Aren’t you glad we changed our defense?
I know that I’m thankful, as otherwise we would have lost that game! We had a ton of strategies from Erickson and Aliotti and lets use this game as an example of some of the new tactics we’re employing and how to appreciate the wisdom and entertainment of what we’re seeing on the field. We ran the 3-4 Defense or Specialty Defenses such as the “3-Duck-Chuck” (three DL coming hard) the majority of the time, with an absolute TON of blitzing from all angles. I don’t have the breakdown of defenses because I wasn’t charting 99 plays, but the low percentage of plays in the old 4-3 was evident. We ran more of these new defenses this game because we needed to put pressure on Threet, and Zone Blitzing him from all angles ultimately did the trick.
Something to look for in Slow-Motion later is the Two-Gap Attack by our Defensive Linemen. Gageac pointed it out early in the game as we watched it live, but when you watch it slowly later, you can understand better the intent. In the Two-Gap responsibility, you see Defensive Linemen charge into the Offensive Linemen as opposed to shooting into a gap. You will see them get lower than the OL, and drive them backward as they “read-and-react” to the play. They hold off the OL blocks while guarding one gap, and the LBs behind them guarding the other gaps. Inside the five yard line we saw us line up in a 3-4 defense, and our three interior DL explode upward and into the O-Line of ASU wonderfully as they looked for the play. The NT was blocked by a double team, and our DT was blocked by the Offensive Tackle, thus a nice hole was generated in between that Spencer Paysinger used to shoot through and tackle the RB for no gain. Mixing it up with a Two-Gap works and sets up our LBs nicely!
It was great to see the RS Freshman Taylor Hart carry out the Two-Gap like a veteran as he was lined up as our RDE and was slanting slightly inside, which attracted a double-team from the Offensive Line. He actually moved the mound containing the three of them, and then as the RB approached and was beginning to move to bounce outside….Hart broke through the Double-Team and made the TFL on one of the few times we ran a 4-3! Great strength and technique for a newbie….as he looks like the next Brandon Bair! Oh yeah.
A defensive line strategy to get acquainted with is the “Stunt” as our D-Line is becoming quite good at it. An example is early in the game as Brandon Bair slants hard inside into the Offensive Guard and occupies him from blocking Zac Clark. The way Bair does it is pretty strong and would be tough to handle from the outside angle, but it also momentarily confuses the OT on that side as he sees the man lined up in front of him blur to his right. He takes a step that direction and begins to move his momentum inside. Meanwhile Zac Clark jumps backward from his Nose Tackle spot and loops to his right; due to the OT leaning inside….he can’t stop Zac from getting to his outside. As it turns out…the running play was right to that hole and Clark met the RB in the hole for no gain! Stunting can really mess up a running play and put the offense into 2nd and 3rd and long situations. Cool.
A similar stunt is what generated the fumble and stopped ASU from scoring when they were inside the Red Zone on us early in the game. Zac was on the center’s right shoulder and at the snap we see Brandon get a jump on the ball and BOOM…explodes into the LOG of the offense. The OT and TE on that side see the man they’re supposed to block slant inside, so they go out to block the LB. Looping inside behind them is Zac Clark again who now has a clear lane inside to the RB. It happens so fast and the RB was still in the backfield, had just taken the handoff, and was not expecting contact within a fraction of a second of getting the ball. Clark made the hit-and-strip, caused the fumble, and a stunt stopped the drive with superb execution. These guys got it down in micro-seconds, and they do it so fast that it’s very hard to see in real-time. We’ve done stunts before, but it seems that the unique chemistry and timing by the current DL has become extraordinary. We love it!
Everybody knows that the “pick-six” by Boyett was created by the pressure of Kenny Rowe…but it’s interesting to look further into that play. The offensive tackle on that side had NO help from the RB blocking because he was on the other side to stem the Blitz from Casey Matthews, and Rover, Eddie Pleasant. It makes sense that with those rushers and Turner on the other side, that they had to put numbers over there to stop the overload and protect the QB. So the blitz actually helps to feature, to isolate Kenny on the OT on an island where Rowe could use his speed. Note also the odd way they lined up; when the play began I noted how weird it seemed with Rowe flanked all the way outside…and I thought that perhaps he would pop up and go back and go into pass coverage. Nope. That extreme outside angle made it almost impossible for the OT to block Kenny with no help. You gotta have great talent to make plays, but the Xs and Os can help set up your talent to make the plays easier. That blitz, that alignment, all contributed to the Touchdown by the defense. Good stuff!
After looking at game replays of this new defense of the last 16 games…I see patterns emerging. You heard often from fans and commentators that “we didn’t put pressure on Barkeley/Canfield until the second half.” Wrong. Go back and look and you will see the same blitzes and stunts taking place in the first halves of those games. It simply took a while for the Offensive Line to wear down physically and mentally, and for the QB to get gun-shy of taking more big shots as he’s throwing the ball. Whether it is Riley, Barkeley, Canfield, Simms, or now Threet….you see their mistakes and the sacks pile up in the second half and it comes from a continuous and diligent strategy based upon new percentages for us to get accustomed to.
Many of us disliked the previous “bend-but-don’t-break” defensive strategy which kept our defense on the field an extra quarter per game, but we didn’t like seeing ASU torch us for 600 yards either with our “new” hybrid defense. Like you,…I have to get used to this, as this is the new strategy; we put pressure on the QB, and eventually we generate enough stops or turnovers to win the game, and it worked again on Saturday with the seven turnovers.
Do these strategies work every time? No. There are times we ran stunts and the looping NT was caught inside which created a larger hole for the RB to go 8-10 yards. Other times we guessed wrong and would stunt or blitz to the wrong side, and then it creates a bigger area to run or throw the ball to. This is an ongoing, continuous, disciplined strategy that works the higher percentage of the time to create turnovers or punts. You have to keep doing it, just as we saw with the QBs wearing down in previous games. The ironic part of it all was…..it turned out to be a “bend-but-don’t-break” defense as we gave up a ton of yards, but made the plays to win the game! Wow.
I know that many are asking, “what about the middle being wide open on passes?” Folks….welcome to the world of Pac-10 Defenses trying to stop Oregon’s Spread Offense! You can’t stop everything on the Spread, which is why we have such great success with it! Go back and you’ll see that defenders were reacting and there on the plays, but great passes, patterns and execution WILL WORK on any defense. There is NO DOUBT in my mind that if we had stayed back in the old defense…had we NOT pressured Threet…then he would have put FIFTY points on us and torn us to bits. What we did against a good offensive team was our BEST chance at victory. Can we get better? The DTs that we have and I love are only 270 lbs; does Florida or Ohio State have light DTs? We’re working on it, and the sizes are getting bigger, but in the meantime we have warriors who put it all on the line, and are getting results for us. We love these guys unconditionally like my wife loves this Fat-Boy…warts and all.
We knew that this defense was more aggressive and would create turnovers and help us win; it is doing precisely that. It is also darned fun to watch and is great entertainment. It is exactly what we needed to complement our aggressive offense. On the next big challenge!
Geez…we really LOVE OUR DUCKS!