Mailbag: Hoke expectations at Oregon, issues for Rich Rod

Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

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To the questions!

Jason writes: What do you think are reasonable expectations for Oregon fans to have with [Brady] Hoke taking over the defense? [Don] Pellum moves back to LB coach (which he was always great at) and Hoke brings the 4-3 with him which will be a substantial shift for the players. At Michigan his first year they jumped from Oregon's 2015 level defense to a top-25 defense. Do you think that is possible at Oregon, or will it take a couple seasons to see significant improvement?

Ted Miller: Can we wait and answer this on Sept. 18, the day after Oregon visits Nebraska, a team that I expect to be much improved offensively in Year 2 under Mike Riley -- as in, did you see what the Cornhuskers did to UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl?

You could make the case that the switch to a 4-3 under Hoke is two or three years too late. While the young, struggling secondary was maligned this fall -- rightfully for the most part -- the Ducks' less noted but perhaps more damaging weakness was at linebacker, and that wasn't anything new. Suffice it to say, when Kiko Alonso walked out that door after the 2012 season, no budding NFL talent inherited his cleats.

Meanwhile, the Ducks have been far more talented on the D-line -- see end DeForest Buckner on the cusp of being the second first-round draft pick from the unit in two seasons. Odds are against any of the starting linebackers from 2015 ending up on a NFL roster this fall.

Next year, the Ducks' front seven is rebuilding -- significantly, as four of the top five tackles and the top two leaders in sacks and tackles for a loss are gone. The good news is the secondary should go from being a weakness to a strength. Of course, a talented, veteran secondary won't look good if the opposing quarterback is just chilling in the pocket for five seconds with a spotless jersey.

After personnel, the big question is whether Oregon's players struggle with a new scheme or if that new scheme gives them a strategic edge against their opponents. Implanted in that question is how well Hoke is cut out to be a coordinator, something he's never done before.

The schedule might help. Washington and Stanford, top foes in the Pac-12 North Division, visit Eugene. Also, after key back-to-back early October games with Washington State and the Huskies, the Ducks then face six consecutive conference opponents that will feature new starting quarterbacks.

There are a lot of intriguing "what ifs?" that optimistic Ducks fans can latch on to, such as what if true sophomore lineman Canton Kaumatule becomes the Pac-12's next big -- literally -- thing on defense? But the most reasonable hope is the Ducks improve a notable amount on the 6.0 yards per play and 37.5 points per game they yielded during a mostly horrific 2015 season.

Rob writes: While I think a lot of people focus on the [Arizona] Wildcats' poor defense in the Rich Rod era, I think the lack of development of QBs in the system is a major problem that is overlooked because people look at football using the wrong denominators. The offense really ran like clockwork with Matt Scott (pre-USC concussion), but since, it has been fairly inefficient if you are judge it using tempo-independent metrics; the Pac-12 Blog is smart enough to know not to use games as your denominator. Scott changed the offense because his arm and accuracy made him a threat on deep and intermediate routes; almost every Pac-12 offense relies on a heavy dose of WR bubble screens (amiright UCLA fans?) and if you can't effectively throw seven-plus yards down the field, the defense sits on the short passes. They are also, generally, better positioned to stop the run if they don't respect your ability to pass it over the linebackers. How do we evaluate Rich Rod, the offensive guru, going into Year 5?

Ted Miller: Well, I must admit I am not smart enough to offer a better way to evaluate a team or its offense or defense than games, but Rob's question went from "What the heck is he talking about?" to "He's got a bit of a point."

First, let me qualify: Not only do I think Rich Rodriguez is is among the top 10 offensive minds in the country, I've never spoken to a coach who believes differently. Second, before this season, I'd say that what Rodriguez and QB coach Rod Smith did with the Wildcats' offense from 2012-14 rates a grade of A. They certainly got the most they could at quarterback out of one year of Matt Scott, the physically limited B.J. Denker and a redshirt freshman Anu Solomon.

That said, Arizona's offense has been good, but certainly not great, during the past four seasons. In conference games only, the Wildcats ranked third in scoring in 2012 and fourth in 2014. This fall and in 2013, they were seventh and eighth, respectively.

In terms of offensive efficiency, ESPN.com Stats & Information ranked Wildcats in the 30s nationally the past three seasons after they ranked 12th with Scott in 2012.

So good, but hardly spectacular.

Still, I'd rate only this season as a disappointment. The preseason feeling was that the offense, loaded with skill talent, would advance significantly in Solomon's second season as a starter. It didn't.

But coaching and scheme isn't Arizona's issue under Rodriguez. It's recruiting. That's why he overhauled his defensive coaching staff, and it also speaks to fans feeling underwhelmed by the offense.

Rodriguez has not yet been able to stockpile talent at Arizona. When the injury bug hits, his team isn't deep enough to continue to contend and play at a top-25 level. He knows this, and I can tell you it frustrates him and he's trying to change it.

By the way, Solomon's 8.1 yards per attempt was pretty respectable, as it ranked 29th in the nation. That wasn't the issue.

Cougar Darain from Kennewick, Washington, writes: Ted, why do so many in the media (not saying you) discount Luke Falk as a Heisman candidate and use the words "system quarterback" as if to denigrate his abilities? All offensive players play within "a system." You don't hear people saying Derek Henry is a "system RB." The player still needs to go out and preform. Luke Falk is a gritty, cool, gifted passer with a great head on his shoulders who completed over 70 percent of his passes. With that, I feel like he would be great in just about any type "system" except, say, the wishbone. What say you? Is Luke a Heisman candidate and could he succeed in another system?

Ted Miller: Good timing on this question.

I suspect Falk will become a Heisman candidate if the Cougars start 4-0, winning at Boise State and beating Oregon in the process. He's going to put up great numbers because all Mike Leach QBs put up great numbers...

Well, there you go. That fits into the "system quarterback" narrative that hounds Leach's QBs. His guys at Texas Tech -- Kliff Kingsbury, B.J. Symons and Graham Harrell -- put up spectacular numbers, too, but didn't end up as top Heisman candidates. Or as NFL starters.

The biggest question with Falk is Leach's highly effective system, and that's best statistically represented by his 7.1 yards per attempt, which ranked ninth in the Pac-12 and 68th in the nation last year. Fair or unfair, that tells folks he's running a ball-control passing system, one that some might dismiss as dink and dunk.

By way of comparison, Oregon's Marcus Mariota led the nation with 10 yards per attempt when he won the 2014 Heisman, as did Florida State's Jameis Winston in 2013 (10.6 yards per attempt).