How Stanford Stopped the Oregon Offense

Losses such as this one are frustrating, but we have a unique learning opportunity as Oregon fans to find out just what the Cardinal did to stop the highest scoring offense in Oregon history.  This article is co-authored with Josh Schlichter and today is the first of two parts breaking down some examples of the impressive performance by the Stanford defense.  Since our beloved Ducks don’t lose many games these days, it raised our curiosity level at to where we spent an entire day studying the game and consulting with a very special retired coach who was both an Offensive and Defensive Coordinator in this conference.  As a fan who wants to learn, I realize that analyzing the Stanford strategies will help us recognize what our opponents in the future will be employing against us.

Many of you recognize the play above as Oregon has scored a ton of touchdowns from it.  It is a Naked Bootleg, which means the QB does not have a pulling lineman to block for him.  You’ll note the offensive linemen have done a shoulder turn to the left and are blocking for an Outside Zone Read and DAT is headed that way to potentially take a handoff.  Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Line Coach Steve Greatwood has done a terrific job teaching the linemen to sell it as an OZR.  Yet it will be a play-action pass as we will have the H-Back (Orange Line) drag across to a short pattern in the flat, while we have two Wide Receivers run a down and in pattern to drag across the field.  (Green Line)

This play is not going well, as our TE (above, in Orange Circle) is tied up at the LOS before he can get into his pass pattern.  We see the Stanford DBs not fooled at all as they are tight on our WR, (Red Circle) and #44 for the Cardinal is prepared for Mariota doing a bootleg as he begins to close in for the tackle.

Marcus has the defender upon him immediately and must throw it away out of bounds, as no one is open.  It was amazing how well the Cardinal scouted our tendencies near the goal line, had the defense prepared for this favorite play, and were not fooled by the play-action component at all.  This is a superb example of great personnel smothering the play from the excellent preparation by the opposing coaching staff.  Stopping Chip’s offense takes great discipline, and in this case we have to tip our hat to the complete effort by the Stanford staff and defense in stymieing Oregon.

In my report of the USC game (above), I explained how an unbalanced line sprung upon USC confused the Trojans, and set up a record-setting rushing day for Kenjon Barner.  Unbalanced in this case is having three receivers at the bottom of the screen with one of them on the LOS.  We also have a TE on the LOS on the same side, thus he is “covered” and is not eligible to catch a pass.  USC was not sure how to line up against it and we buried them running the ball to the strong side behind our tremendous blocking.

Oregon lines up (above) in the unbalanced line against the Cardinal with the triple WR set at the top of the screen with the TE on the same side.

Oregon runs a speed double option to the strong side and #44 is being read and forces the pitch to Barner (above).  In the red circle is a Stanford defender who has beaten his block and is headed outside to join the Free Safety who came up swiftly to stop Kenjon before he could even get going.

The speed and skill of the Cardinal is astonishing as the defender being read (#44 above) is right there to help the tackle, and the other Stanford players in the picture beat their blocks to stop Barner for no gain.  Stopping any offense is simple — defeat the blocks, and the men in white at Autzen on Saturday did a tremendous job of it.

To have so many around the ball takes more than athleticism in this case, as it also takes a defensive call to check to a different front or coverage.  They had a predetermined defense to this formation, and as soon as they saw it they checked out of what they were currently in, and into the different defensive alignment designed to stop the run and pass plays out of this formation.

For the last play of the third quarter we line up again in the unbalanced line (above).  Are we going to continue to beat our heads against the wall?

We see the Cardinal accenting or slanting their defense toward the strength of the formation (above), as we run an Inside Zone Read to the weakside of the Oregon formation!  Mariota is Zone Reading the Cardinal Defensive End, (#93) and since he is “sitting” the correct read is to hand off — and he does.

The Stanford defense (above) is focused upon the strength of our formation and does not have the numbers on our weakside to stop good hat-on-hat blocking by our offensive line.  So…we run an unbalanced line to shake things up, but they counter with a different defensive alignment, and then we counter that with an Inside Zone Read to the weakside.  It is a good countermeasure, but it has taken too long to arrive at this solution and becomes too little, too late.

It is evident that while these examples show the preparation and execution of the Cardinal defense — it takes more than a few strategies like these to stop Oregon.  This is the closest that Oregon has come to seeing defensive talent similar to the Auburns, Ohio States, or LSUs of the past.  We had a number of inexperienced offensive personnel that got their first taste of exceptional competition and it will season them for the great games to come in their career at Oregon.  Tomorrow will be the second part in a special series that Josh and I created, and he will reveal some more complex Stanford strategies, our counters to them, and the Cardinal responses that turned the tide of the game toward Stanford.  Learn these well, as I’m sure we will see them again…maybe even this week!

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

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

Top Photo from Video

We wish to express thanks to a very special consultant (to this article only) 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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Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer has been an intense fan of the Ducks for thirty years and has written reports on football boards for over a dozen years. Known as “FishDuck” on those boards, he is acknowledged for providing intense detail in his scrimmage reports and in his Xs and Os play analyses. He and his wife Lois, a daughter, Christine, and their dog (Abbie) reside in Eugene, Oregon, where he has been a financial advisor for 30 years serving clients in seven different states. He does not profess to be a coach or analyst, but simply a “hack” that enjoys sharing what he has learned and invites others to correct or add to this body of Oregon Football! See More...

  • The one guy that matches up with the Stanford guys is Colt Lyerla. Early in the game he absolutely ran over CB Jason Richards, who was trying to tackle him. Why didn’t Chip use Lyerla in the backfield as a blocker for Barner?

    • Dainon

      Mostly because Lyerla is very much still a work-in-progress as a blocker, ESPECIALLY from the backfield; this makes sense as he probably spent close to no time blocking in high school, and has only been learning the blocking techniques and angles from the backfield this season.

      If you watch him, Colt misses as often as he makes really good or great blocks, with most his blocks being okay. Tarpley, Chase Thomas, and Skov are all going to play in the NFL, so they are all REALLY good linebackers to think Colt is just going to line up and knock them over is placing too much emphasis on strength. Being able run over players in the open field is not at all a similar skill to blocking.

      Additionally, bringing a second running back into the backfield changes the arithmetic of the defense, making the defense concentrate resources (which may be good, and may be bad for the offense). It does this by taking Colt away from where he is, as of now, most threatening to the defense, as an immediate vertical receiving threat.

      My opinion, at least.

  • worldwidewebfoot

    Everyone has their own idea of “Why doesn’t Chip try this or that.” The problem with bringing #15 to the backfield is that he is too valuable at the tight end position to move him elsewhere. If more blocking is needed for a run into the line, then using #9 Marshall as a full back would be a better choice. But that puts DAT on the bench, not where we want him. Everything has tradeoffs.
    My own brain wave is to bring back the Statue of Liberty play. I loved that.

    • Lyerla is most valuable at tight end when the QB can consistently get him the ball, which did not happen because MM had an off night passing. Marshall is very good but not the blocker Lyerla is. When your bread and butter offense is not working because of a physical defense, you need to counter with physical offense. And if DAT doesn’t do a better job of fielding punts, get Huff back there. Everyone goes into a game with a general idea of what they want to do and sometimes it takes Chip a few series to fine tune things. In my book the game was over when the Ducks got the ball at the start of the 2nd half and did the same things offensively as they had done in the first half. But, you can’t argue with Chip’s success.

      • No offense but in Big Game’s he’s got exactly 1 Win and we almost let that one get away, So I look at OSU as his Biggest Coaching job of the year, and OSU is playing great Ball this Year, so if we lose to the BEAVE’S saturday a very once promising season wen’t SOUTH with Chip’s Big Game Coaching Win’s, need I remind you is 1 Big Win!

        • Nato

          What is your definition of a Big Game? In my opinion CK has won plenty of “Big Games” since he took over the helm from MB. If this years civil war is the Biggest game of the year what was last years and 2010’s and 2009’s? Those were all Big games with a lot on the line for either team. But yet because the Ducks ended up winning those games, somehow they don’t go in the category of a Big Win for CK. Same with the USC games. They have ALL been Big games. One could say the same for the previous Stanford games and last years Pac12 Championship game. If the Ducks win this years CW game and a BCS game against say Kansas St in blowouts will those count as Big game victories in future years when looking back? It seems that in some people’s minds Big Games are only Big when the Ducks lose. If they win its just another win but loses the “Biggness” to it.

  • Great work. I suspected that often some our our plays failed because one players failed badly on a block. Sometimes that is all it takes. But I am curious, did you see any indication that Stanford may have learned certain Oregon tendencies that they then used against us? One of the arts of baseball is to avoid showing tendencies. Especially in the hitter and pitcher duel. I’m not an expert on football but I do pick up on tendencies and my gut was telling me that there were times Stanford would line up a certain way anticipating that Oregon would react a certain way. Then they would drop into a different coverage and be waiting for the play. Many times is seemed that we would wind up in a max protect scheme with 2-3 receivers against a 7 man zone and no one open.

    • fishduck

      Absolutely Ted…you are completely correct, as the Unbalanced Formation I wrote of and the Naked Bootleg plays were tendencies or plays we love and they were ready.

    • Dainon

      The Ducks run a surprisingly small number of plays. To say they have a tendency is simply stating “they run what they do well, until you change structure, then they run their counter”.

      Stanford did a really good job of stopping what the Ducks do well, without resorting to “un-sound” techniques, like what ASU and to a lesser extent Cal did. As the meat and potatoes of the offense wasn’t working all that well, Chip had to go a bit out-of-character.

    • Yes you can’t run for anything if the 5 guy’s in front of you don’t block, or your receiver’s for that matter, which continually happened all Game, I’m sorry but Oregon’s a better Team than the one that played last Saturday, So is Texas A@M a better Team than our’s, cause their O Line went in to one of the more Hostile places to play a Game and Blocked man on man against just as good as a front 7 than Stanford?

  • worldwidewebfoot

    Further to Ted Werth’s comment, is there any chance that Stanford has broken the code and was reading the Ducks’ sideline play signal cards?

    • I think that the play calling cards have less “weight” than you think. I’d say it’s highly doubtful that it was the reason we lost

    • dainon

      If “stealing” info is so strongly frowned upon, why make codes, or cover you mouth while calling plays (NFL), or have multiple people signal (most of whom are dummy calls), in the first place?

      If the cards convey the formation, they would still need to figure out which player is the live play read, then figure out what the signal he was making meant. Then they would need to signal that information into the defenders. And they would need to all this under the large time constraint of the game, and the small time constraint of the time it takes Oregon to line up and snap the ball.

  • Richard Del Rincon

    I saw some success (about 4-5 yards) when ducks ran a couple power plays to barner but they stopped doing it. I’ve noticed Kelly tends to get away from certain plays if they don’t produce large chunks of yards immediately. Sometimes you just have to chip away at the defense but instead we started throwing down field on 1st down. Still, I don’t want to take anything away from Stanford because they were extremely disciplined and physical. But I would have liked to see more screens to DAT or Huff and even throw in a few designed qb runs on 1st & 2nd down. One thing that really impressed me was Oregons defense. For being so thin and banged up they played lights out. They did their part but the offense was just off. Also goes to show how important it is to have a solid place kicker.

    Here’s hoping USC, UCLA, and Florida State can shake things up!

    • Dainon

      The screens are thrown when a defense overplays to stop something else; they’re not a magic bullet to create offense. A few times when screens were thrown against a balanced defense, the results were not good.

  • Elrond

    This is some outstanding analysis – thanks for putting in the time to break it down. With Stanford getting faster and bigger, and Oregon’s evolving schemes and increasingly pinpoint passing it could set the stage for years of truly tactical matchups as opposed to a simple clash of styles in which speed or power – but mostly speed – inevitably triumphs. With coaches as focused as Kelly and Shaw, we could see the North remain the glamour division for quite some time.

  • Excellent stuff again Fish and just like you I’m an insane Oregon Fan for a little more than 30 yrs, I agree with most point’s but a few thing’s are familiar like Stanford’s D is basically the same 3-4 they ran last year with a lot better Offense with Luck, but what I’m starting to see as a pattern here is the BIG Game’s this Team play’s there’s alway’s is Chip stubbornly going with the same play’s that are not working, which seem to be his M/O in Big Game’s, and not to mention our O Line seemed to forget how to Block in this Game. I also think one more thing should be taken into consideration of this last Loss, is Chip’s OBVIOUS Flirtation with the NFL is obviously a BIG Distraction to the Team, and for some reason a lot of people don’t agree with me on this, but I know this has to be one of the main reason’s for the poor showing, Cause our D played a pretty good Game and gave the Ball to the O repeatedly which they did Nothing with the Ball!

  • Evan Hendricks

    I tend to agree w/ Doug M: Let’s put it this way,
    A. CK has developed the best offensive system in the history of college football, coupled with getting the talent to run it. That’s why Ducks have only
    lost a handful of games in recent years.
    B. But Ducks’ O can be stopped when a Big D LINE penetrates and breaks up mesh on option read, and pressures/or gets to QB, shutting down pass game.

    Clearly, it’s now foreseeable that Ducks need a Plan B for “B.” But CK didn’t have one, and the more the game goes on and O flounders, the more he freezes. Given this was not the first time, THIS TIME around was it was pretty bad, especially considering that winning woulda made Ducks undisputably #1 in BCS.

    Ducks clear advantage, and Stanford’s clear weakness, was SPEED,
    starting with DaT, Kenjan, Mariotta and Huff. Thus, in a pinch, you want to
    maximize the chances Ducks’ speed guys get the ball in situations they can get going. If Stanford front 7 is dominating, you can’t do that w/ option
    read or “go-thru-your-read” passing plays. (unless you tire them out w/ a good drive, finally get them out of position.) That’s why Ducks probably seT a CK-era record for 3-and-outs — A repeat of Auburn-Natty and Buckeye Rose Bowl.

    Because of the speed advantage, Stanford must respond as quickly
    Given this analysis, the fundamental 1st down play should have been DaT coming in motion going to left flat, Kenjan delaying and going to right flat (or vice versa), Lyerla dragging across the middle & Huff going long. If the pass rush is closing in Mariotta motions towards DaT; if Stanford covers he wheels and throws to Kenjan in opposite misdirection. If StanF crowds both in flat,
    then they break wheel route down the sideline; (remember Kenjan in Rose Bowl?!) If Mariotta has more time, he hits Lyerla or Huff. If there’s a gap in
    pass rush, he bolts. This fundamental play could have been drawn up with
    your finger in the dirt – and Steve knows that I was calling for DaT left,
    Kenjan right during the game.

    Bottom line: StanF did not have speed to stop DaT, Kenjan, Mariotta and Huff in space. But CK didn’t design his offensive game plan to get them in space IN A WAY THAT COUNTERED STANF’S DOMINANT FRONT 7.

    Similarly, against Auburn, the vertical screen to LaMichael (i.e., DaT or Kenjan, or even Huff) that worked well the few times they tried it, was never even tried in this game. They did two horizontal screens early in game; StanF’s D-backs crowded them. But they never pump faked in
    bolted down sideline (ie, another type of misdirection)

    Another fundamental misdirection play is the reverse. Notice how I’m not calling for triple option, as that would have been tough against StanF’s crowding front 7. But a reverse to Huff off of a triple option pitch probably would have worked because the misdirection would have gotten him the ball in space.

    The exclamation point on the O’s failures was that in OT, Ducks’ not only couldn’t get a first down, they couldn’t pick up hardly any yards. He started the series running right into StanF’ Front 7 strength for a loss.

    I’ll say it again: Had Ducks had someone of Dan Fouts’ experience & temperament to take over play calling, Ducks would have won going away.

    I actually believe UCLA has a decent chance at beating Stanford. But that pussy Barkley’s not playing vs ND. Go Ducks. I still love CK for getting us near the top of the mountain, not to mention first Rose Bowl