It would be easy to attribute this victory over Oregon State to the Beavers NOT having the same defensive personnel as Stanford, yet the fact is few teams in the nation have the talent on defense of the Cardinal. Oregon State emerged into a fine defensive team this year, thus it warrants a look at the tactics between the two Civil War combatants to see how the “Cat-&-Mouse Game” (that Coach Helfrich referred to in his after game remarks) played out. It is fun learning some new concepts while taking a stab at a guess of how a particularly important play materialized from the perspective of both teams.
Early in the Civil War (above), we see an Unbalanced line with the WR and TE both on the LOS, (Green arrows) thus making the TE a blocker only. The Ducks wanted to run to this strong side against Stanford and had trouble, as we at Fishduck explained last week. When trying to run to the weak side we see that our right offensive tackle has a tough block trying to “reach” and get outside leverage (The yellow line, above). The “Grizzled Ole’ Coach”, Mike Morris, has spent a ton of time explaining these blocking angles to me, which I have shared with you this past year.
This screenshot above illustrates that sometimes the only way to stop a defender is to grab him a little, and we do get called for holding on this play. I’m not picking on Jake Fisher, since he makes so many great blocks for us; but wish to show the difficulty of trying to make that reach block when the DE or OLB is lined up on the outside of the offensive lineman.
This time we line up (above) with three receivers at the top or “Trips”, with three Beaver defenders there (Orange Circle) to stop the different pass patterns and Bubble passes. Note also that the Tight End, (TE) is on our left side (Green Circle) with the OSU DE positioned to the inside shoulder of Colt Lyerla. (#15) Coach Denny Schuler explained how against a 4-3 defense we are situated better to run outside, with the DE placed in a spot where our DE can block down or inside, which is much easier than the “reach” block that Jake was stuck with.
It’s a SWEEP READ play! (above) Mariota is Zone Reading the Defensive Tackle of Oregon State, (Light blue circle) and Lyerla is beginning one of his legendary seal blocks bulldozing the Beaver DE to the inside (Green arrow). As Grasu and Long are pulling, the Beaver corner is momentarily waiting for them. Coach Schuler explained that the “Force Defender” is the one assigned to NOT let the play get outside, and FORCE the play inside. Denny pointed out that the OSU defenders were not coming up as quick as Stanford, as the Cardinal was superb at recognizing outside plays and came up rapidly to stop it. “As soon as the corner sees the TE block down—he has run support and is the Force Defender,” is how Coach Schuler outlined defensive responsibilities.
In many respects I can’t fault the Oregon State corner, as seeing a 6’7″ Kyle Long looming toward me to take my head off would certainly make me pause. (Wrong…I would fall down!)
This screenshot (above) HAS to make Offensive Line Coach Steve Greatwood smile; all of them have terrific blocks on everyone but the Defensive Tackle being Zone read. Jake Fisher is knocking his LB out (Yellow Circle) while Clanton stops his man cold (Green Circle), and Johnstone has his defender on the ground (Green arrow), with Lyerla putting the finishing drive on his defender (Yellow arrow). The yellow lines show blocks in progress by Long and Grasu; what a beautiful sight for an old offensive lineman like myself! Coach Schuler and I agreed that we were surprised at how well our Offensive line blocked this very good Beaver defense.
Barner has turned the corner, (above) and is headed upfield for a big gain! Getting outside early in the game was a key component in our victory, and it was made possible by the OSU alignment, tremendous blocking, and a second of hesitation by the force defenders of Oregon State, which helped us set our blocks. Coach Mike Morris explained how we didn’t like to run the Sweep Read against an “Odd” defensive alignment that you would see from a 3-4 defensive set. (And guess what Stanford is?) I am grateful to have coaches schooling me on what to look for!
What about the “Cat-&-Mouse Game?” This next section is NOT something agreed upon by the coaches, and is pure speculation on my part. It comes from my knowledge of the Oregon Spread Offense and while I am not an expert or coach — I do have more experience observing the plays of the Ducks than most. See if this is plausible to you….
It’s fourth and two for Oregon and notice that our RB (Green Arrow, above) is to the right of our QB. The Oregon State OLB is on the LOS (Orange Circle) and the Beavers have twin deep safeties (Double orange arrow).
As soon as our RB begins to shift to the left side of the QB (Yellow Circle, above), we see Oregon State begin to rotate or shift their defense to our left (Moving to their right and orange dotted arrows). Why would they do this? I believe they were anticipating Oregon’s Power Play to our left, thus they wanted more defenders over there to fill the gaps. It makes sense to me because Oregon LOVES to run the Power Play on short yardage plays – it is a good percentage strategy anticipating Chip Kelly from prior Civil Wars. (And they have software that tells them our tendencies in situations like this).
We run an Inside Zone Read Instead! (above) Marcus is reading the Beaver DE, (Light blue dotted arrow/line) while the OSU safety is coming over to cover the Power Play (Orange dotted arrow), but it’s going the opposite direction. Barner has a wide path to run! (Yellow dotted arrow)
We see a massive hole for Kenjon due to the blocks of Ka’ai, Fisher and Grasu!
It (above) reminds me of 2008, when they shifted over to the same side and Jeremiah Johnson ran right and took it to the house! Now THIS is the “Cat-&-Mouse Game” that I saw happening at times. Oregon State took some reasonable risks and at times stuffed us, as we had quite a few tackles for losses stuck on us from them. Yet other times the higher probability decision backfired, as in this example. I have a ton of respect for Defensive Coordinator Banker at OSU and this play demonstrated that it is much harder than it looks!
One unspoken element of this Civil War was how Oregon was NOT in an emotional hangover from the prior game, which was amazing in how the coaches prepared the players. They were ready to play on Saturday, and because so many on this offense are so young it shouts to me of the important lessons learned against Stanford. This could pay big dividends in the next two years, but for now — let’s go win a BCS game!
Oh we love to learn about our beloved Ducks!
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
We wish to express thanks to a very special consultant to this article Coach Denny Schuler who played his college days as a WR for the Ducks and coached for Oregon as a Defensive Coordinator from 1986-92. He was also Defensive Coordinator for Cal in 1983-84, as well as serving as Offensive Coordinator for Cal in 1993-95, and for Oregon State in 1996. We are honored to have the insights of a coach, with few peers, who knows this conference on both sides of the football. He alternates living in SunRiver, Oregon and Hollister, California with his wife and former Oregon Cheerleader, Cindy.
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