That Oregon State game had me shaking my head as Chip was messing with the Beavers, my diagnostic skills, and perhaps even the Tigers of Auburn. He threw a bunch of new strategies and formations at us in this last game of the year that had me marveling at the offensive potential, concerned about how crazy they are, (and how they could backfire) and yet they also had me pondering the actual intent of pushing the new chess pieces on the board. If you are a Tiger reading a report of mine for the first time and you want a quick summary—this is not the place. If you are a football aficionado who wants to study and learn the sport as I do—then get a hot cup of Java or pour a tall cold one while you drink in some fine points of the Oregon Spread Offense. For both sets of fans–please take the trash-talking and blustering to another thread; if you wish to trade ideas about the Auburn and Oregon Spread Offense—then this is the place. When you go on the Spread Offense Websites out there it becomes obvious that there are four major Gurus that most look up to: Rich Rodriquez, Urban Meyer, Gus Malzahn, (Offensive Coordinator for Auburn) and Chip Kelly. This National Championship game will feature two of them!
At the beginning of the game we see Chip violate the basic premise of the Zone Read and do the opposite of the Zone Read objective. We know that when the RB is on the right side of the QB we will be running an Outside Zone Read (OZR) to the left. The RB runs right-to-left in front of the QB as the QB Zone Reads the backside DE or DT, which would be the DE on the right side of the offense, since we’re running the OZR to the left. By not blocking this DE—we enable the entire offensive line to shift their blocking responsibilities over to the left side by one man, and they do that with a massive “kick-step” to the left. If the DE chases the RB, then the QB pulls the ball and runs through the vacated gap. If the DE stays in his gap, (which is usually what happens) then the QB hands off and the OZR goes leftward with the RB targeting getting outside on the corner, but picking any hole that develops before then and “cutting up” hard into it. Hence the play can run down the sideline or go through the center of the field dependent upon how the blocking evolves on that particular play.
Not this time!
At 13:18 in the first quarter we see an OZR to the left and Darron Thomas is Zone Reading the PLAYSIDE Defensive End! In other words—the DE on the left who is watching the OZR come by him is being read! He is clearly confused and doesn’t know what to do and stays put in his gap as LMJ (RB=Running Back, and LMJ is LaMichael James) zips by. It doesn’t make any sense as the Offensive linemen do their kick-step to the RIGHT, which is away from the play! By Zone Reading the playside DE we effectively pick up an extra blocker on the right side of the play, which is away from where we are running! Holy Crap this makes no sense! The good news is that it gave the blockers better angles to block down on OSU’s superb DT, Stephen Paea, and the other defenders were blocked on the play. But why would Chip begin to do this?
Throughout the first half we are continuing to Zone Read the playside DE or DT and it puzzles Oregon State and yours truly as I try to determine the intent behind this new strategy. In my opinion—Zone Reading the playside DE is effectively the old option play where you option two or three choices on the same side of the LOS (Line of Scrimmage) and it exposes your QB to getting blasted on each play. We also negate the extra blocker advantage created by Zone Reading a player and thus not blocking him. Zone Reading the backside defender allows us to pick up an extra blocker on the playside, while doing on the opposite gives us an extra blocker on the backside where the play is NOT designed to run. Why would we do that?
At 4:20 in the 1st we see another OZR left, with Zone Reading on the weird playside again, with the blocking “kick-step” going to the right. Note how if Thomas pulled the ball and ran right—he had great blocking and could have gone a long way before being tackled. In fact this materialized several times through the game and we did nothing with it; DT handed it off every time. Why would we create an extra blocker where we aren’t going to run? Why would we expose the QB and the RB to potentially a vicious hit behind the LOS with this strategy? Wow.
We saw Chip defeat the “Man-Free” Cal strategy when we played Arizona by simply changing our blocking assignments. Instead of a “kick-step” on the OZRs, we pulled both guards, or pulled the guard/tackle combo on the playside and had wonderful seal blocks done to the inside by our TEs and center. I saw this pulling happening again in the OSU game with some success, but the Beavers were ready for it and attacked it hard when they saw it emerging. In fact I presume they used it as a “key” that we were for certain running an OZR when they saw the pulling begin. They used this indicator to stuff a lot of tackles-for-losses against us and it comes back to familiarity and practice. If you know its coming you can prepare for it as the Beavers did.
So Chip pulled a new tool out of the tool box—again.
Look at the OZR at 4:34 in the 2nd Qtr and watch Paulson and Huff on the outside; they are DOUBLE-TEAMING the OLB! They are influence blocking just like the offensive linemen do only on the outside. As the OZR comes around the corner towards them—they make sure the defender at the corner is overwhelmed by their block. Then once Huff saw that Paulson had the angle and position on the defender, he then peeled off and nails the Free Safety coming up to make the tackle! The result is a big gain. Double-teaming by WR/TEs on the outside? Where did this come from?
Watch it again at 13:31 in the 3rd as you see Paulson and Huff team up again on the other side of the field. I am positively thrilled as an old offensive lineman to watch Huff help Paulson get the OLB under control, and peel off to block another defender coming from the backside, and then shield Barner from yet another tackler to create a 13 yard gain nearly himself. You can only practice and prepare for what you know is coming, and the Oregon State defenders had no idea this blocking scheme was being implemented for the first time in this game. It worked extremely well in creating an outside lane to run by attacking/blocking the key point of the defense on that play. What coach does that in the last game of the year? Why would he do it now? (And yeah baby, it was GREAT to see!)
I notice a few things when I watch the game on TV live, but the emotions cloud me from real analysis. After a few days pass can I then watch the game and see so many more changes and adjustments from prior games. When watching this game for the second time—I was truly dazed and confused by this point. Stunned at what I was seeing and trying to process the reasoning behind what I was seeing!
But Chip wasn’t done messing with us.
Late in the first quarter, (49 seconds left in the 1st) we see an odd formation that I’ve seen only a time or two. We line up with players behind our guards on offense, almost like a punt formation. From there we had them go in flow to the left while Barner slipped out to the right for the throw-back pass TD. We had run throw-backs with the WRs (Wide Receivers) before in our usual formations and we had used this formation on occasion before as well, but I forget what we did out of it. The potential for running and passing out of it is enormous because the formation is balanced which means that the defense can’t load up on one side. It also means that we COULD use all three backs/H-backs/WRs in the backfield to flood a zone or pave the way for a big running play to one side. An interesting formation that shouts opportunity, and thus far delivered!
I could NOT believe my eyes early in the game as we came out in what I call the “Tailback-Twin” formation. We had Huff directly behind the QB, which means a “Pistol” look and the ability to run plays either direction. (Usually with our Inside and Outside Zone Reads—wherever the RB is—the play is going to the opposite side. It is an indicator for the defense, but this Pistol takes away this key for the defense) On the sidelines flanked out were WRs on both sides, and both our Tailbacks out there and just inside of them! LMJ was on the left sideline, and Barner was on the right sideline. At the snap—both turned to the QB as if to receive a Bubble pass with the WR blocking for them. In these two plays we used the formation to spread the defenders out and then with six defenders in the box we could block hat-on-hat in open space and easily for the first down. Huff fumbled the ball on the second time, but that was due to him slipping, not from the Zone Read mesh-handoff.
That formation SHOUTS offensive potential! If we had passed the bubble pass on either side we would have had at least ten yards a play. On the second play we see Oregon State only put one DB out there for both players! Throw it and with the one block we score! At minimum with two defenders we would have a lightning quick RB in open space with only a cornerback between him and the End Zone. It would make one pucker up as a Defensive Coordinator just thinking about it. (And I’m not talking about his lips) If the Free Safety is spying the QB on Zone Reads, (and that happens often) then the FS would be closer to the LOS and pass plays across the middle would be uncontested. There would be no deep help to the outside either; it would be a passing paradise. Yet with the defense so spread out we would see Zone Read running plays go for big yardage as once the RB clears the hole—as there are few defenders nearby and available. Good grief that formation makes me drool as I contemplate the possibilities, and we only ran it twice? No passes of it? No variations? Why?
Most of us assume that the reason that Darron Thomas did not run the ball was due to preventing injury during an emotional rivalry game. But what if Chip was sending a message to our Tiger friends in Alabama? During huge scoring games against UCLA and USC we achieved 600 yards total offense in both games, yet our QB only ran for an average of 45 yards in each game. Our offense can hum along with simply the threat of the QB running, but what if—Chip is trying to show Auburn that if you spy our QB, (as Cal, Arizona, and OSU did at times) then you render that defensive player worthless as our QB just hands off away from him? By pulling a LB or FS close to the LOS—you open up passing lanes and matchups that Thomas can exploit through the air? Was this a warning shot across the bow?
Oregon is a handful to prepare for as it is, and yet I wonder if all these unusual permutations were done for our Tiger friends. It was evident that the Oregon State back-seven were much slower than the typical Beaver defense. Did Coach Kelly purposely Zone Read the playside DE for Auburn’s preparation workload knowing that he could beat the Beaver defense to the outside with one blocker tied behind his back? (Which is what he did; we had good blocking AWAY from the play!) Was Chip threatening to run the QB to the right in the NC with the playside Zone Read? Does he intend to pursue the potential of the “Tailback –Twin” formation with all the variations, or was that presented to make Auburn prepare for all explosions that can happen from that formation? Or is Chip simply going to put those strategies back in the tool box, and pull out something else that we haven’t seen for the National Championship Game?
This is fascinating stuff my feathered friends.
We love our Ducks.
I wish to have an Auburn Analysis available after New Years, but I need your help. I only have the SEC championship game recorded, and I need the other Auburn games. Anyone have them on DVD that I could have? I hope to provide entertainment value in excess of the cost of postage….. THANKS!