12 leading running game has some things to adjust as the distance between the running back and quarterback Bo Nix has been an indicator of whether a run or pass play is coming at times and better opponents during the second half of the season, beginning next week against No. 11 UCLA (6-0, 3-0), will seize on such a tell.
“That’s the same reasons you’ll see us at weeks we’ll play with the back behind the quarterback in pistol formation, at times we’ll be in the gun,” Lanning said. “We move them around quite a bit; we shift, motion them a good amount. Certainly something that we’re aware of. I’ll say this, in my opinion great teams have tendencies. If you’re a great team, you’re going to have tendencies that are going to show up. You just have to be aware of those tendencies as a coach.”