How Oregon Stuffed “Optimus” Klein and the Kansas State Option Attack

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(Note: I’ve previously helped Charles with his defensive tutorial series, and written a few articles, one if which really riled up our friends in the SEC.  I’m very excited to now present some written defensive analysis for FishDuck.com.) 

“C. Klein rush for no gain…C. Klein rush for 3 yards…C. Klein rush for 1 yard…C. Klein rush for 4 yards…C. Klein rush for no gain.” - From the 2013 Feista Bowl play-by-play.

Sportscasters and the media look back at the Fiesta Bowl in what has become a predictable fashion for us Duck fans: “Look at De’Anthony Thomas’s speed! Look at Kenjon Barner’s speed! Look at Marcus Mariota’s speed! And JUST LOOK at those crazy uniforms!”  I can’t deny that those things pushed the Ducks to victory, but a closer look at the game yields another conclusion: the Oregon defense absolutely demolished Collin Klein and the Kansas State offense.

In the Fiesta Bowl, Collin Klein rushed 13 total times for 30 yards. Take away a 16-yard scramble, and that’s 12 rushes for 14 yards!  Klein, a big, strong, exceedingly qualified Heisman finalist, was stuffed, re-routed, forced to pitch, forced to hand off, and generally harassed by Duck defenders from start to finish.

All season long, Kansas State’s “war horse” ran around, over, and through opposing defenses en route to an 11-1 regular season and a Downtown Athletic Club appearance.  As Klein went, so went the K-State offense.

But in Glendale, Klein and the K-State offense were virtually nonexistent after the 2nd quarter.

So how did the Ducks shut down one of the preeminent players in all the land?  Klein added value to K-State as a good power rusher, but his real threat to opponents was finding gaps in defenses via K-State’s dynamic option attack.  The Ducks knew this, and wrote up a dandy of a game plan to attack it. And what did they do? In short, the Ducks took control of the decisions Klein wanted to make, and took the “option” out of Collin Klein’s option game.

We see in the above photo a standard speed option play: Klein attacking the unblocked read defender, the pitch man staying a safe distance away to receive the pitch.  But check out Boseko Lokombo!  He’s right in Klein’s face immediately, almost 5 yards deep in the backfield, and forces Klein to pitch to the tailback.  By committing to Klein, Boseko forced him to pitch early, taking him out of the play.  This allowed the Ducks’ speedy defenders to set their sights on the running back. We even see superfrosh Arik Armstead (middle circle) playing a great two-gap technique, and staying flat down the line of scrimmage towards the pitch man.

Look (above) at what this accomplishes: BoLo gets the ball out of K-State’s Heisman quarterback’s hands within a split second before any kind of play can develop.  K-State’s tailback gets the ball 7 yards deep from the line of scrimmage, and our speedy defenders have the luxury to ignore Klein and get their eyes on the pitch man.

Above, we see the K-State tailback still 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage, and our safety Erick Dargan is in perfect position to stuff the play for a limited gain. And look behind him: 3 other Duck defenders are ready to make a play even if Dargan cannot.

Here (above) we see Dargan lay a hit on the K-State tailback for a 2-yard gain, with 3 defenders right behind him.  Oregon’s special teams coordinator Tom Osborne has a saying: “Fair catches aren’t exciting, but fair catches win games.”  Same goes for 2-yard running plays!  We neutralize the Klein threat, then get 4 defenders running to the ballcarrier to hold the K-State offense to 2 yards on first down in the red zone.  That’s about as good as it gets.

Above, we see a slightly different option look later in the game.  Those who have followed FishDuck should be very familiar with this play, the Inside Zone Read.  With Klein and the tailback in the mesh, Klein eyes the unblocked Taylor Hart, the zone read defender on the backside of the play.

However, looking above, we see that Taylor Hart takes any choice away from Klein, and zeroes in on the big quarterback immediately, even though he knows Klein doesn’t have the ball!  Hart knows this, because Hart knows the option QB’s rule of thumb: if the guy I’m reading comes for me, give the ball to the running back!

Above, we see Hart giving up a chance to try to make a play on the ballcarrier in order to lay a hit on Klein.  Why?  The Ducks defense wanted to send a message to Collin Klein: “You will not carry the ball on a zone read or a sprint option.  Ever.  We will hit you every single time, and you will give the ball or pitch the ball every single time.”  Hart knows this is the plan, and so he does his job: focus only on the quarterback, and force him to give the ball to someone else.  Every.  Single.  Time.

We see in a later play (above) that Isaac Remington does the same thing!  As soon as he realizes he is unblocked, and therefore that he is the zone read defender, he screams upfield and lays a big hit on Klein, not even giving the tailback a second look.

In the play below, we’ll see all these techniques come together in perhaps the most important defensive down of the game.  Mid-2nd quarter with the Ducks leading 15-7, Klein and K-State rode a wave of momentum down the field and found themselves with a 3rd and Goal inside the Ducks’ 5, trying to close the gap to 15-14.

In the above frame, Klein audibles into a sprint option play, hoping to find a seam for himself into the end zone. Unfortunately for him, our drop end Tony Washington has other thoughts.  As soon as Washington realizes he is the unblocked pitch read man, he zeroes in on Klein.  Behind Washington, Michael Clay makes the smart read and realizes he is now responsible for getting to the pitch man.

Boom! Looking above, we see Washington neutralizing Klein 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, forcing Klein to pitch the ball to the tailback, who is 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage!  Now that Klein is out of the play, every other Duck (particularly Michael Clay, second circle from top) has his eyes on one player: the tailback.

Very quickly, K-State’s play is doomed.  Above, we see that Michael Clay used his speed to get upfield to take out the pitch man – 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage!  And check out the five defenders – the cavalry – behind him, ready to stuff the play too.  A 5-yard loss on 3rd and Goal?  Now that is sweet.  This marked a critical turn in the game: once the ‘Cats had to settle for 3 points after being stuffed on this play, the Ducks scored 17 unanswered points and ran away with the game.

Nick Aliotti’s boys knew that K-State wanted to attack with the option, and let Klein run through gaps in the defense.  The Ducks’ response?  ”We’re not letting you run.  Give it to your other guys.”  The genius in this plan is that it takes the “option” out of the option.  By taking Klein, K-State’s best player, out of the play early, using only one unblocked defender, the other 10 defenders ignored Klein in the option game, and focused only on the dive or pitch ballcarrier.  A defense that doesn’t have to worry about the mental stress of the option threat?  That is a good thing.  By attacking the Wildcats’ All-Everything quarterback, the Ducks took him out of the running game and shut down the K-State offense.

Since this is my first solo analysis article, I just have to say it: “Oh, how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks.”  Stay tuned for more Fiesta Bowl defensive analysis next week.

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Sean Goodbody

Sean Goodbody

With a high school defensive-coordinator-turned-offensive-coordinator-turned-head-coach as a father, Sean Goodbody has always had an interest in the X's and O's of football. He played two years with FCS University of Pennsylvania as a fullback, but having grown up in a football family Sean has spent much of his life studying the game--reviewing game film, designing offensive and defensive schemes, and game-planning upcoming opponents. Sean has coached running backs, option quarterbacks, linebackers, defensive linemen, and safeties for his dad's high school program. He has been a rabid Duck fan since meeting his significant other Maeve (an Oregon grad). Residing in Grand Junction, CO, Sean and Maeve both work as attorneys while cheering on their beloved Ducks from the Rockies.

  • Rick

    Great article! Easy to understand and very insightful. I wondered why Klein had so few yards running – now I know why.

  • BobMc

    This was a great read. Thanks for sharing the breakdown with us Sean.

  • Sycan

    Well done Sean. I’m looking forward to more of your analysis.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rob-Hartsock/1500784750 Rob Hartsock

    I can’t wait to get my DVD of the game, I’ll pay particular attention to this part of the Defensive scheme.
    Thanks for the insight.

  • Guest

    Very nicely done, Sean. I wonder if it will be executed against Marcus next season.

    • SeanG

      If i were a defensive coordinator, I’d use this technique against every team that runs the option. Only problem with doing this against Oregon is that every single running play we have LOOKS like an “option.” If you go through Charles’s and Josh’s analysis of the Oregon offense, virtually every running play is based on an “option” look, but many are true power, counter, or sweep plays. I.E. the offense is attacking ONE specific area instead of TWO alternatives, and moves more blockers to that area to make it work. In those cases, if a defender overreacts and rushes upfield to take out the QB, the defender takes himself out of the play entirely, and the defense loses one defender in the area the offense is attacking.

      KSU ran option, but also ran a lot of traditional, pro-style run game. When they showed option, they RAN option. It was easy to diagnose, and thus easy for Duck defenders to attack.

      Also, as a practical matter, attacking Collin Klein and making him give it up to a K-State running back created an advantage for the Ducks: Klein was the best player on the field for K-State, and they’d rather tackle the solid but unspectacular RBs than Klein. The Ducks? I don’t know if you necessarily create an advantage by forcing the ball to KJB or DAT over MM. But, you’re right, the “attack the QB” is an effective strategy if you’ve got the right personnel and a universal understanding of the plan, and you face the right kind of offense. Interesting to see how defenses go after the Ducks’ option next year.

  • REM503

    Excellent.

  • Doctor Rick

    Great job, Sean!
    Makes me want to go back yet again and see what Stanford did. Also makes me appreciate Nick Alioti yet again. And, makes me want to see what “Chippah” does with Philly’s game. He hired the Alabama Offensive Line coach today. What a smart move.

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

    Doctor Rick