How Oregon Protects Mariota with New Play Variations!

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Fish Reports, FishWrap

Craig Strobeck

The Civil War game featured the most speed and running skills by Marcus Mariota since the Washington game, as he ran for a couple of first downs and pulled the ball in some Mid-Level Zone Reads.  However, the majority of plays were NOT using the Zone Read by design, and these play variations generated some interesting conversations between the “Grizzled Ol’ Coach” and I.  How much DID Oregon change their offense?  How much was a blend between the “new” plays and the very old?  Coach Mike Morris was in his element explaining these nuances to me, and it’s fun to share them with my feathered friends that read and like to learn right along beside me.  This article will answer some questions for all of us!

A H-Back pulling to block!

An H-Back pulling to block!

The first play of the game (above) revealed the first play variation within the Oregon offense as Thomas Tyner exploded for a huge gain.  It LOOKS like Mariota is Zone Reading an outside linebacker during the mesh, (Light blue circle) but in reality the H-Back on the left side of the formation (No. 32 Evan Baylis, light blue dotted line) is coming across to nail the OLB as he rushes up to prevent Marcus from running through that gap. (Or so the OLB thinks)

The "Open-Gap" Inside Zone Read?

The “Open-Gap” Inside Zone Read?

The play above is the new Inside Zone Read variation in the backfield where Tyner squares his shoulders to the LOS and aims for one side of the center, while assessing which gap on the LOS is best to run toward (the new Open-Gap Zone Read).  The Grizzled Ol’ Coach was pointing out how we were using the H-Back (Blue dotted line) to fulfill the role of the fullback in the traditional offense, and how this play became simply the “Inside Zone” for us, which is a staple in every offense of every team!

Tyner Run

It is interesting how this play (above) became a throwback Inside Zone to protect Marcus from having to pull the ball and get hit, yet it utilizes the new “Open-Gap” backfield movement.  Coach Morris also explains how sometimes the H-Back (the TE in motion from left to right) will do a “hook” block, and other times a “Kick-out” block depending upon the positioning of the LB/DE being blocked.  New/Old stuff: we love it!

A Traditional "Outside Zone" play?

A Traditional “Outside Zone” play?

The next play (above) is a puzzler at first glance; is it a Counter play as DAT runs for nearly ten yards?  Is Marcus Zone Reading or not?  This play begins as our usual Outside Zone Read to the left as Mariota is looking right at the backside defensive end of Oregon State (Light Blue circle).  Since the DE is “sitting,” then the read is to hand off and Mariota does.  We see No. 85, Pharoah Brown, headed right to that backside DE of the Beavers, thus he was NOT being Zone Read and this play is simply an “Outside Zone” to the left, also a staple play of every team in America.


De’Anthony saw a cutback lane (above) created by the H-Back block and took advantage of it.  Again we were protecting the QB by turning the “Outside Zone Read” into simply an “Outside Zone.”  Thus far we have noted changes to the two most basic plays in the Oregon offense to protect the QB!

The Straddled Triple option is changed!

The Straddled Triple option is changed!

As you see in the screenshot above — it is fourth-and-three, and the Ducks have begun the typical Straddled Triple Option to the right.  The first option is the “Open-Gap” Zone Read which actually morphs into an Inside Zone Read since it appears that Mariota is Zone Reading the Beaver star, Scott Crichton, who is circled in light blue.  We WERE Zone Reading the DE, but yet we were not?  Due to him being unblocked — he was out of the play and ineffective.

Double Option

Did we expose the QB to injury?  The answer is no, because we were running a new variation of the Straddled Triple Option that Chip Kelly is running in Philadelphia with statuesque QB Nick Foles in a Speed Double Option.  In both cases the coaches don’t want the QB running the ball, so they only have the IZR option and a pitchman option; the QB is not meant to keep the ball!  If Crichton had charged at the Oregon QB or RB, then Mariota would have pitched to the trailing RB on the play.  What an interesting way to protect the Oregon QB!  The Grizzled Ol’ Coach also pointed out how the pitchman delayed his movement outside to coordinate timing with the new “Open-Gap” first option.  I could have stayed up all night and not noticed that.  Thanks Coach!

The Beavers are Blitzing!

The Beavers are Blitzing!

As you see above — it is 3rd-and-13, which is an obvious passing down.  The Beavers are in a “Cover-1” defense, which means they are playing “man-to-man” on the Duck WRs/TEs, with a safety deep to help out over the top.  It looks like they plan to overwhelm the offensive line by bringing six in pressure and you can see the middle linebacker of Oregon State beginning his blitz (Orange arrow).

Running on a passing down!

Running on a passing down!

Oregon is running an “Open-Gap” Zone Read!  This is a third way to protect the QB on passing downs by running the ball.  Chip Kelly fans recall how he liked to run the ball on third-and-long as defenses were spread out and this enabled our offensive linemen to get downfield, setting up big gains.  In this case — Mariota IS Zone Reading the LB on the outside (Light blue circle), which freezes the rusher and allows the offensive line to hold up that much easier.

3rd and 13

While it WAS a Zone Read, the player being read was so far away as to not threaten Marcus with being hit.  Jake Fisher just caved the defensive linemen into the blitzing LB and the result is a huge gain by Thomas Tyner to make the long first down!

This was a FUN analysis made possible by Coach Mike Morris, as we all saw current plays being taken BACK in time to create timeless plays used in traditional offenses.  As we dug into the variations, it became surprising just how much Oregon coaches protected the QB, yet letting him run enough to keep the defenses honest.  If you are a coach who would like to advise me on some future analysis, then email me, as I and the family would love to continue learning from those who have coached on the field.

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

Charles Fischer

Oregon Football Analyst for EugeneDailyNews/

Eugene, Oregon

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