The Oregon Football team is on an eight-game winning streak and sits at 8-1 on the season. The only loss, of course, came week one at the hands of Auburn, after Oregon led that game the whole way until the final minute. Even with that, Oregon is in a good position to make a run at the College Football Playoff. That is, of course, if they can win out.
There are three games left in the regular season. The final stretch starts with a home game against Arizona this weekend. Following that is a trip to play at Arizona State before closing out the regular season at home against Oregon State. Then, an almost guaranteed trip to the Pac-12 title game. That title game will likely be against Utah, but it could also be a game against UCLA or USC.
Oregon Football Bye Week Grades
If the last four games were the only ones being graded, this grade would be an A or A+. However, this is taking into account the whole season.
The offense sputtered down the stretch in the loss to Auburn, and only put up 38 points combined in the wins over Stanford and California.
In the early portion of the season, Oregon struggled to run the ball. This was despite having one of the top offensive lines in college football. Center Jake Hanson did miss the trip to Stanford, which had an obvious impact on the communication of the offensive line. The running game improved against Cal, but it really took off against Colorado.
Since that Colorado game, the running game has been as good as most could hope for, outside of the win at USC, but USC was selling out to stop the run, which enabled Justin Herbert to have a big game.
Against Washington and Washington State, Herbert made the plays he needed to. However, the running game was the main reason for those wins. Especially against Washington State, where CJ Verdell went for over 250 yards.
The passing game has had its inconsistencies this season. However, Juwan Johnson didn’t play the first month of the season, and his presence has been huge in the past two games. Along with him, Mycah Pittman has shown to be a reliable target in his freshman season.
Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd have also taken the next step on the outside. So while the passing game has had its moments of struggling this season, it feels like Herbert and his receivers are at their best they’ve been all season following the USC win. And that’s with Jacob Breeland being lost for the season in the Colorado game.
Much like the offense, if the defense was graded on half of the season it would be an A or A+. For the defense, that was the first half of the season.
They got worn out in the Auburn game and couldn’t come up with a stop. However, from the Nevada game through the Colorado game the defense only gave up one touchdown and didn’t give up double-digits. That was a stretch of five games. That is, of course, worthy of an A+ grade.
However, in the Washington and Washington State games the defense wasn’t the same, giving up a combined 66 points. They deserve a lot of credit for the last quarter and a half against Washington where they pitched a shutout and came up with the game-winning stop. But Washington State largely had their way with the Oregon defense again and that game was won because of the offense. Troy Dye being out for that game certainly didn’t help.
The defense didn’t start out great against USC either. But in the second half, they only gave up seven points. And that was a garbage-time touchdown when the game was well in hand. The defense forced four turnovers in that game, including a pick-six from Brady Breeze.
While the defense isn’t quite as good as it looked early in the year, it’s still a very good unit. And with freshman pass-rushers Mase Funa and Kayvon Thibodeaux leading the team in sacks, this defense is in good hands going forward.
Also, in the secondary Breeze has been coming on as a bigger contributor every week. Along with him, true freshman Mykael Wright has emerged as a quality option next to Deommodore Lenoir, Thomas Graham Jr., and Verone McKinley III in the secondary.
Special Teams: B-
This is the unit that has probably made the biggest strides in recent weeks. Camden Lewis has come a long way since missing a 20-yard field goal against Auburn. Of course, he hit the game-winner against Washington State, but he also has shown increased distance. Now, he needs to work at putting his kickoffs through the endzone more often.
In the kickoff return game, Mykael Wright has made his presence felt in a big way. He took over for Travis Dye after he left the Washington State game. He set up the game-winning drive with a big return. And in the USC game, he took a kickoff back for a touchdown right before halftime when it felt like USC had grabbed momentum going into the half.
When it comes to punt returns, Jevon Holland has been as good as anyone in recent memory on the Oregon football team. The only punt that has resulted in a turnover this season hit the back of a blocker. On the season Holland is averaging a ridiculous 20.3 yards per return.
At punter Blake Maimone has taken big strides this season. He has increased his average yards per punt by nearly 1.5, has a good chance to down more inside the 20 than last season, and he already has more punts over 50 yards (nine) than he did last season (eight). Along with that has been increased hang time, which has largely prevented opponents from being able to make any sort of return.
A popular criticism of this Oregon football coaching staff has been the ability to make in-game adjustments. After the Auburn game, Oregon wasn’t really threatened, but in the Washington game, this staff showed they are more than capable of making adjustments. Down 14 in the third quarter, Oregon put another tight end on the field and began to run the ball right at Washington out of an offset formation. Along with that, they began to really utilize the screen game after trying to throw deeper with Herbert earlier in the game.
It’s no secret how good Andy Avalos has been for this defense. However, Marcus Arroyo has been a popular target for criticism. While he isn’t perfect, these last few weeks have shown great improvement.
The receivers getting healthy have made things much easier on Arroyo. Shockingly enough, being healthier makes coaching a little bit easier. Also, the running backs have been running more patient of late, instead of running up the backs of their blockers. Running backs coach Jim Mastro deserves credit for that.
Along with that, Mario Cristobal has been better at managing games. Following the Stanford game last season and the Auburn game this season, criticisms of his ability to manage a game were warranted. Calling a timeout on the first offensive snap of the season is a bad thing. However, his timeout usage has improved tenfold as the season has gone along.
Overall this is a young staff. It feels like they have really come into their own over the last month or so. Cristobal has also mentioned this staff having another year together. Between the firing of Mark Helfrich and Willie Taggart leaving after one season, there was a lot of instability on the coaching staff.
Outside of a new defensive coordinator this season, the coaching staff from last season is largely intact.
Oregon Football Recruiting: B+
This is going to be another strong recruiting class for Mario Cristobal and his staff. It won’t finish quite as high as it did last season when they put together the seventh-ranked class in the country. However, they have a decent chance to finish with the top Pac-12 class again.
At the moment, Washington leads the conference, one spot ahead of Oregon nationally. Both schools are almost full in this year’s class. Oregon has a better average star ranking per recruit. The main difference is Sav’ell Smalls is committed to Washington.
Noah Sewell, brother of Penei, is tentatively set to commit soon. Most experts think he will land at Oregon. He is the 20th-ranked player in the nation and would give Oregon a five-star commit. If he were to commit, it would likely shoot Oregon up a few spots nationally. It would also give Oregon a five-star commit on defense in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history.
If you want to, you can also include USC transfer Devon Williams as a new recruit for next season. He was a high four-star coming out of high school and will have a good chance to step in and play a big role next season.
The big question seems to be if Oregon can hold on to Avantae Williams and if they can stun people and pull in another five-star recruit. Williams is the highest-ranked commit at the moment, but there has been a lot of chatter around his recruitment the past few months. The bottom line is he is still committed to Oregon, but that’s far from a done deal until he signs his letter of intent.
Potential Huge Adds
The other five-star recruit it feels like Oregon has a chance with is cornerback Kelee Ringo. This is likely an outside shot. Most think he is going to either Georgia or Texas, but with him being from Arizona, Oregon could benefit from distance. Another one that is starting to have some noise around it is linebacker Justin Flowe. Flowe is from Upland, California, but is thought of as a Clemson lean. If not them, he could easily end up at USC, depending on how that coaching situation ends up. Ringo is more likely, but being able to add either to the Oregon football program would be at least somewhat of a surprise.
Oregon Football Bye Week: Overall Thoughts
This program is in a great spot. Even if they don’t end up in the College Football Playoff, a New Years Six game is a great possibility. That would also be a great chance to end the season with a big win.
With the way this coaching staff has improved of late in-game, and the winning they’re doing on the recruiting trail, a win in a big-time bowl game, or a College Football Playoff appearance would do nothing but make recruiting easier going forward.
As far as this season’s team goes, the defense seemed to dial some things back in against USC in the second half. Along with that, the offense is playing their best football of the season and that comes without question.
With those things, and the special team being improved over the last few weeks, even though it still has room to go, it’s a good sign going forward.
It also feels like this team is pretty healthy for this point in the season. The schedule is also lightening up. The games against the Washington schools and the trip to USC were tough. They were viewed that way preseason, and they ended up being emotional games.
This bye week came at a perfect time. Now, it’s on the coaching staff to keep the team focused. If they can stay focused there’s no reason not to finish the regular season 11-1. If they do that, and Utah finishes 11-1, the Pac-12 title game could very well be a College Football Playoff play-in game.
It’s good to be an Oregon fan right now.
Top Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports