Justin Herbert’s First Drive was Phenomenal
12 plays, 75 yards and a rushing touchdown highlighted by a Justin Herbert stiff-arm.
It was a near-perfect opening drive for Herbert and the Oregon Ducks. Herbert’s first possession stats included:
- 4-of-5 completions for 49 yards
- 2 rushes for 7 yards and a touchdown
With ease, Justin Herbert and company carved through the Wisconsin Badgers. Although Oregon fans have become accustomed to high-scoring outings by their Ducks, this was against Wisconsin’s ninth-ranked defense in the nation, per Football Outsiders DFEI. To start like that was incredible. If Herbert kept his play at that high of a level, his 2020 NFL Draft stock would have risen substantially.
However, that didn’t happen.
Stalled Offense and Poor Decision Making
On his very next drive, Justin Herbert erased his flawless first possession. Tied at 7-7, following a Wisconsin kick-return touchdown, Herbert threw a horrible throw into traffic. Granted, most of the time passes near lineman are batted down. Few are intercepted like this. But, this throw was different. It was oddly low, into a cluster of players and Wisconsin’s Jack Sanborn was sitting there, waiting with eyes on Herbert. Herbert didn’t even try a different read.
Either he didn’t see the Sanborn or the Wisconsin cluster, threw the ball far lower than he wanted to or thought he could force a football through too tight a window. Regardless of why the interception happened, it grades very poorly for Herbert.
After opening the game with a 12 play, 75 yard touchdown drive, Oregon’s offense faltered for five consecutive drives. Justin Herbert couldn’t get anything going. Interception, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs.
It wasn’t until the final four minutes of the first half when Herbert was able to lead any significant drive. But, that wasn’t solely because of him. Instead, it was mostly due to the Oregon Ducks’ defensive plays.
Relying on Defensive Turnovers
At the end of the game, Oregon forced four turnovers. Three fumbles and one interception. Considering Brady Breeze took one fumble to the house, Herbert doesn’t get credit for those seven points. However, two of Herbert’s three touchdown drives came off of turnovers. His team got him the ball at the Wisconsin 36, the Wisconsin 33 and the Wisconsin 30.
With field position like that, Herbert’s scoring drives were less impressive. Ignoring drives after turnovers and his first-half kneel, Justin Herbert’s nine remaining drives included:
- One Touchdown
- One Interception
- 6 Punts
- One Game-Sealing Drive to Run out the Clock
Not great. Yes, we can’t take away his touchdowns. He had two, critical touchdowns in the game that came off of turnovers. He didn’t lead them to field goals on those. They came away with 14 points because of him. However, a top-NFL scout needs to be able to create his own success and not rely so heavily on his defense.
Justin Herbert Shows Off Stiff Arm and Dual-Threat Ability
Thankfully, for Justin Herbert’s case, he chose to run. His three rushing touchdowns displayed the NFL’s newest delight: dual-threat ability. In the NFL, the game is evolving. Quarterbacks are running more read-options and designed quarterback runs. It’s a new era. NFL play-callers desperately want quarterbacks with versatility.
With successful stiff-arms and a game-winning 30-yard rushing touchdown, Herbert showed off that versatility. It changed the way scouts will look at him.
Although he’s no Lamar Jackson, Herbert’s athleticism in the Rose Bowl saved his lack of throwing success.
Just Enough to Cover-Up Mistakes and Maintain Draft Stock
While some saw an erratic passer, others saw a leader with grit and the clutch-gene. Herbert’s three rushing touchdowns displayed his athleticism. His 30-yard rushing touchdown showed his athleticism and game-winning ability. Then, at the end of the game, his poise on a game-sealing drive demonstrated his “winning effort”. Like Bucky Brooks said, his play “wasn’t always pretty”. But, Herbert did just enough to erase his mistakes.
At the end of the day, the Rose Bowl is still just one game. Justin Herbert’s four-year career for Oregon has been iconic. Some would even put him above the likes of Marcus Mariota in Ducks’ fame. With his highlight-reel three-touchdown scamper and the Rose Bowl “W”, Herbert kept himself in the top-three quarterback discussion.