Oregon Devises an Inside Zone Read “Counter” Play!

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Fish Reports

From Video

How many times after this last game did you hear media sources other than EugeneDailyNews/FishDuck.com declare that, “the Ducks limited Mariota’s running opportunities.”  Or “the Inside Zone Read play is bottled up!”  How many of them actually know what they are talking about or can prove those assertions?  Unfortunately most of them are parroting what they have heard from the coaches, who are simply giving them easy sound bites.  Let’s take a look at those concepts and especially address the new Inside Zone Read “Counter” play introduced against Utah!

“The Inside Zone Read problem . . .”

Opponents know that the Oregon offense is centered on the basic Inside Zone Read and how they must devote significant effort to stopping that play.  Teams have become more innovative at defending it, while at times Oregon — is becoming more predictable.

It's a Run Blitz!

It’s a Run Blitz!

It’s third-and-two and EVERYONE in the stadium knows that Oregon will run a routine Inside Zone Read against Utah to pick up the first down.  The Utes know this, too, and spring a perimeter run blitz by a linebacker and safety as you see above.  The lanes to the backfield are wide open for the blitzers to nail both the RB and QB as they barely get the mesh done.  This is not a typical defense to the IZR.

Run Blitz

The Ducks are lucky to not fumble the ball as both the RB and QB are tackled immediately behind the LOS, and thus we don’t make the first down.  We will see this tactic more often, as the probabilities for success for the defense outweigh the risk, and especially when we run the “Double-Stack” formations and spread out the players as we did on this play.

“We are not letting Marcus run the Zone Read as usual.”

I heard those quotes, but when I study the plays?  It does not measure up in reality.  I went through every offensive play several times and did not find a SINGLE example of Utah leaving an open lane and daring Marcus to run through.

A "sitting" defender....

A “sitting” defende . . .

As you see above in this Outside Zone Read play — at the moment of decision during the mesh Mariota sees the Utah defensive end clearly “sitting” in the lane that Marcus would run through, hence the correct read decision is to hand off as he did.


With the backside defensive end not being blocked, it allows the blocking assignments to rotate to the right side or playside.  We see a wonderful lane created above for DAT as he scoots for an 11-yard gain.  Every Zone Read play had a Utah player “sitting” in the running lane where Mariota would run, thus the contention that he declined open running lanes is false.

“Oregon created a Counter play to attack the Weakside?”

As the players were warming up, I noticed the backup QBs and starting RBs practicing movements and hand-offs that I had not seen before.  I was wondering . . . “what the heck is that?”  Later I was remembering what Coach Mike Morris  (the Grizzled Ol’ Coach) had been telling me of how the Ducks liked to run the Inside Zone Read to the strong side of the formation, or where you would find the Tight End.

The start of a Counter Play..

The start of a Counter Play . . .

In the screenshot (above) you see how we have both a Tight End on the line of scrimmage and another set back as an “H-Back” on our right side.  At the snap you will see the H-Back (Johnny Mundt No. 83) go to the left to block on the weakside.

Offsetting the Inside Zone Read

Offsetting the Inside Zone Read

You note above how we had pulling players and Mundt is making his way down the LOS.  Note also in the backfield how Tyner is starting in an Outside Zone Read formation and moves that direction and then doubles back to the left!

Follow the blocking!

Follow the blocking!

The blocking is forming above as Cameron Hunt (No. 77) is leading the way for the RB, and Johnstone (No. 64) is driving his defender outside.  Note also how the majority of Utah linebackers are still on the assumed Inside Zone Read side.  Attacking the weakside is working as we are gathering the numbers!

This is a good start!

This is a good start!

The outside defender (above) was taking away the running lane so Hunt went up to help Johnstone, which left a linebacker unblocked and about to meet Thomas Tyner.  The play went for four yards, but promises a ton more potential as we learn how best to make blocking decisions.  It takes a ton of reps to master a play, and although this is the first showing of it, I expect to see it more often as it begins to create doubt about whether the strong side IS where the play is going in the future.


This new play is exciting for some of us “football nerds” because Oregon has not run a counter play in many years, and the concept of attacking the weakside of the formation with greater numbers can take the pressure off of the Inside Zone Read play and place it on the opposing defense!

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

Charles Fischer
Oregon Football Analyst for EugeneDailyNews/FishDuck.com
Eugene, Oregon

(A special thanks to the Grizzled Ol’ Coach for sharing his expertise)

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