Reading into Oregon's passing game stats

May, 5, 2014
May 5
12:00
PM ET
EUGENE, Ore. -- The Oregon spring game has come and gone, giving us our coffee topics and bar debates for the next four months.

Now, it’s important to remember that every spring game is going to be pretty vanilla. No coach is going to run his exact offense and give next season’s early opponents an obvious scouting report. So, it’s hard to put too much stock into what’s seen or what’s said after a spring game, but there certainly are some general conclusions that can be drawn.

[+] EnlargeMariota
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota looked sharp on Saturday, but his receivers have some work to do.
So let’s start here: One of the biggest topics of this spring -- that should continue through the summer -- is what exactly the Ducks are going to do with their receivers. Between Josh Huff and Daryle Hawkins graduating and Bralon Addison getting injured this spring, Oregon lost almost a quarter of its offense. The Ducks could look to get more experienced pass catchers involved (which are the running backs and tight ends), or they might continue to push the wide receivers and hope their learning curves catch up. They could also do a combination of the two, which is basically how the spring game looked.

Coach Mark Helfrich complimented several receivers after Saturday’s game, saying that Devon Allen and Darren Carrington are both “working toward what we thought they were in recruiting” and that basketball-convert Johnathan Loyd has done well considering “the few layers of rust you’re knocking off for not playing football for that period of time.”

Marcus Mariota is going to be the starting quarterback next season so you could look most closely at his statistics and where he threw the ball. But he only played one quarter, and most of the wide receivers played more evenly throughout the game.

So, let’s take a look at the numbers:

Of the 54 passes thrown on Saturday …
37 were thrown to wide receivers (68 percent)
9 were thrown to running backs (17 percent)
8 were thrown to tight ends (15 percent)

Of the 28 receptions …
receivers accounted for 17 (61 percent)
running backs accounted for 6 (21 percent)
tight ends accounted for 5 (18 percent)

Most targeted … (with receptions in parenthesis)
7 : WR Dwayne Stanford (3)
6 : WR Darren Carrington (3)
5 : WR Chance Allen (2)
4 : WR Devon Allen (2), WR B.J. Kelley (2)
3 : WR Keanon Lowe (1), TE Johnny Mundt (3), WR Jalen Brown (0)
2 : WR Johnathan Loyd (1), WR Austin Daich (2), RB Thomas Tyner (2), RB Kenny Bassett (2), RB Byron Marshall (2), TE Koa Ka’ai (1), TE Evan Baylis (1)
1 : WR Chris Tewhill (1), RB Ayele Forde (0), RB J.J. Jones (0), RB Kani Benoit (0), TE Davaysia Hagger (0)

That’s a lot of numbers, so let’s break them down.

From a very basic level, those statistics tell us that even though the Ducks don’t have their top three receivers from last season, they still are going to be targeted quite heavily. The only players who had at least four passes thrown their way were wide receivers. Which is, again, not too surprising considering Oregon wants to use this spring to get those younger receivers more comfortable in the pass game. But, also consider that with donors and 37,000-plus fans in the stands on Saturday, the Ducks wanted to impress, and they likely wouldn’t have targeted wide receivers as much if the confidence level wasn’t very high in that group.

Even though the wide receivers were targeted the most, they certainly weren’t the most efficient group when it came to receiving. Yes, the wide receivers accounted for three of the four touchdowns, but right now we’re just looking at total receptions and targets.

On Saturday the running backs were the most efficient pass-catching position group. Granted, the quick, short passes that are thrown to a tight end or a running back are typically easier to catch than what’s thrown at a receiver. But the running backs caught 67 percent of the passes throw their way (6 of 9), while the tight ends caught 63 percent (5 of 8). The wide receivers -- again, tougher passes to catch -- caught 46 percent of the passes that were thrown to them (17 of 35).

When you compound an easier pass with a group that has more experience, it’s not surprising that they would be the most efficient group. But what’ll be interesting to watch is how the breakdown happens this fall. If the running backs and the tight ends continue to be the most efficient pass catchers, will the overall passing distribution swing more toward those position groups? Will the wide receivers still be heavily targeted, but could the players who are targeted be limited to just Stanford, Carrington, Devon Allen and Lowe? And how much of the passing game will involve the wide receivers, after they compiled 68 percent of the yards in 2013 and 61 percent in 2012.

All good things to discuss at the coffee shops or bars. Commence.

Chantel Jennings | email

Oregon/Pac-12 reporter

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