Year one of the Dan Lanning era is officially over, and what a year it was. The Ducks might have had some disappointments along the way, but Lanning truly shined as a first-year head coach, and at just 36 years old, the future in Eugene is bright as ever.
The Ducks capped off a 10-win season with a win over North Carolina in a thrilling Holiday Bowl where Bo Nix was a star once again, and the Ducks didn’t flinch in the big spots. Oregon is clearly in good hands moving forward.
Just a year ago, Mario Cristobal jumped ship and went to Miami. Of course, Oregon is a destination program for many coaches. However, it was still concerning that Cristobal was out after recruiting exceptionally well and putting Oregon at the top of the Pac-12.
However, it can be argued that Lanning took the ball and ran with it. When he was hired, athletic director Rob Mullens said this of the then-Georgia defensive coordinator:
“Dan is an outstanding, high-energy football coach who will provide a world-class experience for our football student-athletes,” Mullens said. “He is a tremendous recruiter and developer of talent, and we will continue to compete for championships while providing an environment where our football student-athletes can develop to their fullest potential in the classroom, on the football field, and as people.”
So far, that has stuck. Let’s give Lanning a grade from his inaugural season and break down what he did well and what might need some improvement heading into year two.
Coaching Staff: A
It’s usually a good sign when you have coaches off your staff being hired after just one year at the helm. Kenny Dillingham is now the youngest head coach at the D1 level in college football. His offense was explosive, and Lanning knocked this hire out of the park.
Not only did he land a great offensive mind when he hired Dillingham, but he also made it easy for Bo Nix to feel welcomed as he and Kenny D worked together at Auburn years ago. When you recruit coaches with great backgrounds and who have worked with talented guys, it’s clear you are doing something right.
Matt Powledge was the co-defensive coordinator with the Ducks this past season and was hired away by Baylor to lead their defense. While that unit didn’t perform as well as the Ducks would have liked, Powledge is still a great young mind.
Owning the Transfer Portal: A+
What Lanning has done this far in the transfer portal has been so impressive. Getting Nix to Eugene wasn’t necessarily welcomed with open arms in the beginning, but boy, did it work out. Nix led the Ducks with 3,594 passing yards, 14th best in the nation. He threw for 29 touchdowns and added another 14 scores on the ground. The offense ran through Nix, and it ran well. Oregon had the 5th best offense in the nation.
On top of Nix, Lanning grabbed a handful of other players in year one who made immediate impacts for the Ducks. Chase Cota reeled in three touchdown passes and went for nearly 500 yards as a reliable receiver. Noah Whittington was a huge bonus in the backfield, rushing for five scores and rushing for 779 yards. Christian Gonzalez was a ballhawk in the secondary and racked up four interceptions. He just declared for the NFL Draft.
“I think it’s changed the game in a lot of ways,” Lanning said. “Not just for us at Oregon, but in college football. You can see that there’s less high school players being recruited at times. That can be an advantage for us, because we’re going to be aggressive in recruiting high school players. Teams can change their rosters quickly. It’s a little bit of a balancing act. I don’t know if we’ll completely know the entire impact until we sit here four years from now and do an analysis of what it’s looked like. For us, I’m not gonna have a hard stance one way or the other until we know how it impacts and benefits us.”
This time around, he already made one of the biggest flips in college football by getting Austin Novosad from Baylor. He’s a four-star quarterback recruit who could be next in line once Nix leaves the program.
The Ducks ranked 71st in total yards allowed this year on defense. They allowed over 27 points per game to their opponents, which ranked 76th in the NCAA. If the Ducks want to continue moving forward and compete for Pac-12 titles, they will have to shore this up and get inside the top 50, at least. Lanning was hired because he led one of the great defenses of the last 20 years when he was at Georgia. It wasn’t likely that this would mean in year one that the Ducks would only give up a few points, but you hope that year two will bring along progress.
You couldn’t have asked for much more from Lanning in year one. He nearly got the Ducks to the Championship Game, and while there were some disappointments, there was plenty of good to reflect on and a lot to be proud of. Given his age and the way he recruits, brighter days are ahead for Oregon.