The Fish Report: Chip the Chessmaster
I would NOT want to play Chip in Chess, as he thinks so many moves in advance, and if you think you have a counter—he will change it all on you. We were wondering if the Cal Scheme was the solution to slowing/stopping the Oregon Offense, and the verdict is still unknown! Arizona does not play a pure 3-4 defense, and we did not run the same attack as we did in Berkeley. If Chip does not like game-flow on the chessboard, then he will replace the pieces or simply change the rules on his opponent. This Arizona game for me has already attained a unique status in understanding the game-planning of a superior coach, and gives us a glimpse into his thought process for defeating his opponent.
Cal packed the box with seven or eight, had man-to-man coverage on our Wide Receivers, and a Spy on our QB. Conventional wisdom states that you beat it with the passing game to pull the defense out of that scheme which is what I and many national pundits proposed. A compelling alternative argument was suggested by another poster who I’ll call “Jimmy,” which called for the Power-Running game of the USC game of ’09 to blast the extra DBs with our Offensive Linemen and Tight Ends to churn a huge ground attack. Both strategies make sense, and to a degree, both were used on Friday for good yardage, but they were not what won the game.
Our assumptions, (Jimmy and mine) were based upon us continuing and operating as before; it is a reasonable assumption that we would continue to “do what we do” on offense. But Arizona runs a rigid 4-3 defense, (like every play) and they ran a defense which was a variation to counter both strategies that Jimmy and I proposed. They usually had man-on-man coverage on the WRs, and they stacked the box with seven, eight, and even a ninth hanging out within striking range on some plays. Coach Stoops felt he could stuff the running game and the results with the Inside Zone Read and Power Play were not impressive when we had more defenders than blockers. I charted the offensive plays and found in the first half alone the poor results of the Inside Zone Read to be 2 yards, 1 yard, 1 yard, 3 yards, 3 yards, etc. For the Power Play the yardage wasn’t much better with zero, 3 yards, 4 yards, -5 yards, 2 yards, -4 yards, etc. The Power/Inside running game was not going to do it, and our WRs are better at getting open when we use a Play-Action pass versus a standard pocket pass play.
So Chip changed the rules of the game.
Coach Stoops must have been salivating when he saw us line up in a DOUBLE Tight-End front. His characteristic smirk must have surfaced as he knew that his stacked box will stuff our inside power running game, and with his athletic DEs and OLBs—he’ll stop any outside runs as did Cal. Our Coach decided to change the rules by using a strategy that pits the high numbers of defenders against themselves by CHANGING THE BLOCKING SCHEME to seal those defenders and the backside pursuit INSIDE the box.
Chip doesn’t like what’s evolving on the chessboard? He’ll change the pieces. We haven’t seen the Counter or Draw play yet this year, and the reverse only once as they are back in the toy-box. The Bubble Screen and the Fly-Sweep series have also gone back into the toy-box as Chip pulled out a new toy, a new piece, which was a strategy from two years ago. Go back to the Civil War of ’08 and see Offensive Linemen PULLING outside and obliterating Beavers in their wake. Go to the 13:27 mark of the first quarter of this last game and watch Bo Thran and Mark Asper pull on an Outside Zone Read play to the right. It is easy to string out a stretch play by defenders, hence the sealing blocks inside are crucial. We see Holmes step out to his right quickly to engage the DT on that side, and we see Brandon Williams block down (to the left) on the DE as the right guard and tackle pull and go outside of the TE and turn the corner. They block the LB and safety coming up, and the backside pursuit is caught up in the wash of bodies preventing them from getting outside. LaMicheal zips for 44 yards as the mass of the defenders in the box are effectively pinned inside by the change in blocking assignments, and the superb execution. The Outside Zone Read suddenly became highly effective in this game with this change in attack.
Another chesspiece that Chip pulled out this year was the triple option, and while it produced huge gains on the backside Inside Zone Read option of it in prior games, (such as the final TD against Stanford) it was the outside elements that went for big yardage Friday. At 13:45 in the 3rd quarter we see how the play starts with EIGHT defenders in the box, with FIVE on the side we’ll eventually run to. In the pre-snap motions, we see LMJ come into the backfield and settle on the left side of Thomas. This signals to the defense that we are (at minimum) running an Inside Zone Read to our right side, (which IS one of the options) and at the snap you see the ILBs flow inside and to our right. All it takes is one mistake—two defenders taking the QB and thinking that they’re getting help from the corner, for the “Blur” offense to score. Downfield we have legendary blocks by Davis and Maehl which sends Huff 85 yards to the end zone. The other Touchdown from the Triple Option (the QB keeper) also featured the mistake of the DE, and tremendous WR blocks downfield while again beating the vast number of defenders in the box to the outside.
So let me get this right; Coach Stoops was thinking a move in advance by anticipating a Power Running game from Oregon which we would employ to counter the Cal Scheme. So he loaded the box to stop it, and Oregon then changed our blocking schemes to pin the defenders INSIDE on our plays which attack their flank? Chip employed a Counter-to-the-Counter? Two moves ahead? Holy Crap.
Coach Kelly then tortures the Wildcats with excessive repetition of the Outside Zone Read play. Go to 7:35 in the 3rd quarter and watch how Oregon runs SIX outside plays in a row of which FIVE of them are Outside Zone Reads to the right. We line up in the OZR formation which signals it’s going to the right—and then we do it over-and-over. We are picking up marginal yardage as we pull and meet the LBs/DBs at the LOS until the last play in that sequence, when we CHANGE OUR BLOCKING SCHEME AGAIN! We switch from pulling our blockers, to back to the usual kick-step to the right for our Offensive Line. Now the Arizona defense over pursues to outside right, and now we see Barner stopping and cutting upfield in a hole developed by the overzealous Wildcats and a blocking scheme that now seals the defenders to the OUTSIDE. As Kenjon reaches the LOS, try to freeze the frame and note how we have perfect hat-on-hat blocking by SEVEN blockers! It is truly a thing of beauty for an old Offensive Lineman like myself. We love it!
So you can succeed with the same play by changing up the blocking scheme? Yeah baby!
Chip doesn’t play fair. He changes the rules, pulls new pieces out of the toy-box, and thinks a couple of moves ahead. It makes you want to throw your arms up in the air trying to figure out what he’ll do next—which is what Defensive Coordinators are probably doing! Whoa Doggies, I’m glad he’s on our side! I cannot imagine the entertainment of this football team in the years to come—-
We love our Ducks.
P.S. Note also the change in blocking on the Power Play; the best example is the final play where instead of pulling a guard we cross-block the LOT and TE. Interesting!