It was interesting to hear player interviews after the game where they spoke of how much “fun” this game was for them. Yet I have raved to others at how the entertainment value of this last game ranks up among the best of Autzen experiences, and everyone has agreed as we had fun in so many ways. The drama of being so far behind, the thrill of the great plays, the opportunity to actually laugh in the game, and for your amateur analyst….the surprises we demonstrated on offense had me frothing to get back to the TiVo for Slow-Motion examination. Surprises in so many areas!
First—I was surprised at how slow Darron Thomas actually is; he could not have played Wide-Out in college, in fact I’d bet that our TEs would beat him in a foot race. It was evident in past games when he could not get outside to the corner, and in this game we saw the OLB get him a couple of times for small gains before he could turn up-field and down the sideline. It is a reason WHY he frequently cuts inside instead of outside when he pulls the ball on a QB keeper on the IZR (Inside Zone Read) as he knows he’s not going to beat the defender to the outside. Yet, that being said….he ran for over 100 yards and is more than adequate to keep the defenses honest. I also believe he missed a number of opportunities to run outside with the blocking formed from his WRs, but didn’t see it develop….at first. In the third quarter he got a 22 yard gain when he DID recognize the blocking and availability to the outside. He has been a rapid learner, and with his passing skills….we can obviously score over 50 without Masoli speed.
It poses some interesting decisions by DCs in the conference as it is obvious that LMJ is much more dangerous as a runner than Thomas…so you give the lane to DT to run? Darron twice put excellent open field moves on OLBs to get past them for big gains, so he has elusiveness, if not the speed many times. If you plug the middle to stop LaMichael….it leaves the defense vulnerable to the outside. If you have the player being Zone Read chase James instead of guarding the gap…then you run risks with Thomas making running yardage AND beating you with his arm. It will be interesting to see how other teams game-plan against us!
I was surprised at how stubborn both Harbaugh and Kelly could be with their respective game-plans. Stanford did NOT defend the three-WR formation (trips) correctly as they cheated players over to the box to stop LMJ. Usually they had one defender up close to the LOS, one defender deep on the sideline, and a third defender was quite deep and closer to the box. He was there for run-support in the middle and to help out with the WRs, and this created a laughable situation for our Bubble Screen. In his coaching clinic presentation—Chip spoke of how he looked for six defenders in the box. If the defense has this….then his five could block them hat-on-hat as the sixth defender is being Zone Read and rendered useless. In that numbers scenario and with our expertise at our style of run-blocking, our running yards go through the roof. If they put more than six in the box…then someone is open on the outside and we will exploit it. It is that simple! Cool.
I was surprised at how we ran the Bubble screen over-and-over for an eight yard average, sometimes doing the play one after another! Yet Harbaugh would not relent, as he kept seven and eight in the box. Finally at the quarter end (1st) their defense shifted players to stop the easy eight yards on the perimeter and that left six in the box. Next play? Inside Zone Read for a dozen yards as the blocking became easier. So it went throughout the game as Stanford stubbornly put seven and eight in the box…we threw the outside bubble screen for easy yardage and they would finally switch back to six in the box. In the second half….everyone was stating that Stanford was wearing down, hence the runs successfully up the middle. Baloney. Harbaugh waved the white flag to the outside by defending it and leaving the middle open with the usual six defenders in the box…which is our running bread-and-butter.
I am astonished at how well Darron has become a downfield passer. We did not/could not pass the bubble screen and subsequent counters deep for TDs in the past, and this is Coach Kelly adjusting to the strengths again of his QB. We actually had a counter play four levels deep! When teams load up to stop the Inside Zone Read…we throw to the Bubble Screens outside. When they come up hard to defend those outside pass plays…we blow past them deep for TDs as we saw these last two games. We added another variation as we faked the Bubble, faked looking deep, and then had a WR do a deep out as the defense went deeper. We missed the completion, but it shows us how many levels this offense is thought out in advance to counter what the defense does.
I’ve explained how our backfield formation will tip us and the defense off as to what and where the play might go? Well, we are seeing more variations to mess up these patterns. Usually when the RB is back and to the right of the QB…then it is the IZR formation. Yet on one play we see DT take the snap and simply run to the superb outside blocking of the trips formation to the left. The defense was steeling themselves for an inside play…and we’re on the corner before they realize it. We Love it! When a RB is to the side and right of the QB…that usually is an Outside Zone Read to the left as the RB sweeps past for the Zone Read of the DE in front of the QB. This time we saw the play go the opposite direction…to the right! DT took off to run a double-option and the RB is now the pitch man as we gained big yardage a couple of times, and a TD when Thomas did the excellent pitch/pump/fake and kept it for the score. He makes good decisions on the option plays, hence we are seeing a lot more double and triple options this year to fully utilize those talents. Oh yeah!
I had to laugh on the final touchdown; Harbaugh plugged NINE in the box as we had a double TE set, and he wanted to stop the obvious inside plays we’d run to burn the clock. So we run the Triple Option, and due to the success of it in the game….the Cardinal over-react to the outside, and blitz into what they think is the hole. Instead LMJ chooses a hole on the backside and as the LB moves to fill that gap, he switches in a millisecond to the hole on the other side of the lineman mound and the LB can’t get there in time. Safeties are finally guarding the outside perimeter for the two remaining options that can go outside, thus no inside help, and LaMichael is GONE. The more I understand of the Oregon Spread…the more I admire the logic and how well thought out it is, and I wonder about all that I’m about to learn? Holy Crap.
The final surprise at this game was the crowd. Yeah…it was LOUD and crazy at times. We were frustrated with how players faked injuries at Tennessee and Arizona State and when we suspected a Stanford player faking it? The boos were thunderous. I said aloud that I believe this is the first time I’ve ever heard the Autzen crowd boo an injured player…but we all knew the truth. When he came trotting in on the next play—the noise was amazing toward the officials and Stanford. You can’t fool this crowd…not even once! Fake an injury and the Autzen crowd is all over it! The students were a kick to watch with their hand motions to pushups and to music from the band and Jumbo-Tron. They were having great fun and making the whole game experience that much more enjoyable for us.
I shouldn’t be surprised.
We love our Ducks.