Monday Rewind: Oregon's tempo is coming back, Washington's QB spot, and haters
Welcome back to the Monday Rewind. Hope you had a good week. It was an entertaining week around the Pac-12. Let’s dive in.
Pro-style, but make it quick
If you’re a playmaker, put Oregon on your shortlist.
That’s the sales pitch from new Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham, who has an energy when he talks and a clear and obvious fervency over being at the University of Oregon.
This is going to be an interesting offense that Dillingham puts together. The Ducks have options at quarterback, a veteran offensive line, and a whole paddling of young skill talent. The design sounds like more Oregon Blur than Cristobalian Churn. Dillingham’s past is littered with counter and two-back sets and shot plays in the passing game, and sprinkled with some Wildcat goodness. Marry some pro-style philosophies with tempo and new-age tendencies and you have a recipe that should make for some fun football. He told Joe McMurry on last week’s Signing Day special live stream that they’re going to be versatile.
“We’re going to be a pro-style offense that’s going to play extremely fast,” Dillingham said. “We want to play 80 snaps a game. We want to get people touches. And we want to be explosive. We want to create matchups, it’s a game of matchups. In the NFL, you don’t have a left receiver and a right receiver, you have what receiver you want to get one-on-one with a certain DB, what tight end do you want to get one-on-one, what running back do you want to get one-on-one. It’s a system built around our players to create the best matchups, and we want to do that at a rapid pace.”
Head coach Dan Lanning followed up later saying 80 is more of a philosophical target than a firm number on the board every week. (No more than 5% of FBS teams have averaged at least 80 plays a game in any of the last five seasons. Oregon can certainly get there, but it’s more about being efficient with tempo.)
Regardless, stressing matchups and tossing around “versatility” as a way to describe what you do, that’s a nice pivot point for the program on the heels of the Cristobal era.
So what kind of player fits Dillingham’s vision?
“I want a guy who’s explosive,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s a guard, tackle, center. When you watch the film of a wideout, when you watch the film of a quarterback, a tight end, a running back, a hybrid athlete, whatever it is, you should see explosiveness. An explosive tackle coming out of his hips on GT counter at the second level and pancaking somebody. A wideout catching a slant and going for 80 (yards). A tight end knocking somebody in the dirt and then catching a fade the very next play. A running back going for 90 on inside zone, a play you should only get 6.5 yards a carry if you’re elite at. I’m looking for explosive playmakers.
“This is a system built for explosive playmakers. That’s it. If you’re a playmaker, you want to play in this system.”
When Lanning met with reporters on National Signing Day, he said he was pretty jacked to get 4-star running back Jordan James. Jacked is how I would describe the feeling I get listening to Dillingham talk about Xs and Os. Imagine what the players feel. When does spring ball start?
Kalen DeBoer needs to find his QB quick
Washington needs to be able to sustain offensive possessions in 2022, and then string together a few of those good possessions at a time. The secondary has earned the benefit of the doubt as far as expecting more of a reload than a rebuild when players leave. The front seven has potential difference-makers. The makings of an above-average defense are there. It just needs some help from the offense after a year where it got none.
The Huskies ranked 100th out of 130 programs last season in creating quality possessions—a drive that features either a first down inside the opponent’s 40-yard-line or a big-play touchdown, or its Eckel rate. With some interesting pieces on offense at the skill positions, new head coach Kalen DeBoer is going to be hard-pressed this spring and fall to find a quarterback that can be a stabilizing force.
Dylan Morris, the starter in 11 of UW’s 12 games last season, posted the third-worst total QBR among qualified Pac-12 quarterbacks and 87th overall. Sam Huard, who started against Washington State, threw four picks and completed only 54.8% of his passes in a 40-13 loss. Incoming transfer Michael Penix Jr. has completed only 55% of throws over the last two years, had seven interceptions to only four touchdowns last season, and comes over with a spotty history when it comes to staying healthy. The 2020 season might have been Indiana’s breakthrough, but Penix’s most efficient season at Indiana came when DeBoer was coordinating the attack… three years ago.
That’s not to pour ice-cold water on the Huskies before we even hit March, but it is going to be an interesting quarterback battle to watch unfold. I’m not totally sold on any of the three scholarship players who could potentially win the job, but for DeBoer to get off on the right foot he’s going to have to show immediate success.
It seems like there’s trepidation with Washington right now. It was a program that wasn’t tough to recruit talent to, and yet the recruiting class this cycle would have been the worst in the conference if not for Arizona State lighting a bundle of fireworks and then stuffing it into its pocket.
“We’re going to have too much skill talent around to where if you’re just a hand-off guy or just a zone read guy, that’s not going to be enough,” DeBoer told reporters at his Signing Day press conference. “We want to utilize and make every tight end, wide receiver and running back a threat to make a big play. You have to be able to get the football to those guys.
“I was with (Penix) for a year so I know what he’s capable of doing throwing the football. We can’t throw the football around right now. So, with Sam, who obviously I’ve watched on film, and Dylan as well, those guys certainly check that box and then some. I feel good about where we’re at. You’ve got some guys that have taken a lot of snaps at the college level, and you’ve got Sam who has had an amazing (prep) career and is going to have a chance to get developed here.”
DeBoer says he wants his guy to be in the 65-70 range as far as completion rate, something none of his three quarterbacks have done in their most recent seasons. Morris had a conference-high 12 interceptions in 11 games last fall and the third-worst yards-per-pass clip among qualified quarterbacks. Were Penix’s struggles more about health, confidence, scheme, or mechanics?
“Is the accuracy of a 55% passer because of what they’re doing (schematically) and they’re just taking shots down the field, or is it because he really doesn’t understand the concepts?” DeBoer said. “That’s why it’s so important to see guys throw in person, whether it’s camp during the evaluation period or at a game. There’s so much with the poise and character and leadership a quarterback can bring. If that guy is one of the hardest-working guys on the football team and one of the guys that plays with a lot of grit and just passion, it makes it a lot easier to get the rest of your football team feeling that way and going that direction as well.”
This is where I butt in and say Penix certainly checks that box.
“But I think arm talent is where it starts, and then anything you can do running and using your legs to move the chains and get those escape opportunities out of the pocket are just an added bonus.”
On throws more than 20 yards downfield last season Penix was 4-for-21 for 135 yards, no scores, and one interception, per PFF. During the 2020 campaign, he was 17-for-40 for 679 yards, five touchdowns, and two picks. That’s a hit rate of 34.4% and an average pickup of 13.3 yards per play. On those same kinds of throws over the last two seasons, Morris is 23-for-60 for 787 yards, seven touchdowns, and seven interceptions—a hit rate of 38% with an average pickup of 13.1 yards per play.
It should be a hotly-contested spring period.
That Utah logo has more power than ever
He didn’t have a press conference on signing day, but Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham did meet with Rivals’ Clint Cosgrove to talk a little shop.
One of the bigger talking points this offseason with the Utes is the transition from being an up-and-comer to now being a recognized power. Utah signed a top-40 class, headlined by a 4-star top-100 linebacker who should be a star in Salt Lake City and a 4-star running back from SEC country. Whittingham was asked directly about that increase in the Utes’ national acclaim and said it’s only growing.
“The best way to enhance your recruiting is through winning on the field, particularly if you can win on big stages. We were on national TV several times this year, obviously culminating with the Rose Bowl, and even though we didn’t win that game it was still great exposure for our program,” he said. “We’re building our brand little by little. … We feel we’ve steadily been able to get our brand out there and probably never more than this year since we’ve been in the Pac-12. This is the biggest opportunity for us. We had some opportunities prior to the Pac-12, playing in a couple of BCS games, but I think our brand is as strong as it’s ever been right now.”
And that means the Utes are the hunted in the conference. They’re expected to be the class of the conference. They’re expected to build on last season’s success. Those are weighty expectations. But it’s noteworthy how much confidence seems to be emanating from the Utah program on the heels of last season. In a lot of ways that matter, Whittingham and the Utes have put in the labor to build up a foundation of sustained excellence. As much anticipation as there is in seeing what’s in store in Southern California, there should be an equal amount of interest in what the next step is for this Utah program. They’re just not as sexy, and Whitt probably prefers it that way.
You can see the rest of the interview with Cosgrove here.
Tetairoa playing both ways…???
Could Arizona’s best playmaker from the 2022 recruiting class play both ways? It’s a possibility.
And the world rejoices.
More Tetairoa McMillan is good for you, it’s good for me, it’s good for Arizona, and it’s good for anyone who dedicates their Saturdays every fall to being tormented by this beautifully stupid game. Put McMillan, the Cats’ 4-star top-100 signee from the 2022 class, on offense, put him on defense, put him on special teams, put him on posters, put him in recruiting videos, give him the keys to recruiting visits. The young man from Anaheim has the potential to be a “face of the program” kind of player. A 6-foot-4, 185-pound pass-catcher, he had 1,302 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns on 88 receptions last fall as a high school senior. And he had eight interceptions.
As a team, Arizona had four interceptions. Its leading receiver had 60% of McMillan’s production in the passing game. (Stanley Berryhill III is awesome, don’t misconstrue that.) Yeah, context and all that, but the point is McMillan is a stud, and to hear Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch flirt with the idea of playing him anywhere is exciting.
“We’re going to play our best players. And last season he doubled our interception total for the team. You can’t win football games when you have six takeaways on the year. … Anybody that can take the ball away is fair game to play. I told (defensive coordinator Johnny) Nansen that. If we have somebody on our football team that can take the ball away, put him on the field. So, uh, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what it’s going to look like. But, I do know that I call the offensive plays so I need a fresh-legged Tetairoa McMillan as often as possible.”
Roy Manning, noted hater
USC’s new outside linebacker/nickel coach was very anti-USC when he was in the Pac-12 previously.
“I was a hater, man,” Roy Manning told reporters this week when asked about his perception of USC when he coached at Washington State. “The thought when I’d been at other places (was) USC, you’re in this major market, this major city, this hustle and bustle, a mess of a city so to speak. And then you get here and it’s really pretty neat. This campus sits near downtown but it’s not a downtown feel. Obviously, USC Village is one of the most unique setups, I’d say, in college football anywhere.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I think it’s an advantage for us now being on the inside and this side of things.”
Manning’s previous vantage point is, he admits, something other programs try and weaponize to negatively recruit USC. “But it’d be a hard thing to try and beat once someone actually gets here and sees it,” Manning said. “This is legit. This is a good deal here.”
Those are the kinds of nuggets you hope to get from the more rigid press conference settings. Pretty cool.
Shoutouts of the week
- Washington guard Terrell Brown Jr.: This man is absolutely carrying the Washington Huskies on his back. Brown erupted for 30 points, seven boards, six assists, and five steals in Sunday’s 69-87 loss to Stanford. What one might choose to look at and say “it was a loss, doesn’t matter,” I’ll go the other way and ask where this UW team would be without Brown? The senior guard is scoring 22 a night on the season. He’s leading the conference in points per game, minutes played per game, and usage rate, and despite all that responsibility and all that opposing defensive attention, he’s still posting the second-best PER in the conference so far and sits at No. 8 in effective field goal percentage. To shoot 46% from the field on that volume is something else.
- Arizona State guard Marreon Jackson: He took some questionable shots, sure, but what a moment for the Toledo transfer Saturday against UCLA. “He had just so (many) expectations, and there’s nobody that works harder in our program, so it’s just great that on this stage he’d come through like that,” said ASU head coach Bobby Hurley after the triple-overtime upset of the Bruins. The reigning MAC Player of the Year, Jackson had only reached double-digits scoring eight times in the first 19 games of the season. He’d shot worse than 30% from the field in 12 of those 19 games, including a pair of 1-for-10 performances and two 0-for showings. He’d lost his starting job. And then Jackson exploded for a season-high 24 points off the bench to spur Arizona State’s signature win of the season. Said Hurley: “just so happy to see him come through.”