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Ducks tight end Patrick Herbert (81) warms up. Oregon Ducks football takes on the Montana Grizzlies at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. on Sept. 14, 2019. (Sarah Northrop/Emerald)

Dan Lanning didn’t hesitate. 

The Oregon Ducks faced fourth-and-1 on their own 30-yard line with under 4 minutes remaining in the first half — the security of a 10 point cushion and a second half kickoff coming its way.

The head coach saw it as a chance to establish his personal philosophy of football at Oregon: a thought process unknown to anyone outside of the Ducks’ locker room following an opening day drudge against Georgia and an unsubstantial victory against Eastern Washington.    

He elected to keep the offense on the field, turning to a formation foreign to Oregon football teams of the past which were predicated on speed. One that included a sixth offensive lineman and a fullback. The formation helped the Ducks outmatch theBYU Cougars at the line of scrimmage as running back Jordan James ran for the first down. 

The conversion was one of many plays in No. 25 Oregon’s 40-21 win over No. 12 BYU which displayed the brand of football Lanning wants this iteration of the Ducks to embody. It’s an approach built on physicality and toughness meant to intimidate their opponents and prioritizes defending home field. The Ducks earned their 21st consecutive win at Autzen Stadium on Saturday — a streak that began the last time they hosted a ranked opponent, in 2018. 

“We want to be the type of team that you don’t want to play against,” Lanning said. “We want to dictate the tempo.”

It’s a mindset that helped convince each of the Ducks’ coaches to follow Lanning to Eugene: one that they’ve begun to instill in the players who already played at Oregon prior to the new coaching staff’s arrival –– and one they sought out in each player they recruited and brought in through the transfer portal. 

Each one knew Lanning wouldn’t blink twice. The decision to go for it had been made well before Saturday. 

“That happens in our staff meeting, a pregame meeting, before we ever arrive at that moment,” Lanning said. “So every one of our coaches had confidence in our players to go execute and every one of our players had confidence in the plan.” 

Not only did the Ducks punch the ball up the gut to earn that first down, but the between-the-tackles running attack was the focal point of finding offensive success. 

It began with Mar’Keise Irving taking his first carry for 36 yards to set up a first-and-goal. It kept the Cougars’ defense guessing on option-run plays — three of which turned into rushing touchdowns by quarterback Bo Nix. It trickled down the depth chart to James, who took three of his six carries for first downs and played the majority of his snaps on third down. 

The Ducks accumulated 212 yards on the ground. Their running back by committee approach  and two tight end sets consistently gashed the Cougars’ front seven.   

“I think everybody in the stadium at some point probably realized what we were doing,” Lanning said. “We didn't really care if you knew what we were going to do. You had to stop us.”

They never did.

Oregon’s smashmouth mentality was maximized by its players buying in. Those who got in on the act enjoyed it; those who didn’t supported it. 

“It’s called the big boy package,” offensive lineman Marcus Harper said as he flashed a wide grin. 

Through his first two seasons, Harper saw minimal playing time. However, he earned the nod as a starter last week against Eastern Washington after Ryan Walk sustained a left knee injury. He didn’t miss a beat and felt comfortable as Lanning put the game on the back of the offensive line.

Oregon’s 13-personnel scheme called upon players similar to Harper, who many wouldn’t have assumed would find the field against a ranked opponent. Freshman offensive tackle Josh Conerly Jr. lined up as a sixth offensive lineman, while senior tight end Patrick Herbert saw snaps at fullback. 

Neither complained about their role. Both helped the Ducks earn the win and improve to 2-1. 

“If you had told me I was going to play a little bit of fullback at Oregon, that would have been crazy,” Herbert told his teammates after the game. 

Entering Week 3, a number of unanswered questions plagued Oregon’s football program. And, rightfully so, as it can be tough to gain any sense of a team’s direction when it plays in back-to-back blowouts. 

Why did its defense lack discipline despite hiring a defensive-minded head coach? Would the Auburn transfer quarterback find success in the Pac-12? 

The same couldn’t be said for Saturday’s blowout as the Ducks showed they’re creating an identity that each player on the roster has bought into. They’ll continue to build on that foundation on Saturday, Sept. 24 against the Washington State Cougars.

Aaron Heisen is a writer from Los Angeles, California. He enjoys covering Oregon sports including basketball, football, and track and field. When he’s not writing, he’s playing basketball, reading, watching televison, or spending time with his family.