How the University of South Dakota Will Try to Defend Oregon


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The Ducks will kick off their 2014 campaign against the University of South Dakota (USD) on August 30. As members of the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision, the Coyotes will be outmatched at virtually every position on the field and will have to play an amazing game, as well as catch a few breaks, to stay competitive against Oregon. 

South Dakota’s Strength

USD, while going 4-8 against a brutal schedule in 2013, was anchored by a solid defensive unit and defensive coordinator Jason Petrino. Utilizing a 3-4 scheme, the Coyotes ended the year ranked 27th in the country in total defense, 9th in passing defense, and 1st in 4th-down defense. So, going into Week 1, let’s take a look at how USD will likely try to defend Oregon’s explosive offense.

In my opinion, USD will stay with their aggressive 3-4 scheme and will look to attack Oregon’s offense with a variety of blitzes and coverages. They will likely try to use deception and blitz aggressively to compensate for the challenges Oregon’s offense will present to them.

Attacking the Spread Offense from the 3-4

A key advantage to the 3-4 defense is the ability to bring pressure from many different places on the field. This creates confusion for the offensive line and forces the quarterback to account for the possibility of many different pass rush schemes. Even top-notch NFL quarterback’s such as Drew Brees find the 3-4 difficult to play against because of it’s complex blitz schemes that are easy to disguise.

Let’s take a look at some common ways the 3-4 implements the blitz.

The video above discusses some techniques on how to blitz from the 3-4 versus 2×2 and 3×1 formations.

This video above demonstrates many different blitz looks from the 3-4 from both the wide angle and end zone video clips.

Oregon also runs an aggressive 3-4 Zone Blitz package, highlighted in’s video above. You can find out more about Oregon’s hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme here on

Oregon vs the 3-4 in 2013

In 2013, Oregon lined up against several teams that ran a 3-4 scheme. We will take a look at a couple of different looks and blitzes from Stanford game. In the first example we see a 5-man pressure from Stanford, and Oregon is able to pick up the blitz and gain positive yardage.



In this screen shot, we see Stanford lined up in a variation of a 3-4 front. In this look, the outside linebacker at the top of the image is lined up on the line of scrimmage, while the other outside linebacker is aligned in the Apex position discussed in first video above. In this position, he is splitting the difference between the #2 receiver and the offensive tackle.


Here we see the stunting backers engaging at the line of scrimmage as the play develops. The outside linebacker to the top of the screen is getting a run read and engages accordingly rather than starting a pass rush. We also see that Josh Huff has gone in motion away from regular action of the play.


In this image, I have highlighted the other two linebackers, who have pass coverage responsibilities. In this instance, the outside linebacker on the bottom of the screen is responsible for the flat area and should be widening with Josh Huff who has come out of the backfield in a swing or bubble pattern.


The outside linebacker didn’t widen enough to account for Huff’s speed and ended up in a poor position to make the play. The defender had to readjust his angle, and while eventually making the tackle, didn’t do it until after Oregon had gain significant yardage.


In this next example, we see Stanford aligned in a slightly different variation of a 3-4 Front.


In this image we see a similar 3-4 look; however there are several key differences. In this instance, the Apex player is wider and appears to be aligned just inside of the receiver. The top inside linebacker is aligned on the offensive tackles outside shoulder in what is a called a 50 technique. The left defensive end has also adjusted his alignment and is lined up on the offensive tackles inside shoulder. Finally, the right outside linebacker is in a wide 9 technique on the line of scrimmage.


Here we see that Stanford has a 4-man stunt called.  The left outside linebacker is dropping to his zone, while the left inside backer blitzes off the edge. Note here that the right outside linebacker who was aligned aggressively on the line of scrimmage has dropped back into pass coverage.


Here we see the blitzing inside linebacker jumping to make a play on the ball. His blitz forced Mariota into making a quick decision, allowing him to deflect the pass.



3-4 Blitz Variations

Developing blitz packages from the 3-4 front is an exercise in creativity as there are so many possibilities. Coaches often use variations in personnel, alignment, and gap responsibility to create very effective schemes that are very difficult to react to from an offensive perspective. Let’s take a look at a few more blitz schemes from the 3-4 in diagram form.


In this scheme we have a 5-man pressure with a 3-Deep, 3-Under coverage behind it.



In this blitz scheme, we have a 6-man pressure with Cover 0, or man coverage behind it.



In this diagram we see a slightly different type of zone blitz. While this is a 6-man pressure, it is unique in that the Sam outside linebacker is blitzing, but if a tailback releases to his side he must peel off the blitz and cover him. In this stunt, the inside backers are cross blitzing, while the Will backer is dropping into the flat. Behind the front, we have a 1/4, 1/4-Half shell and the Free Safety is coming up to play the hole where the inside linebackers vacated.



In this diagram we see another 5-man pressure. Once again, we have a 1/4-1/4-Half shell on the coverage, the Will is dropping to the flat, and the FS is covering the hole. On the strong side, however, we see something different. In this zone blitz package, the defensive end is dropping into the flat and the outside linebacker is blitzing off the edge.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that Oregon is the better team and should win big, however there is a reason the games are played, and we all know that the Gridiron is often a place of miracles and enigmatic upsets.

Consider this:

USD plays in the Missouri Vally Conference, one of the best in the country. A quick look at the 2014 FCS pre-season coaches poll shows that the MVC is represented by three teams in the FCS Top 15, including No. 1 North Dakota State. Also on USD’s schedule are Montana (No. 5), South Dakota State (No. 10), Northern Iowa (No. 15), Youngstown State (No. 21), and Northern Arizona (No. 25).

Except for North Dakota State (who beat the Coyotes 42-0 last year), USD was able to compete with the top teams in their division, beating Northern Iowa 38-31, and playing close games with other Top 25 teams.  Finally, they weren’t completely blown out by Kansas last year either.

USD is comfortable in the underdog role, and Oregon would be wise to make sure they are not looking ahead to Michigan State on September 6th. As they say, “Take it one week at a time.”

Coach Levi Steier
Albany, New York

Top Picture from Video

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Levi Steier

Levi Steier

Levi Steier, (Football Analyst) after a collegiate playing career cut short by injuries, began his coaching career as a student assistant at Dakota State University. Since then he has coached primarily at the high school level. During this time he has been a head coach and has coordinated all three phases of the game. He is currently the owner of a web design business and the publisher at where he discusses many aspects of football, but regularly focuses on option oriented football topics. Coach Steier enjoys talking football and encourages anyone who would like to discuss the game or find more information to visit his site. You can follow Levi on twitter @OptionFootball, on his Facebook page and on Google+.

  • Harry Witt

    Thanks for another good read, Levi. It answers, quite well, that question I put to you on Facebook a few weeks ago. And it makes me think that the USD game is actually going to be really good for the Oregon O-line, which I think has some depth of experience issues. They’re going to be tested by fire the week after South Dakota. Keep up the good work.

    • hokieduck

      I don’t now exactly why you think that the Oregon O-Line has “depth of experience issues,” Harry. Even with the injury to Tyler Johnstone, the offensive line is deep and Coach Greatwood practices all his players at more than one position so as to keep the best guys ready to play even if someone goes down with an injury. Phil Steele prognosticated the Ducks as the best O Line in college football this season (I think that was prior to TJ’s injury, but nonetheless it shows the strength of that position group).

      That said, this is a great read, Levi. While I think that USD’s best defense would be a couple of bazookas and an armored personnel carrier, the breakdown of the 3-4 was informative. And that is why we love Fishduck!

      • Can’t argue with the bazooka defense comment. USD will certainly have their hands full. Thanks for the comment!

    • Thanks Harry. I think this game will be a good warmup as well. An aggressive 3-4 blitz scheme will test any offensive line.

  • Godux

    Good job.
    Got to wonder how well USD will adjust to a speed they have not seen, taking the best routes to stop a play for instance. If they have a problem with that at all, the score may be out of hand before they adjust.

    • Agreed. Oregon’s speed will be a huge problem for USD. This is part of why I believe USD will blitz heavily. They have got to do something to try to pressure Oregon’s offense.

      • Godux

        Sounds like that might be their best chance, about as good as a popsicle in Hell though. All I know about them is what I have read in the past week or so, but I imagine the quickness of Oregon’s O-line is going to be beyond anything they expect or can adjust to because they won’t have practiced against it. I saw a comment from the coach admitting they could not simulate Oregon in game prep.
        A frequent blitz package by them is likely to invoke a few short passes that turn in mucho YAC. While they might be able slow down a conventional offense and keep the score within reason, or count on an average zone read QB to make enough mistakes to stop a few drives, they are dealing with a different critter here.
        I wouldn’t expect to see anything from Oregon that was not in last years package, since MSU already has that video, which will be more than the Coyotes can handle.
        I really see Oregon putting the brakes on and still scoring from 50 to 70 points, and very likely pitching a shutout, at least until the third string is on the field. I hope Lockie and Mahalak take the field with most of the playbook open and still allowed to use the no huddle factor as it is designed. What I expect to see is, at least for Mahalak, to demonstrate the ability to get an organized team to line quickly, then wait for the snap clock to run down before running some plain vanilla plays. That’s the norm recently when there is a big lead. I suppose, for him, that’s a way to get used to being on the field in that kind of atmosphere without a lot of pressure.
        I’d also like to see the starting D, such as that is, on the field longer than they need to be just to get used to being there for extend time, like they will probably be in week two. I guess the more likely alternative is for them to be well rested for MSU.