By Charles Fischer and the “Grizzled Ol’ Coach” Mike Morris
We have ALL been fooled by Spring Games of the past, as players who starred in these May games would not ever see the light of day on the football field in the fall – or they transferred out. Yet other times they have shown us glimpses of the potential some of the young Ducks possess and it gives us a valuable heads up for study in the summer.
As a fan, you try not to place too much importance on them, yet we watch them by the boatloads of people! Why? Because we fans are starved for football and it is the only tidbit of football nourishment before fall camp due to the restrictions on fans.
The 2014 edition of the Spring Game had it’s share of yawners, but there were a couple of lessons to take away from the tape as the “Grizzled Ol’ Coach” and I were excited with our updated view of a couple of players AND plays! Let’s dive in!
I was surprised to see something new actually presented in the Spring Game … and the game had several. One was the “Naked Sweep” play that we have not run since 2011, but for an occasional appearance. Oregon blocks the Outside Zone Read to the right (above) with every intention of going that direction. Because of the “bucket-steps” at the beginning by the offensive line — it is very convincing to all the defenders who then work to defeat the blocks along that outside wall.
What is most unusual is how Marcus Mariota is Zone Reading the Middle Linebacker to determine his gap commitment; is the MLB going to plug the gap he is responsible for against the OZR, or is he going to move outside to the left to stop the running back who could be taking the handoff for a sweep without lead blockers? The linebacker has clearly taken a step toward the inside gaps of the OZR, thus Marcus hands off to Thomas Tyner.
The defenders above are clearly sold on an Outside Zone Read coming their direction and are tied up below on that. Tyner sets up his TE block nicely by cutting inside to allow the TE to get angle on the defensive back, and then he pops outside for the a nice gain. It is great to see this play dusted off and brought out of the playbook again!
This play above combines all the components we love about the Oregon offense; it employs the Zone Read, it allows our most skilled offensive players to have open field one-on-one running opportunities, and it puts the defense in the difficult spot of defending TWO plays at once.
You see, the QB can keep the ball and follow the OZR blocking, which he did later in the game! Or … the Ducks can still throw the Bubble to the top of the screen, and can run play-action passes off this entire set of movements within this play. It is very-very difficult to defend! (Thanks to Coach Morris for pointing it out to me)
There are some notes we need to take concerning our defensive line, as that area to me was the most pleasant surprise. The Grizzled Ol’ Coach has been concerned about the Nose Tackle position as to whether we have enough push and space-taking capacities from our Nose Tackles. He and I were both impressed with what we saw of the improvement by Alex Balducci.
A discussion for another analysis is the “Bear” look the Oregon defense employed a number of times, where they lined the NT head up on the center and had defensive tackles lined up to plug the “B” gaps, which is the space between the guard and tackle of the offense. The linebackers are threatening run-blitz at the same time
The screenshot above was especially exciting to the Coach and I as we watch Alex employ PERFECT defensive line technique by standing up our starting center, and then slipping his head to the side of the center’s head to check where the play was going. Note how the other defensive linemen are in the process of doing the same thing! This entire process and technique was best demonstrated by Taylor Hart in the Alamo Bowl, and the coach and I detailed it in this Fish Report.
Above we see Alex begin to discard the offensive lineman and begin to move to stop the Inside Zone Read that is coming at him. I’ll let the GIF show the rest of the play.
This play above took tremendous strength, leverage, and technique to make this tackle, and it brought big smiles from Coach Morris as he described the action for us Oregon fans.
It is kinda hard to see above, but No. 44, DeForest Buckner, is showing us WHY many believe he will be up for All-Conference and possibly even national honors next year. The red arrow points him out as he is finishing a Swim Move for run defense. Normally you see this strategy on the pass rush, as we saw in the UCLA game Fish Report detailing Arik Armstead employing this move.
Buckner is not satisfied (above) with just making a tackle-for-loss as he punches the ball out of the running back’s hands and creates a fumble!
So let’s get this right; he beats his man at the snap of the ball, creates a fumble in the backfield, and then recovers the fumble (above) as well? Wow — Coach and I were hopping a little in our seats watching the technique in slow motion showing the desire by DeForest to make a big play for the defense! It has been so exciting to see such refined defensive line technique by our veterans, as the repetition that takes place in practice is manifesting itself on the field of play.
I have been searching my mental data-base for a comparison to DeForest’s agility, strength, and speed at our defensive tackle position and I’m drawing a blank. The combination you see above is rare, and the closest I can think of is Marcus Woods of 1989-90, but he was at Nose Tackle. The simple reply is “Haloti Ngata,” but he primarily used the Bull Rush, (which was incredibly successful, BTW) and he plays NT now in the NFL. Any help here?
OK … it’s official. I am completely distracted in this Fish Report by the defensive line improvements the Coach and I are seeing. I can hardly believe my eyes as I see T.J. Daniel (above) use PERFECT technique to get his arms and hands inside the offensive tackle and slide his head over to the side of the offensive lineman’s to check the gap he is responsible for and the play. Look how ALL of the defensive linemen are doing that! I think the “Coach Aiken” effect is beginning to show from his years of experience coaching both in college and the NFL.
Is this process becoming familiar? Daniel (above) is using the same process we saw from the veteran Balducci earlier and now he is discarding the blocker to make the tackle of the play coming right at him!
Not only did we see superb technique from the sophomore (above) but it appears that T.J has grown further and put on some very solid weight; frankly, he looks pretty studly (a technical term).
As you can tell — I have not uncovered all the gems of the Spring Game, as the Grizzled Ol’ Coach and I were thrilled with the progress of the Oregon defensive line. I will be doing another analysis in the near future to finish our observations, but as we leave the defensive line discussion — I am struck by the words of Coach Mike Morris as we watched Daniel and new JC transfer/monster Tui Talia (above):
“Charles … our second team defensive line might be every bit as good as the first team!” Whoa! I could not disagree, as we saw Tui plug gaps and block the passes of the opposing QBs as well as chase them out of the pocket. The delightful surprise of the Oregon Spring Game? The amazing improvement and depth of the Oregon Defensive Line, and I suspect they are going to create some big plays for us to cheer this fall.
“Oh how we love to learn about our Beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Oregon Football Analyst for EugeneDailyNews/FishDuck.com