Mike Bellotti on Washington, the end of the Pac-12 and Dan Lanning's defense
The I-5 Corridor caught up with the winningest coach in Oregon history and learned that, sometimes, the wind has your back.
This felt like a Mike Bellotti week. With No. 8 Oregon playing No. 7 Washington in one of the biggest games in program history, The I-5 Corridor caught up with Oregon’s winningest coach to get his thoughts on the Ducks, Huskies, the hardest games he’s coached in, the end of the Pac-12 and more.
It’s been interesting watching Dan Lanning come into his own here in his second year at Oregon. When did you know who you were as a head coach?
I was the head coach for five years at Chico and then came here and was an offensive coordinator for six years and then became the head coach. And I think it was probably my second year at Oregon (as head coach) — only because it was a different venue than Chico State, there’s a lot more moving parts and your involvement becomes different as a head coach. I was still involved with the offense, but I was more involved with special teams and recruiting and the overall organization of everything we did. So you find your role and you find your niche and where your talents are best served being used.
I think Dan Lanning has spent more time with the defense this year, in fact, I guarantee that. I think he recognized that even though that was his strength, that wasn’t one of their strengths as a team last year and he needed to be more involved. That’s not taking anything away from the defensive coordinator at all, it’s just that that’s been Lanning’s baby in a sense. I just think he’s a little more actively involved. Lupoi is a good recruiter and a very good defensive coach, but there were times last year where they did not have a game plan in place to match what the opponent did.
What’s been your impression of this Oregon team so far?
I think the offense has been solid. I think the new coordinator has taken up where Kenny has left off. They’re balanced. They’ve got great receivers. I don’t think the timing early in the season with Bo Nix and the receivers was as good as it was last year, but that was partly because they were a little bit new and the offensive line was new. They’re running the ball. Nix is completing, what, like 80 percent of his passes? My God. Now, they’re not asking him to throw the ball down the field that much, but that’s still an unbelievable feat in this day and age with the kind of talent most defenses have. He’s a very accurate quarterback, both on the move and from the pocket, and they do a nice job of blending the two, which is great.
There’s been two pretty good improvements: Special teams is solid and I think the defense is significantly better. That was the biggest need from last year. They’ve improved their passing defense. They’re solid on run defense. They have more depth it seems like. And they’ve solved some of their issues on special teams. So this is a fun team to watch.
Now, I do think this is the first real challenge they’ll face and we’ll learn a lot more after this game, especially having to go on the road.
You were an offensive coach and an early adopter of the spread, still, it’s got to blow your mind seeing a QB complete 80 percent of his throws.
Yeah, although the game has changed significantly. In the old days, you wanted to be at 60 percent. Then my last 10 years, you’d want to be at 70 percent. And now, flirting with 80 percent is unbelievable.
When you spread people out and create that amount of matchups, and then you use movement play-action where you’re using a lot of screen game — those are essentially just long handoffs. And that’s to take nothing away from Bo Nix, who is an outstanding quarterback.
Now, Michael Penix is throwing the ball down the field a lot more. I don’t think he’s yet to throw for less than 300 yards. They’ve got some great receivers, he puts the ball down the field and challenges you a little bit more.
What was the most hyped-up game you coached in?
There was no question it was either an Oregon State game or a Washington game, because those were our two biggest rivalries. I always had to tell people that Oregon State is our biggest rival — people wanted to tell me Washington was our biggest rival, but I said no because we live in the state of Oregon. So that was my perspective. It all depended, too, on who was on the team and if somebody had said something. I remember I had to counsel a few of my players about being intelligent enough to not give anybody any cannon fire locker room material. I remember Keith Lewis would always get me a little frustrated because he’d always say something.
What was the smartest game plan you ever coached against?
One year when I was the offensive coordinator we were playing UCLA at home in Autzen.