Fish Tutorial #5: Chip Kelly’s New Universal Formation

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Fish Reports

This is the first NEW Fish Tutorial about the Oregon Offense since last August!  We reviewed changes and interesting plays throughout the season with Fish Reports, and in the off-season we have had fun learning about some new components of the Oregon Offense in bite-size shorter videos The FishDuck Minutes.  However much of the important basic elements of the unique Oregon Spread Offense have yet to be covered in detail, and this is the first of many new Tutorials on both the offense and defense that will be released before the next football season.  Do offer comments after this article and in The FishBowl Forum!

This last football season marked a transition in backfield formations, thus a change in Chip’s attack philosophy as well.  It is well known that Chip liked to announce his intentions of plays in advance a high percentage of the time to capitalize on the defense’s over-reactions.  This opened up cutback lanes for RBs, and made passing off the Play-Actions that much easier.  We at have been the first to report the change of formations.

Josh Schlichter, a video analyst at, began to note the change in the first game and from there it became more evident that things were beginning to evolve in the Chip Kelly Spread Offense.  Let’s look first at where the offense began the year, and how it began to progress as we watch video from two game reports.

You’ll note how the Running Back is three yards away and directly to the side of the QB in our traditional Outside Zone Read Play.  (Above)  This is how we were positioned in the backfield for this play in the 2010 season and the seasons before.

This is the traditional Inside Zone Read backfield formation.  (Above)  Note the QB and RB are only a yard apart, but the RB is behind the QB, and not to the side like the Outside Zone Read.  It is pretty easy to tell them apart, for both the fans and the opposing defenses.

What you see above is a new Outside Zone Read backfield formation, with the gap between QB and RB being much more narrow.

Defenses are still able to discern the upcoming play and stop it as the Sun Devils (Above) did several times.

We appear to line up with the new narrower Outside Zone Read backfield formation near the goal line.

Arizona State over-pursues to the outside (above) and Oregon actually runs an Inside Zone Read off this formation, thus catches them without much in the center of their defense.  Oregon scores!

Against Colorado we line up in a “Mid-lin” kind of formation; a cross between an Outside and Inside Zone Read backfield formation.  While it could go either way, my guess is that it will be an Inside Zone Read play based upon how the RB is slightly behind the QB.  The Middle Linebacker of the Buffaloes senses this too as he is moving up to jam the inside gap that he believes the play is running to.

It looked like an Inside Zone Play coming to both us ,and the Colorado defense, but it goes outside instead with kick-steps by the Offensive line and the crack-back block by our Wide Receiver on their Outside Linebacker.  (Above)

Barner has been the beneficiary of some superb blocking and deception as the change in formation fooled the Buffaloes and contributes to another Oregon Touchdown!  (Above)  So the Sun Devils were fooled into thinking we were going outside when we went inside, and the Buffaloes were caught in the opposite dilemma!

So we could run either play out of either variation of the backfield formation, and the impression I get is the difference of placement being dependent upon the RB in the game.  Each RB has a slightly different spot to begin that accents his performance.  We will also still see traditional Inside Zone Read and Outside Zone Read backfield formations from time to time.

What do we call this?  I call it Oregon’s new Universal formation because we CAN run anything out of it!  (Above)

So what do you guess this play (Above) will be?  Inside or Outside Zone Read?  My guess is Outside Zone Read on formation…

It may have looked like an Outside Zone Read backfield formation by the “lean” of the RB, but it turned out to be an Inside Zone Read play that scored!

This one looks OZR, in the backfield formation—so is that what we’re going to get?

I did not see this coming; it clearly looked an Outside Zone Read play with the backfield formation, but we actually ran a POWER PLAY out of it!  Wow!

OK this formation SHOUTS Outside Zone Read…right?

Nope-Play Action Pass!  Note  (Above) that both TEs are releasing out into pass patterns….

Thomas finds Paulson behind the coverage for an easy Touchdown in the Civil War!

Is this really a monumental change?  In football terms?  No.  We played teams that ran a balanced formation out of the Pistol or “I” formation this year and even we played a little of that with a bit of the “Ace” formation.  But this is big for Chip Kelly as it signals a shift in his assault of the defense.  No longer are we depending upon our Offensive linemen getting leverage due to the over-reaction of the defense, but now it is based upon surprise; the defense doesn’t know where we are attacking.

Is it Inside Zone Read or Sweep Read?  Is it a Play-Action Pass?   That hesitation by the defense gives us a second to get our blocks set the same as when the defense over-reacted to our backfield formations.  For the Running Backs—they read the blocks and run to gaps as they did before.  For the Offensive linemen?  No change at all.  This was a seismic shift in philosophy that had minuscule changes to the actual participants.  No…the big impact was upon the preparation by the Defensive Coordinators of the Pac-12.  Who knows what Oregon is going to do next!

Oh how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks!

Charles Fischer   (FishDuck)
Oregon Football Analyst for CFF Network/
Eugene, Oregon

Top Photo from Video

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