New Oregon Strategies Reveal Old Secrets

Featured Photo 2

Craig Strobeck

Holding on to an Oregon “secret” for a year and a half has been difficult, as ongoing games have confirmed the accuracy of the previously “undisclosed.”  This game against the Cougars revealed TWO new Oregon strategies within the offense that now render the old secrets null and void, thus we can now delight in learning about them, and how they will impact our upcoming big games against UCLA and Stanford.  I don’t know what is more fun — revealing the secrets or discovering the new strategies!

UO Wheel Route

First let’s take a look at a play we love in the Oregon arsenal, the Wheel Route.  A RB coming out of the backfield usually carries it out and LaMichael James ran one for an 80-yard touchdown against the Cougs in 2010.  On Saturday we see it executed beautifully as Byron Marshall comes out of the backfield to catch the ball for a huge gain.  Note the red arrows (above), as the WSU defenders are badly out of position.

WSU Wheel 1

In the screen shot above — we see the pink arrow on LB Derrek Malone, as he is crowding the LOS and threatening to blitz.  If he does, then the Cougars know that a RB would be unguarded coming out of the backfield for a pass.

WSU Wheel 2The running back (white-dotted arrow, above) is taking off downfield, while Malone has bypassed the wash of players working on getting open.  Derrick knows where the pass could be and is sprinting to that spot.

WSU Wheel 3Malone goes up (above) to bring in the ball, as it is headed right to the WSU player going down the sideline.  Oregon’s Wheel Route play went better than the Cougars’!

WSU Wheel 4This angle (above) shows you just how open this play was and how Malone made a huge interception for the team!  Our new prototype LB has to be fast and able to cover well, and this is an example of the new profile of LB that Oregon is recruiting and why!

WSU Wheel Route

Playside ZR 1One of the secrets from the past is how sometimes Oregon COULD Zone Read the defender on the side the play is going to, (play-side) but it was rare, and the last time we used it extensively in a game was the Civil War of 2010.  Imagine my surprise to see us run it on a play that everyone is familiar with!  Fans know about the long run Thomas Tyner got a touchdown on, and everyone saw in the replay how Keanon Lowe made a fantastic block to nail two defenders to spring him.  What no one else noticed is that it was a true PLAY-SIDE Zone Read!  Above we see the beginning of the play as offensive linemen are blocking OZR style to the right, (green arrows) and even the left tackle, Tyler Johnstone, is stepping that direction (pink arrow, above).

Playside ZR 2Oregon ran Outside Zone Read blocking to the right (above) and the usual placement of the RB and QB is reversed.  In this case we see how the defender (in the light blue circle) being read is “sitting,” thus the read is to hand off to the RB.  What if the defender decided to chase the RB?  Then Marcus Mariota could pull the ball and follow the OZR blocking to his right!  He would even have the option of running straight ahead and following the blocks on the LBs by the left tackle and guard.

Thomas Tyner scores...

Kyle Mickelson

Thomas Tyner TD . . .

Everyone knows the final result of that play with the touchdown, but how many know it was an unusual Zone Read play?  This style of Zone Reading is common for many teams (Auburn did it as a staple in ’10) but not for Oregon, as the Ducks usually Zone Read the backside defender.  Why would we do this?  Was this a twist to mess up the Cougars, or something to make Bruin and Cardinal coaches study and prepare for?

Playside ZR 4I noted that we ran the playside Zone Read (above) near the end of Darron Thomas’s first season quarterbacking the team.  Could this be a part of the progression that HC Mark Helfrich and OC Scott Frost take a QB through as they learn the finer points of Zone Reading?  It is interesting to ponder as to whether it is strategy to mess up another team, or something reserved for more experienced Zone Reading QBs.

Playside Zone Read

A secret that the “Grizzled Ol’ Coach” (GOC) had shared with me during the 2011 season is how Oregon would NOT run a Sweep Read against an odd front – when a nose tackle was head-up to Oregon’s center.  We would lament how we are playing a team with a 3-4 defense on a particular week and thus would not see one of our favorite plays.  Earlier this season, he reminded me how Virginia plays an “even” front, (no nose tackle) and thus we would get to see some Sweep Read plays in action — and he was correct, as we had some legendary Sweep Read plays in that game.

It is a policy of mine to NOT point out anything unless it was drop-dead obvious to other coaches, and while the GOC saw it . . . I could not be certain that other opposing coaches noted it, hence my observance of never mentioning it.  That has now changed with what occurred in the game against the Cougars!

Sweep Read 1Look at the screen shot above, and note that the red arrow is on a nose tackle that is directly in front of our center — an odd front.  Yet the outside linebacker is quite a ways outside instead of being on the LOS or close to it.  Is he positioned to both help with the Bubble Screen and yet be able to come up for run support?  Interesting!

Sweep Read 2I’m hopping out of my chair as I see a clear Zone Read of a backside DE (light blue circle, above) and Hroniss Grasu is taking on the NT (pink arrow).  Whoa, Doggies!  We have Hamani Stevens PULLING while the TE (Pharaoh Brown) is going out to engage the OLB of WSU?  It is a revised Sweep Read version, with pulling one offensive lineman instead of two!  To the left of Brown is Cam Hunt, blocking down on the defensive tackle and sealing the edge.  Wow!

Sweep Read 3Is this a screen shot of beauty for an offensive lineman or what?  We see Brown driving the OLB out of play completely (green arrow, above), while Stevens is turning the corner and taking aim on the MLB, and Marshall (pink arrow) is skittering along the wonderful lane created.

Sweep Read 4Marshall (No. 9, above) has exploded through the secondary and is able to gallop down the sidelines due to tremendous blocks by Lowe and Josh Huff.  We just did a Sweep Read on an Odd front for big yardage!

The GOC warned me that WSU may not have lined up correctly, hence the adjustment by the Ducks to exploit the alignment, while running one of our favorite plays.  Yet, I noted this type of defensive alignment by the Cougars in other parts of the game.  Was this a new alignment to defend both the running attack of Oregon and newly emerged passing game?  Was the revised Sweep Read a “counter-to-the-counter?”

One pull Sweep Read

My feathered friends — I cannot be certain, as this is conjecture on my part, and I welcome the tons of coaches who read this to offer their thoughts.  The GOC (Coach Mike Morris) mentioned how a usual 3-4 defense with a five-man front may have difficulty slowing our passing game, and that has great relevance for our upcoming games against UCLA and Stanford who BOTH run 3-4 and five-man fronts.  Will we see Sweep Reads against a five-man front?  Will our opponents implement the “new” Odd-man front Oregon faced from the Cougars?

This is going to be GREAT FUN to see!

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

Charles Fischer   (FishDuck)

Eugene, Oregon


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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...

  • Chris Andres

    Great observations as usual. I definitely don’t have the eye for this stuff like you do, but I have been wondering throughout the season if it was just me or are we seeing a Helfrich/Frost twist to the timeless Chip offense.

    They definitely seem to be putting their own stamps on this team and it makes things all the more exciting for me as a fan.

    • DuckNV

      Have to agree about the evolution of the offense. It looks mostly the same, but a slight shift here/a new facet there has made the offense even more potent. Of course having the ability and mental edge of MM make things really roll. I would guess that Helfrich/Frost must feel like boys with incredible toys to tinker with when evaluating the team they/Chip have assembled.

      • FishDuck

        Helfrich is serious about making teams pay for one-on-one coverage on the perimeter, and we have the playmakers in Huff, Addison, and Mariota for pulling it off.

        Seeing the new balance in the offense is exciting and even better than I had hoped for going into the season!

  • QuackJunkie

    I believe they make a call on this play when it’s a buck sweep and they have a nose over the centre. Grasu can switch it to an OZR or this where he doesn’t pull but the tackle does. Oregon USC last year after the ducks went down the field using the sweep veer / toss with buck sweep blocking, USC tried to stop it by putting 7 in the box and using a nose. Oregon just made the call at the line to switch to an OZR blocking and kept running the same play. Thanks for the analysis!

  • Douglas Fur ’74

    The defense #10, who barely upset Marshall, read the handoff. When he saw MM without the ball he made his move. If Marcus had “sold” the fake half a second longer it would have been 6 pts