Saturday, December 23, 2006

Why Oregon lost by so many points.

#1. Oregon was unmotivated. That much was obvious.

#2. At least one (and maybe more) of Oregon's coaching staff disrespected the opponent. Coach Bellotti has done some good things for the U of O, but before the game, he said that BYU couldn't compete with the better teams in the Pac-10, with the insinuation that his team was in that group. There's really no good time to say something like that about an opponent. Saying it beforehand motivates one's opponent, even if it's true. Saying it after a win is unsporting, and saying it after a loss is stupid. Incidentally, when asked about his words after the game, he said that he stood by his previous remarks. Sportswriters in Oregon did not approve.

#3. Quarterback controversy. It is possible to use more than one player at quarterback. Florida does it nicely with Leak (the passer) and Tebow (the runner). [Incidentally, it's worth remarking that the pocket passer is black and the athletic scrambler is white at Florida. Don't believe common stereotypes.] However, Oregon was switching between the two not because they believed in both, but because they believed in neither one. The coaching staff should have decided on a guy (probably Leaf) in advance, and given him as much confidence and first-team practice time as possible. Instead, both were playing with one eye at the sideline, wondering if they'd get pulled if that drive didn't go well. It usually didn't, and they usually did sit down again.

#4. Oregon's great pair of running backs couldn't get outside very easily against BYU's fast linebackers, and couldn't run inside, because of a slow-looking offensive line.

#5. BYU's patchwork secondary held up. During the Utah game, injuries to cornerbacks hurt the team's ability to slow down the Ute offense. Apparently, though, Miyahira was up to speed on his responsibilities at corner, and Robinson's shoulder was in good enough shape to intercept two passes. Perhaps he would have had that third one as well if he were at full strength.

#6. Curtis Brown did enough on the ground. In the past, Brown often struggled against tough defenses because he didn't always commit to his first cut. (Direction change, for the football novices.) Against fast defenses, that meant linebackers could quickly converge. This time, he read his blockers well, and didn't try to do it all himself. On his touchdown runs, he read the block ahead of him, and wasn't touched before he crossed the goal line either time. That trust in his blockers to make the right play motivates them to do it again the next time, because they know it's helping the team. When a runner is indecisive, blockers often recognize that what they do doesn't really matter, and they consequently make less effort.

#7. Jonny Harline knew what routes to run. in zone coverages, he read the seams (the spots between where different defenders are covering) well, making catches before defenders could reach him. When single covered, he ran deep routes, effectively using his size advantage against safeties or his speed advantage against linebackers to get open deep down the field.

#8. BYU's routine. They did the same things as had been planned on last year's trip to the same bowl game, staying at the same hotel, practicing the same amount, going to the same Blue Man Group show, etc. Routine brings familiarity, familiarity brings confidence. Perhaps this sense of familiarity helped calm them in a jittery first quarter, as...

#9. John Beck stayed calm early. On BYU's first three drives, receivers dropped balls, and he made a couple poor throws. He didn't try to force the issue, and stuck with what had worked all year. It started clicking on the last drive of the quarter, and BYU scored right after the second quarter began. In fact, he only threw one bad ball all night, even though he had two interceptions. The interception on the last play of the first half was not a bad decision on his part; he threw it down to the goal line without any time left. A BYU touchdown was overwhelmingly more likely than an interception returned 99 yards. Good decision, even if it didn't work out on that play. Even after Matt Allen's second drop, Beck kept looking to him, and Allen made a big catch late in the game when BYU was putting the Ducks away.

#10. The sea of blue. The fans in attendance were overwhelmingly Cougar faithful---at least 80%, and possibly 90%. That's a very real home-field advantage on a supposed neutral site. Reviewing BYU's performance at home this year is impressive; the closest games were blowouts--25 point wins against New Mexico and Tulsa. Road games were much tougher, including an overtime loss to Boston College, a last-play loss to Arizona, and a last-play win against Utah. In fact, every road game for BYU was closer than every home game. Not to say BYU was poor on the road---they were quite good. They were just dominating wire-to-wire in home games, and the Las Vegas Bowl was a home game. It's not Sam Boyd Stadium, it's South BYU Stadium.


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