Oregon’s offense and offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo’s play calling have largely been criticized through four games of the 2019 season. While the lack of an established running game is extremely concerning, the continuously improving passing game is about to get even better.
Oregon’s passing attack could have three more weapons for quarterback Justin Herbert in the Ducks’ Pac-12 home opener against No. 15 California on Saturday, Oct. 5.
The No. 13 Oregon Ducks (3-1, 1,0 Pac-12) have nearly doubled their opponents in passing yards, 1,216 to 640, while scoring 16 passing touchdowns compared to two scored against. Herbert’s perfectly placed throws have often been jaw dropping and his numbers show it. Herbert has completed 74.4 percent of his passes and has yet to throw an interception through four games, a 14-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His quarterback rating is seventh in the country at 183.61 and that’s with five scholarship receivers out with injuries.
The Ducks receiving corps took hard injury hits before the season. Three of the hardest hits were losing graduate transfer Juwan Johnson (soft tissue injury), Mycah Pittman (shoulder injury) and Brenden Schooler (foot injury).
"The guys that we lost, they’re legitimate not only intermediate threats, quick game threats, they’re guys that can stretch the field," Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal said. "We certainly look forward to having those guys back and when you have guys like that back you feel like you can enhance a lot of the things that you do."
Pittman, who was expected to contribute or possibly start this season, practiced for the first time with the team on Wednesday in pads but wearing a non-contact jersey. The true freshman’s initial 6-8 weeks projection would mark Pittman healthy as early as Oregon’s game against the Golden Bears. Pittman implied a sooner rather than later return when he tweeted “2 more weekkksss!”
on September 8.
Before the injury, he was turning heads and splitting first team reps at slot receiver. Pittman has strong hands, a running back body and excels at getting separation.
The best case scenario for Schooler’s initial rehab projection would also be vs. Cal. Cristobal expects the senior to practice for the first time on Thursday this week in Oregon’s second full-pad practice of the bye week. Schooler’s return will impact the offense, special teams and the intangibles through his veteran leadership.
Juwan Johnson, who has been practicing off and on throughout the season, has yet to play a down in an Oregon uniform. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound receiver with an advantage in size and experience
, is “day-to-day”, according to Cristobal, who says his injury has not worsened.
Juwan Johnson and Herbert’s connection intensified throughout spring and summer. Johnson brings needed experience to the position: playing in 16 more games than the Ducks’ most veteran wide receiver, Schooler (21 games). Plus, his large, powerful, physical frame is unlike the other receivers currently on Oregon’s roster along with his ability to power through and over defensive backs.
The return of these three explosive targets adds options for Herbert and will undoubtedly enhance the passing attack in short, intermediate routes and down the field. The biggest area of improvement I expect will come in offensive plays of 20 or more yards. The Ducks’ 14 passing plays of 20-plus yards currently ranks 47th nationally. Herbert’s arm is capable plus Arroyo laments not attempting more downfield passes to Oregon’s inexperienced receivers in the Ducks’ loss to Auburn in week one. Since the defeat, the Ducks’ explosion plays have increased, in particular to tight end Jacob Breeland and wide receiver Johnny Johnson III.
Johnny Johnson III is leading the Ducks with 22 receptions, already a season-high in his UO career. After an up and down Oregon career, Johnson III said, ‘Enough is enough. It’s my time,’ and has proved to be a reliable target this season. Breeland, who currently leads the Ducks in yards, totaling 265 yards on 18 receptions and five touchdowns, is a constant goal line threat.
Cristobal isn’t going to stray from his run-first, win the battle in the trenches, physical offense. Through four games, the Ducks are at a 50/50 pass to run ratio and the passing yardage (1,216) close to doubles the rushing yards (619). Yes, it’s been rough to watch the Ducks pound the ball time and time again with often limited success but the efficient passing game provides some relief.
With Juwan Johnson’s size, Pittman’s hands and Schooler’s speed, expect a more explosive and exciting Oregon offense that will stretch the field when the three targets return.