How Stanford Stopped The Oregon Offense II

TO Pinch 1

For a moment, the “Oregon Paradigm” got to me. I didn’t expect Stanford to slow Oregon down, much less hold them to 14 points in a dominant fashion. When Oregon plays elite defenses, the results will never result in 40 point victories. No offense will be breaking big plays consistently against high caliber defenses. When Oregon plays good teams, the score should reflect that of two good teams playing each other- low scoring battles with the more effective and efficient team coming out on top. Last Saturday, Stanford provided the Ducks one of those games, and just as expected, the better team on that given night won.

Stanford’s efforts should be considered extraordinary- it was the first time that Chip Kelly’s offense was obliterated at the point of attack in a long time, potentially ever. The Cardinal’s ability to separate from blocks, make great tackles, and anticipate the Ducks’ tendencies was a landmark performance. On top of their physical efforts, the Stanford defensive game plan allowed the Cardinal to do unprecedented damage to Oregon’s offense.

Stanford’s game plan didn’t resemble the gimmicky Cover-0 approach Cal used in 2010 at all, it was an old-fashioned defensive scheme that can confuse nearly every offensive blocking scheme in the game. The particular alignment Stanford used was the “Bear” front, which we will discuss in more detail shortly.

After Mariota’s long run in the first quarter, Stanford held strong on fourth down to turn the Ducks away deep in Cardinal territory. Stanford showed the unique alignment that repeatedly beat the Oregon offensive line throughout the game on this drive.

Above, Stanford’s defensive linemen are aligned in a “Bear” front meaning that the defensive ends are lined up in the tackle-guard gap, or “B-Gap.” The Cardinal D-Line complicate matters by pinching down on the offensive line, which will set up some problems for Oregon’s blocking scheme.

To block the inside zone play, each lineman takes the nearest unblocked playside defender, or the first unblocked defender to their left. I’ve annotated the screenshot above to show the blocking scheme of the Oregon offensive line. The center, Grasu, has a man over him, so the nose guard is the “point” defender (0 defender), whom Grasu blocks handily. The right guard blocks the next unblocked man to his left, and in this alignment, the guard has to block the playside linebacker (1 defender). The right tackle then blocks the defensive tackle (2 defender), which is usually not a hard block for the tackle to make, but when the defensive ends are crashing, it is nearly an impossible block for Fisher. Mariota will be reading the backside linebacker (3 defender).

As expected, the Stanford defensive end (right circle, above) beats the right tackle as the right guard leaks up to the second level. Mariota’s read is immediately compromised, and must change to the now unblocked defensive lineman in the backfield.

Stanford’s defensive end pummels De’Anthony as Mariota pulls the ball, but Marcus is left with three defenders coming in for the tackle (red arrows, above), and no where to pitch the ball. This innovative alignment disrupted zone schemes in the first half, so Kelly and Helfrich moved to the man-on-man blocking scheme in the power play.

Oregon’s power play has the right guard (orange line, above) pulling behind the center to bring an additional blocker to the hole. Stanford comes back with the same look here, and pinches the defensive ends down (red arrow), allowing the defensive end to jump through the hole vacated by the pulling guard.

The right tackle (bottom of the red circle, above) has a difficult cut block again. Although the tackle doesn’t have an impossible block, Stanford’s defensive linemen are extremely talented, and will beat this block nine times out of ten.

As Thomas is stopped in the backfield by the free defensive end, the rest of the play is perfectly lined up for a big gain. If the defensive end doesn’t crash down to the center, De’Anthony likely scores on this play (blocks illustrated by the orange line above).

Chip Kelly’s staff makes some of the best adjustments in College Football, and this game was no exception. To combat the crashing defensive ends, Oregon started to call midlevel (midline) plays, that read the interior defenders, rather than blocking them.

On this midlevel play above, Stanford lines up in its new Bear front, but this time Oregon will be reading the nose tackle (yellow circle).

The Stanford nose guard chases down the running back, and Mariota pulls the ball and heads upfield.

Mariota has plenty of room to run, and has blocks set up for a good gain. Typically, Oregon’s adjustments puzzle defensive coordinators so much that they start to turtle back into base coverages, and the Ducks start slashing through those defenses. Stanford’s defense didn’t back down, and adjusted right back.

One of Oregon’s schematic advantages comes from adding a blocker to the playside through reading the backside defender. Stanford realized that Oregon was reading the interior defenders, so they simply took the interior defender away from the backside of the defensive line.

In the picture above, you’ll see the Cardinal lining up in a typical three man front, but as the linebacker Thomas approaches the line of scrimmage, he sees the running back “aimed” to the left, and switches the defensive play.

The linebacker creeps over to his right, removing Oregon’s leverage advantage. Mariota is left to read the backside defensive end, whose only responsibility is to tackle the quarterback.

As the play progresses, Stanford’s three defenders tangle up Oregon’s three blockers (red circle, above), leaving the Cardinal linebackers free to tackle Barner yet again. This particular alignment cost Stanford some yards several times, but in the long run, this alignment took Oregon’s outside zone and sweep reads out of commission, simplifying the offense to just inside runs and drop-back passes. Against Stanford’s elite defense, two concepts won’t cut it.

This ending of the two-part series of how Stanford stopped the Oregon Defense, is a first of collaboration by Charles and myself, and some serious analysis of this game not seen at any other media source.  We will not just study the “happy” content of new plays in the future, but what we as fans want and need to learn…even when we lose.  (Especially when we lose!)  This off-season bodes a tremendous learning experience for us all!

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

Josh Schlichter
Oregon Football Analyst for
Eugene, Oregon

Top Photo from Video

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Josh Schlichter

Josh Schlichter

Josh is a College Football enthusiast from sunny Southern California. He has written for several self-operated prep sports blogs, as well as multiple SB Nation sites. In High School, Josh played football for four years, and helped create and operate the team's no-huddle system. Most of Josh's football knowledge branches from watching College Football his entire life, and is backed up by his first hand experience in both option and spread offenses. Above all, though, he is a proud student at the University of Oregon. @joshschlichter

  • RazWTD

    Chip was stubborn with trying to establish the run in my opinion. He should of went to a short passing game to push them back and simplified the blocking schemes. Use the pass to set up the run, he had to do it just the prior week against Cal. Cal was stuffing our run also. The other problem I had is the best player we have, DAT, should have been getting the ball a lot more. Mariota played like a freshman he was very jittery in the pocket and quick to roll out instead of hang in there and step up in the pocket. I believe our line will be able to handle the Beavers better than Stanford, but hopefully Chip is not so stubborn in trying to still establish a run deep in the game if its not working and close.

  • Solid analysis. Good job. What seemed really apparent to me is that we don’t have a go to guy in the receiving corps to counter what Stanford did to us up front. Lots of talent. But no one (yet) in the mold of Cristin McLemore, Tony Hartley, Keenan Howry, Demetrius Williams and Jeff Maehl; go to guys who always find a way to get open and make a play downfield. Those guys would have exploited all the soft spots in Stanford’s zone. That’s our offense’s biggest weakness right now. Huff and co. are solid, but not “go to guys” yet. Stanford didn’t have a problem handling them.

    Darron Thomas, it seems to me, doesn’t get the props he deserves from Duck fans. One of the things I loved about him was his fearlessness. He had so much moxie and wasn’t afraid to sling the ball. I think he was the key to Oregon’s wins the last two years. He wasn’t intimidated by Stanford front, although I’ll admit Stanford’s front this year is special and better than in years past.

  • Al

    Great analysis! I was initially confused because of some of your terminology, though. My understanding is that Stanford runs a base 3-4… I’ve always referred to the 2 defender in your diagram as a DE as opposed to a DT (Josh Mauro #90). Is that correct? Also, if the scheme is “first unblocked to the left” why does the tight end block #93 (Murphy) instead of #11 (Skov)? It makes sense that the read would be on Skov since he’s the best LB, but it looks to me like the play would have worked more naturally if it were on Murphy (OLB), since it would have made the pitch more viable.

    • Stanford does run a 3-4. The 2 defender IS a DE in that case. On that particular play, Mariota is reading the “3” defender, instead of the 4 defender, who Lyerla blocks. This is a predetermined call, as Oregon’s plays allow them to block or read whoever they want.

  • Vandal23

    This isn’t a bear. It’s a 3-4 base along with a 3-4 double eagle look.

    • It is also a TNT front. But you can call it anything you want I guess.

  • Vandal23

    When in double eagle the two DE’s align in 3 techniques, with the nose in a 0

  • Great piece Josh! You made it easy to understand how Stanford killed us that¬†that day lol