The Fish Report: Oregon’s New Triple Tailback Threat Formation (New Video!)

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Fish Reports

If I told you that Chip ran a new formation last year that nobody wrote about or even noticed and it put THREE Tailbacks on the field at the same time—would you believe it?  Hard to think of something that bizarre, yet he wants to put the best talent, especially the speed guys in space as much as possible.  Right?  So when I saw it, I scratched my head with a “huh” and then began to smile thinking about the implications of what can be achieved with this new formation.  It’s really quite clever and I could have stayed up all night and not thought of it!

It follows with Chip’s overall strategy of trying something lightly in a game before fully releasing it as an overall attack strategy in the next game.  There is precedence to this operational strategy of his as we saw last fall during the Civil War game Triple Options and Zone Reads done on the PLAYSIDE for the first time in all of my years of observing the Chip Kelly Spread Offense.  We then saw that playside Zone Reading attack strategy more fully developed during the National Championship Game in the “Slash” Formations/plays.  (See the Slash Formation Fish Report)

If his MO continues, it suggests that we will see this new formation with some exciting variations off of it.  It quite possibly is the most potentially explosive formation yet that can exploit the combination of the Zone Read with the speed and talent we have assembled at Tailback.  Truly, I am giddy as I write this……

(Click the picture to make larger. To return, click on the “X” in the bottom right corner or click outside the picture)

We come up to the LOS with a second down and three, which is a superb time to try something new in the 2010 Civil War Game.  (Picture #1 above with11:17 left in the 1st Qtr)  Now we have a ton of “Spread” formations, but none spread the field as much as this one does.  We see a Wide Receiver out on nearly the left sideline up at the LOS.  Behind him is LaMichael James?  So we have two out wide left, and then at the right sideline we have another Wide-Out up on the LOS, and behind him is Barner!

Whaaat?  I look into the backfield to see Huff at Tailback, but only a yard and half behind the QB, but not in the usual alignment for an Inside Zone Read.  No—he is right behind the QB, ala Pistol Style.  I was comfortable with Huff in there briefly since he has a RB type of frame and WR speed.  It was a good choice to fill in at TB once in awhile, as he had done a superb job within the Triple Option in the past.

This leaves only five Offensive linemen at the LOS and it forces the defense to make some tough decisions about how they wish to line up.  Note also that our formation is completely balanced, like you could have in the old Traditional “I” offense, or with the new-fangled Pistol Offense that we will face against Nevada and UCLA this year.  So how do you line up on defense when there is no strong-side and our formation is so expanded out?  The Beavers went with the percentages in a standard 4-3 around the LOS.  (See picture #2 above with orange dotted line)  This meant they had pass coverage from a distance and you see the safeties a ways from the WR/TB groups.

The Free Safety (Orange circle above) had a difficult assignment in being responsible for perimeter help on the WRs, yet he had to lend run-defense support.  They HAD to do this as you do not let one of the nation’s top rushing teams have a hat-on-a-hat blocking advantage on you.  That scenario gives up six yards a carry to the Ducks, which would turn to bigger plays as the OSU defense would wear down.  It wouldn’t be long before a 300 yard rushing day buries them, hence it makes sense for the Beavers to stop the rushing attack first and force us to PROVE that we can take advantage of the passing matchups on the flanks. 

At the snap (Picture #3 above) we see Thomas turn to his right and a step back so Huff only has to take a small step to the right to begin the mesh.  Darron is Zone Reading the OLB on the right and since he staying home—that means that Thomas hands it off.  This is operating just like an Inside Zone Read to the left: since we have five blockers and leave one to be Zone Read—that means one LB is free to make the tackle. (OSU had seven in the box)

Huff uses his speed to beat the LB to the hole, and makes the first down and a little more as he was being tackled.  Now the next play we ran it again and Huff slipped and fumbled, but that does not negate the potential of this explosive formation.  What a great way to spread out the defense and then run more easily for chunks of yardage!  I picture Tra Carson cleaning up with this alignment in the future as he would have more room to get a head of steam to power for first downs. 

What surprised me the most was what was happening on the perimeter of our play.  (Go back and look at Picture #3)  I assumed that the four WR/TBs would take off downfield into pass patterns to tie up the secondary defenders which would be handy when the TB with the ball breaks some tackles in the middle of the field and gets some open space for a moment.  I about choked on my drink as I watched BOTH Tailbacks turn to the QB at the snap of the ball!  (Look at the yellow arrows!)  They were ready to catch the ball right there and follow their WR blocking for them.

I noted that we didn’t have any of the smaller/faster profile WRs in the game in that play.  They were strong, stout downfield blockers in DJ Davis and Justin Hoffman.  What if Darron had thrown the ball to one of the Tailbacks?  You would have had the ball with either LaMichael James or Kenyon Barner and only one man to beat in the open field with the speed they have and their moves?  Holy Crap.

That kind of formation is tailor-made for an offense that has an abundance of fast Tailbacks and Tazers—like Oregon.  This year I see the Tailback behind Darron as being LaMichael on this play because that would ABSOLUTELY force the defense to line up the way Oregon State did to prevent one of the premier running backs in the nation from busting free into the open with the ball.  Now the fun begins; who do you flank out at the Tailback spots?  Huff?  Barner?  Seastrunk? DAT?  (De’Anthony Thomas)

Geez—you would have more speed on the edges than Oregon has EVER had and few college teams have faced.  What an utter nightmare for a defense!  A pack of Tums is going to be standard fare for Defensive Coordinators facing this formation this year.  It begs so many questions—what spinoff plays would you like to see from this?  Did Chip recruit to this formation, or did he devise it knowing what was coming to Oregon?

We did not see this formation in the National Championship game, but I expect we will this year with the ideal talent assembled for such an attack.  Spread ’em and shred ’em!

“Oh how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks!

Charles Fischer    (FishDuck)
Oregon Football Analyst for
Eugene, Oregon

Top Photo from Video

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