The Oregon Ducks (10-3) were searching for something in head coach Dan Lanning’s first season to provide an exclamation point. Taking on a nine-win ACC Coastal champion -led by star quarterback Drake Maye- in the North Carolina Tar Heels (9-5) provided just the recipe. But after the Tar Heels went up 27-21 with just 2:29 remaining in the game, the outcome was still very much in doubt.
“That’s one of our go-to plays, we feel really good about that play (game-winning touchdown pass)…we’ve run it multiple times,” Nix recalled. “And sure enough they brought a house blitz and Chase knows over and over that’s the throw if we get house. He’s gonna get a natural pick going across the middle, and we did a great job of picking up the protection. We threw it over the middle and got a completion for a touchdown.”
On the other side of the field, ACC Offensive Player of the Year Drake Maye got off to a fast start (206 yards passing, 51%, 3 TDs) for the Tar Heels, but the Oregon defense began to combat some of his efforts in the second half.
A big reason?
They stayed in the present.
“I thought our team did a great job of being in the present,” Lanning said after the game. “Our players made great adjustments. Even some of those drives we stalled out…didn’t get a first down, I think our guys believed hey we’re gonna get a stop and get an opportunity to do it again. And that’s what it came down to. You’re talking about phenomenal players making great plays and down the stretch, that’s what you saw.”
For the first time, the 2022 SDCCU Holiday Bowl was held at Petco Park in downtown San Diego.
A Holiday Bowl tradition includes the Navy Leap Frogs flying in before the game...even on fire.
After the Navy Leap Frogs finished flying in, a helicopter flyover left the stadium.
There was a large contingent of Oregon fans who made the trip to San Diego.
Oregon head coach Dan Lanning (pictured) led the Ducks to a 10-win season in his first year as head coach.
North Carolina running back Elijah Green, pictured, eludes Holiday Bowl Defensive MVP Mase Funa (7 tackles, QB sack, 2 TFLs) on this first quarter carry as a flag gets thrown for holding.
Oregon's secondary works through its man coverage versus UNC's wide receivers while defending a bunch trips formation in the Red Zone.
Oregon safety Jamal Hill and defensive end Mase Funa attempt to corral North Carolina's Kobe Paysour (No. 8 pictured) on a six-yard completion in the first quarter.
North Carolina head coach Mack Brown walks the sideline during the 2022 Holiday Bowl. Brown -a former running back at Vanderbilt and Florida State- has won 274 games in his illustrious coaching career.
UNC LB Kaimon Rucker tackles Oregon RB Noah Whittington (No. 33 pictured) during the third quarter as Cedric Gray (No. 33 pictured) chases alongside.
UNC's Drake Maye talking on the sidelines with the coaches after a second quarter scoring drive. Maye finished a spectacular freshman campaign with three touchdown passes, but completed just 14-of-35 passes in the contest. The ACC Offensive Player of the Year accounted for 45 touchdowns (38 PASS, 7 RUSH) in 2022.
Oregon left tackle T.J. Bass (No. 56 pictured) prepares to take on North Carolina defensive end Jahvaree Ritzie in the third quarter of the game.
Oregon QB Bo Nix releases a ball during the team's game-winning fourth quarter touchdown drive. Nix -an Auburn transfer- accounted for 43 touchdowns (29 PASS, 14 RUSH) in his first year for the Ducks. He completed 77% of his passes (205 yds, 2 TDs, INT) in the 2022 Holiday Bowl.
Oregon's Noah Whittington (No. 22 pictured) goes one-on-one with cornerback Marcus Allen. Whittington finished the season with 779 yards rushing (5.6 YPC) and 5 TDs and also caught 22 passes (TD).
Oregon CB Trikweze Bridges (3 tackles, 2 PBUs) tackles North Carolina RB Omarion Hampton for no gain after rushing on a cornerback blitz in the fourth quarter.
Oregon head coach Dan Lanning holds up the Holiday Bowl trophy as his team celebrates.
Oregon's Jeffrey Bassa (pictured left) celebrates with his teammates after the team's Holiday Bowl victory.
Washington’s Elijah Molden takes his footwork as seriously as his father, Alex, did at Oregon before becoming a first-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in the 1996 NFL Draft. Molden is frequently tasked with the tough assignments in the litany of man coverage used by Washington current head coach and former defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake. The former West Lin High School (Ore.) product earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2019 after finishing with 79 tackles, four interceptions and 13 pass break-ups.
Oregon’s offense heads into the 2019 campaign with a huge contest looming versus an Auburn defense that ranked 30th in the nation in opponent third down conversions a season ago. They are led by a defensive line that features three disruptive edge rushers in Marlon Davidson, Big Kat Bryant and Nick Coe. Coe led the Tigers with seven quarterbacks sacks in 2018.
It makes this a tough defensive line to puncture even if they aren’t recording sacks. The team’s front seven accounted for 15 of Auburn’s 54 pass break-ups (T-30th in the nation) in 2018. Bryant, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 253 pounds, accounted for three of those pass break-ups despite starting just three games.
Derrick Brown vs. Oregon interior OL
Auburn defensive lineman and 2020 NFL first-round draft prospect Derrick Brown can win on twists/stunts, displays range and is capable of using his vision versus double teams. It will be important for 2018 second-team All-Pac-12 LG Shane Lemieux -a 38-game starter entering 2019- to win on his angle/cut-off blocks versus Brown’s quickness. The Ducks have to take away snaps from the Tigers defensive front with some semblance of a running attack. Brown may match up slightly better with the Ducks’ most versatile lineman, right guard Calvin Throckmorton (has actually played more at the tackle spot). In 2018, Oregon ran much more than they passed on first down. Passing on that down early in this contest could halt Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele from hiding the defense’s intentions in obvious passing situations.
Herbert vs. Auburn third down disguise
For Herbert to enjoy sustained success in this contest, he and his offensive line have to be cognizant of Auburn’s multiple disguises and line games on third downs. Dating back to his freshman campaign, he has protected the football relatively well. However, Auburn tied for 24th in the nation a season ago with 14 interceptions. Eight of the players responsible for 11 of those picks return, led by senior cornerback Javaris Davis. Davis -the team’s longtime nickel back- enters 2019 with six career interceptions and one touchdown, and his pre-snap identification on this all-important down could help Herbert decipher the team’s final coverage.
There are times when Steele will show a five or six-man pressure look in the pre-snap and then rush just four defenders with a two-or-three-deep zone behind it (see Purdue, Music City Bowl ’18, 3rd and 10, 2nd QTR/14:14). In these instances, Herbert’s patience will be tested.
Oregon’s answer may be a dummy snap count that will attempt to force Auburn to show its hand. Herbert often looks to the sideline for the pre-snap adjustment before running the play (3rd and 8, 1st QTR, SJSU ’18-defensive pass interference). In Week 3 of the 2018 campaign, San Jose State DC Derrick Odum would sometimes keep his linebackers and defensive linemen in stationary positions prior to bringing six-man pressures (3rd and 15, 1st QTR, incomplete pass, QB hit). In these instances, Herbert displayed pocket toughness to deliver the ball while getting hit by the unblocked blitz threat.
On the next five Oregon third down attempts (San Jose State ’18), the Ducks posted a false start (3rd and 9, 2nd QTR), an incompletion to a tight end in the end zone while backed up (3rd and 13, 2nd QTR), a one-yard completion (3rd and 13, 2nd QTR), an 11-yard completion (3rd and 8, 2nd QTR) and an incompletion (3rd and 8, 2nd QTR). Many of the coverage concepts included two-or-three-deep zones mixed with split safety looks.
So what was the common theme prior to these third downs?
San Jose State’s front seven (led by former NT Boogie Roberts) wreaked havoc on first and second down. The team’s linebackers reacted to what they saw and forced the action. An inability to create forward movement in the running game (2.7 yards per carry) caused Oregon to stay in third and long much of the afternoon. For the game, the Ducks converted 39-percent (7-of-18) of its third down attempts. To even reach that mark against the Tigers front seven, Oregon OC Marcus Arroyo has to create manageable third downs for Herbert and his offensive line.
There will be many games for Auburn to study when attempting to corral one of the 2020 NFL Draft’s top quarterback prospects in Herbert. One could argue that the Michigan State defensive performance in the 2018 Redbox Bowl ranks at or near the top of the list. Surprisingly, however, the job done by San Jose State DC Derrick Odum in slowing down Oregon’s offense has some intriguing hints for Auburn DC Kevin Steele.
Since Miller has arrived on campus, he’s been a terror despite his lack of size. His body control, route-running expertise and fearlessness all get high marks. While capable of playing outside, he’s most adept at working in-between the hash marks on inside dig routes, post corners and option routes. He is the best receiver in the MAC when it comes to disguising his intentions on jerk and return-pivot patterns. Linebackers, safeties and nickel backs have to maintain patience against his first moves. Quite capable of tracking the ball versus tight man coverage, he can get his body to become limp along the sidelines. Perhaps most impressive is his ability to finish through double teams down the field. Once he gets the ball in his hands, he uses his long speed to challenge defenses.
The former Barrington HS (Ill.) product has been a speed demon since his days at the prep level. The former track and field standout holds personal-bests of 10.53 seconds in the 100 meters, 21.26 seconds in the 200 meters and 6.36 seconds in the 55 meters. Through six games, Miller has 42 receptions for 640 yards (15.6 YPR) and six touchdowns. This includes a 13-catch, 166-yard, two-touchdown performance against Oregon in Week 1 of the 2018 campaign. For his career, the Falcons standout has 186 receptions and 20 receiving touchdowns. Keep an eye on the Falcons speedster the rest of the year. The MAC’s leading receiver is on pace for career-highs in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions.