Taylor Hart’s MONSTER Two-Gap Alamo Bowl

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Fish Reports, FishWrap

Everyone knows that linebackers get the bulk of the tackles in a game, thus it was huge surprise to learn that Taylor Hart was Oregon’s leading tackler in the Alamo Bowl, in what was his pinnacle career game with the Ducks.  I consulted with one of the members of the Coaching Team at FishDuck.com to learn HOW Taylor pulled off such a memorable game.

There are few experiences in my life that duplicate a fun, two-hour “skull session” with the “Grizzled Ol’ Coach” (Mike Morris), as this meeting helped my understanding of how impressive the senior Defensive End (and at times Defensive Tackle) from Tualatin, Oregon, is, and why this game performance was such a career-capper.  Settle back and enjoy the knowledge of Coach Morris, and the entertainment of the talented Taylor Hart!

Inside Out Two-Gap Technique

Taylor looks inside first...

Taylor looks inside first . . .

At the beginning of the play above, Hart, from the right DT position (Yellow Arrow), has exploded into the offensive lineman and stood him up.  This part is crucial, as Hart is keeping his eyes UP and looking cheek-to-cheek over the shoulder of the Texas lineman.  Taylor sees the play going outside only after checking his first responsibility – the gap inside or to the left of him.  So, explode and stand-up the offensive lineman, keep your head up and look cheek-to-cheek and then check your first gap priority.

Hand position is crucial

Hand position is crucial.

Inside the Yellow Circle (above), we see Hart get his hands in the crucial inside position in order to push off or utilize a hand move to gain separation from the blocker to help set up going across the Texas lineman’s face.

Great technique prevails

Great technique prevails.

Hart flung the Longhorn aside, crossed his face and shot into the OUTSIDE gap to begin making the tackle!  This play above went for almost nothing as Oregon teammates jumped in and gang-tackled the Texas RB a half-second later.  What an amazing, two-gap play!  Taylor checked his primary run responsibility first, and then beat the block to cover the gap on the other side!  Remember that this was against the vaunted “Left” side of the Longhorn offensive line — one that had road-graded opponents over the season with some serious run blocking.

Inside Out Two-Gap

Inside Out Two-Gap

Outside In Two-Gap Technique

The head is up and checking his primary gap

His head is up and checking his primary gap.

We see a play above where Hart exchanged gap priority from the first example.  As the play begins, he is lined up nearly over the right offensive tackle, but at the snap, the Texan kick steps to the outside, as does the offensive guard on that side.  Thus, Taylor is now on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard, but his first priority is the OUTSIDE gap this time.

The Grizzled Ol’ Coach explained how people have the mechanics of the Two-Gap strategy by defensive linemen, confused.  “Defensive linemen are not responsible for a gap on each side of the offensive lineman immediately after the snap.  They have a first gap priority that they check, and then move to the other gap if the play is moving there.”  Sure enough, Hart is on the outside shoulder of the Longhorn guard and has his head up at cheek-to-cheek level to check the play and his gap.  (Could this be one reason why we like tall defensive linemen?)

Turning the O-Lineman's shoulders is key

Turning the O-Lineman’s shoulders is key.

Taylor can see the play above is an Inside Zone, thus he gains inside position with his hands again, simultaneously crossing the face of the Texas guard with his left arm, and with his right arm, grabs the shoulder pad and pulls the Longhorn outside, or to Hart’s left.  ”Offensive linemen can only block when they are square,” growled the Grizzled Ol’ Coach, and look at the guard’s shoulders!”  The Texan was turned at an angle and hence, Hart could explode to his second gap (the inside), since that Longhorn was neutralized.

No stopping Hart now...

No stopping Hart now . . .

There is nothing the Texas offensive lineman (above) can do, as Taylor lines up his tackle from the side of the RB.  These fellows in burnt orange are BIG – the Texas offensive line averaged more than 309 pounds — hence, Hart is giving up a ton of weight, but defeating blocks with superior technique!  Defensive line Coach Ron Aiken must have been very proud.

Guess who is on bottom?

Guess who is on bottom?

Hart was the first to make contact and stop the majority of the RB progress above, while his friends on defense came to help.  (Guess who was at the bottom of that pile?)

Outside In Two-Gap

Outside In Two-Gap

Who makes the Tackle?

Superb cheek-to-cheek position!

Superb cheek-to-cheek position!

After the snap (above), we see Taylor (Yellow Arrow) is on the outside shoulder of the offensive lineman and looking to his outside gap in a perfect cheek-to-cheek stance.  If Taylor’s pad level is too high, he loses leverage and gets blocked by the offensive lineman, but if his pad level is too low — he would have lost vision of the play.  If Hart had driven into the outside gap with his head too low — he would not have seen the Inside Zone play forming from Texas AND the Longhorn lineman would have had an easy job blocking outside.

Hart turned the Longhorn's shoulders AGAIN!

Hart turned the Longhorn’s shoulders AGAIN!

Look at the screenshot above, to note how Hart has grabbed the shoulder pad of the Texas offensive lineman AGAIN and turned the shoulders of the Texan so he is not squared up!  What happens now?  The blocker in burnt orange has lost all leverage on Taylor, and the senior Duck is about to explode into his second responsibility, the inside gap.  Look how the Texas RB sees this and is stopping to avoid getting swallowed in the middle by Hart!

Who is going to make this tackle?

Who is going to make this tackle?

The Texas RB has decided to bounce outside and to his right instead of feeling the wrath of Hart (above).  At this point Coach Mike Morris asked me, “look at all those Oregon defenders . . . who gets this tackle?”  I assumed an outside linebacker, defensive end, or even the Duck defensive tackle on the other side of the LOS, since that is where the RB has run to.

Taylor Hart owns his gap

Taylor Hart owns his gap — and the Longhorn RB!

Omigosh! The Texas RB (above) decided to cut inside instead of meeting all those Ducks, and so was greeted by our leading tackler of the day, Oregon’s Taylor Hart! (And yes . . . he was at the bottom of the pile again.)

Who makes the Tackle?

Who makes the Tackle?

These were not all the great plays of Hart’s Alamo Bowl performance, but were superb instructional examples for all of us on how the “Two-Gap” defensive line strategy works at Oregon.  As you could see, it takes tremendous strength, skill and technique to implement each step of the “Two-Gap” process, and the senior used all of his experience to overcome the bigger adversaries across the burnt orange line.

Each step took enormous practice time to master, and Taylor has put all of it to good use, as he graduates from the University of Oregon with his Doctorate of Highly Refined Defensive Techniques.  We wish him the best at the next level!

And a profound thanks to Coach Mike Morris, for helping us learn and appreciate the efforts of Oregon’s defensive linemen.

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

Charles Fischer (FishDuck)

Oregon Football Analyst for EugeneDailyNews/FishDuck.com

Eugene, Oregon

(Top Photo: D.C. Photography)

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