Last season this Oregon offense, led by quarterback Justin Herbert, was plagued by inopportune drops and poor execution.
Fast forward to 2019 and Herbert is showing why he’s considered a top 5 pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
In the last two games Herbert has thrown 10 touchdowns, five in each game, and is completing 73 percent of his throws to a multitude of receivers.
It’s reminiscent of Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and the skill he showed steering the Oregon offense.
In fact, Herbert’s performance Saturday night against Montana, matched a school record set by Mariota during his time in Eugene. Both Mariota and Herbert have now had four games in their Oregon careers in which they threw five touchdown passes in each of those games setting a school record.
It’s been a marvel to watch.
“We’re doing some things and evolving as an offense,” explained Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal after the Ducks 35-3 win over Montana.
“He’s taken complete ownership of it. He’s been extremely accurate,” the second-year coach continued. “A credit to the receivers. We might have dropped a couple today, but overall we’re catching the ball a lot better. Overall, execution has been better.
“We had our moments today that were not so good, but other ones that were better. He made some really impressive plays where he was wrapped up and got free and also beat some pressure on some of the naked bootlegs we have. But Justin continues to take complete ownership of the offense and the playbook and is doing a really good job.”
An understatement for sure!
Herbert has now thrown 11 touchdowns in three games completing 77 of 105 attempts with no interceptions and his quarterback efficiency rating is 177.34. The senior from Eugene is averaging nearly 300 yards passing per game.
And by the way, Herbert’s streak of throwing a touchdown pass in continuous games remains intact. After Saturday’s performance, Herbert has thrown a scoring pass in 31 consecutive games.
The numbers on Herbert are solid and show why he’s tracking as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Herbert has tallied 868 yards and 11 touchdowns in three games.
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who also had a record-setting day last Saturday with five touchdown passes and 444 yards, likely remains the front runner in the early Heisman voting. In three games, Tagovailoa has completed 70-of-91 passes (77 percent) and has thrown 12 touchdowns while garnering a total of 1,007 yards with no interceptions.
Now consider Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence who catapulted to superstar status after leading the Tigers to a national championship as a true freshman in 2018. Lawrence is completing 61 percent of his passes, 59-of-97 for 831 yards, but has only thrown five touchdown passes in three games. And while the Tigers are undefeated at 3-0, their sophomore signal caller has also thrown five interceptions.
Compare those top flight quarterbacks to Herbert and what it tells is we’re witnessing what could be another memorable season from a player who NFL scouts are certainly drooling over.
Herbert is a changed player in 2019.
Certainly his receiving corps is stepping up and delivering their ‘A’ game to this point adding to Herbert’s success, however Herbert’s ability to deliver targeted passes on the run has improved. His accuracy shows up in his passing percentage. In 2018, Herbert completed just 59 percent of his passes and delivered eight interceptions to the opposing defense.
Herbert’s decision making is also on point.
While under duress last season Herbert would consistently try to force the ball to Dillon Mitchell, his only real ‘go to’ receiver.
This season Herbert has made a concerted effort to locate other receivers in the pattern which has forced opposing defenses to defend the entire field and not just a single player.
So far the Oregon signal caller has completed passes to more than a dozen different Duck receivers. Three of those receivers already have more than 12 receptions in the first three games. Johnny Johnson III leads with way with 19 catches and 223 yards.
Herbert is not only a quarterback possessed, he’s a man on a mission to lead the Ducks to a Pac-12 championship.
And what we’re witnessing is something special!
~ Warren Williamson