Oregon defeats UCLA with the Bair-Down Strategy

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Fish Reports

Oregon’s running game against the Bruins was aided by a most unlikely player–Stetzon Bair, who recently moved over to the offensive line from the defense! It is amazing how much better a coach Steve Greatwood became this week with the return of Jake Fisher, the improvement of Matt Pierson and Tyrell Crosby and the emergence of “transfer” Stetzon Bair on the offensive line. The pundits referring to them as one of the worst offensive lines in the nation ignored the injuries and growing pains that occur when the “next man up” takes his place. I know Coach Greatwood is a superb coach, but putting newbie offensive linemen into the game demonstrated his abilities to teach these young men and help them achieve their potential.  Let’s take a look at the biggest surprise (for me) of the game and some fun plays against UCLA!

(Note to new readers: On Tuesdays we have a football analysis from guest coaches, and during football season I do them myself. The objective is to take something from the game…a play, a strategy, or a technique and focus on it for the benefit of football fans like me to learn a little and be able to enjoy the games that much more. I have a coaching team that helps me and they are located from Virginia to Hawaii to help Oregon fans who are what we call “Next Level” fans, appreciate some fine points of what is taking place on the field.  If you wish to comment, let’s keep it civil. For rules of how we operate with commenting, please see the recent article about our MO on this site.  Thanks.  FishDuck)

UCLA threatening a blitz...

UCLA threatening a blitz…

As you can see in the screenshot above–it is third and long and we’ll probably be passing and the Bruins, knowing this, have shown their hand just before the ball is snapped.  They intend to overload our right side, (Light blue arrows) and in particular work against freshman tackle Tyrell Crosby (No. 73). The “stack” formation of receivers on both sides is not unusual for Oregon to present, but it made UCLA nervous enough to call a time-out to plan their defense.

An expected twist....

An expected twist….

This gave time for Helfrich/Frost to come up with a strategy of their own as Oregon comes to the LOS (line of scrimmage) above in an unbalanced line to the left!  Notice how one WR is up on the LOS, thus the TE the Ducks have to the left is ineligible to receive a pass. (Thank you, Grizzled Ol’ Coach.) Oregon has done some tricky stuff with the unbalanced line over the years, and in particular running the ball. This time it is clearly a passing scenario, so UCLA keeps their blitz to our right going as planned. Note the UCLA linebacker in front of the referee is already leaning forward to charge into a gap!

Running the ball away from a blitz?

Running the ball away from a blitz?

Oregon continues to appear to be running to the left as the Ducks pull a guard and the handoff is looking like a power play! Note how (light blue arrow above) the UCLA linebacker has disappeared into the LOS as he is blasting through on their planned blitz.

Grasu is WAY out in front!

Grasu is WAY out in front!

Omigosh…they caught ME by surprise running a screen pass to the right! Tyner just caught the ball and is looking at a ton of open space. The UCLA safety (No. 21) is headed downfield, as is Oregon center Hroniss Grasu.  The Duck veteran knows he cannot run to the defender, but ahead of him to cut him off and make the block (yellow lines above).

The Bruin has angle on Tyner...

The Bruin has angle on Tyner…

Oh-oh. The Bruin safety (No. 21 above) has beaten Grasu to the spot and has angle on Tyner who has his own eyes on the end zone. Hroniss has done this a hundred times in his career; block the defender to where he wants to go! (Right into Tyner?)

Grasu knows what he is doing...

Grasu knows what he is doing…

Oregon running backs are taught to cut back behind the block of the downfield lineman, and Tyner does so as he cruises into the end zone. Can you believe how far down the field Grasu went to make that block? That is a highly talented, smart, and well coached athlete….

Grasu is amazing...

Grasu is amazing…

There have been many armchair coaches out there who have been quite critical of the offensive coaching in the last couple of weeks, and I could not help but wonder how many of them would have come up with a screen to the weak side of an unbalanced line with a power-play look and play action off of it? Pretty clever and I admit that I would not have ever come up with it; it was a great play call, and tremendous execution.

A nice pocket for Mariota...

A nice pocket for Mariota…

It was exciting for me to note not only how Mariota was not sacked, but how much the young-gun offensive linemen had improved. Above we see Jake Fisher (yellow arrow) back and protecting Marcus’s left side, while Tyrell Crosby on the right (green arrow) protects the left speed rushing lane. Tyrell has learned a TON since he was thrown into action against Michigan State, and it is clear he took to the coaching of Steve Greatwood well. Nice pocket, guys!

Pierson has improved!

Pierson has improved!

Now that Jake was back on the left side, (on Mariota’s left above) both Crosby and Matt Pierson could get fully adjusted to pass protection on the right side.  Here we see Pierson (No. 62) controlling his defender nicely as the ball is in the air! (To his left is Cam Hunt dominating his defender, as are Grasu and Hamani Stevens up front. What a beautiful pocket!) Reps in practice, superb coaching, and game experience have made Matt look completely different within weeks. I swear I can see a confident body language from him that was not there before.

Look who is leading the Sweep!

Look who is leading the Sweep!

Our plays a few weeks ago were so vanilla for our offensive tackle replacements, but now we see Pierson pulling for a sweep (above)! He did a tremendous job pushing and then blasting the Bruin safety backward as Tyner got nearly ten yards on the play (note, NO reading the backside on that play, thus something to study for later).

Pierson pulverizes!

Pierson pulverizes!

I simply cannot believe it is the same player as against Washington State…and the fact is, he isn’t! He is a much improved player and I applaud his efforts to learn the offense, techniques, and to pick up the Jake Fisher ‘tude.

Who is in the game?

Who is in the game?

Whoa! Look who is in the game at left tackle but Stetzon Bair, who recently moved over from the defensive line (No. 65 above). Note that five of seven linemen you see in the screenshot above will be returning next year.

Nice push by Bair....

Nice push by Bair….

Stetzon has a great start to this play as he is pile-driving the defensive tackle inside as the play begins (yellow arrow above).

Hang on a little longer!

Hang on a little longer!

The Bair-was-bigger, but the Bruin was thicker as the defensive tackle is starting to get control of the block by Stetzon. Bair (yellow arrow above) simply needs to hold on until the running back is by them.  Who knew he was going to be throwing a key block on his only play in the game?

The hands began inside...

The hands began inside…

Whoops!  Bair took the “holding on” a little too literally as he might be hanging on (yellow arrow above) a bit too much. However his hands did start inside and the RB is past, so he is good!

Bair helped make a TD happen!

Bair helped make a TD happen!

Above is a beautiful picture by David Pyles showing Royce Freeman (No. 21) about to burst into the end zone after running through the lane that Stetzon Bair helped create (yellow arrow above). What a fantastic first play on offense! Cheers to him and the coaches to help prepare him to make an immediate impact.

Sometimes you get the Bear, and sometimes the Bair gets you.

Sometimes you get the Bear, and sometimes the Bair gets you.

One GOOD thing about the Arizona loss? It made thousands of Oregon fans appreciate the importance of the offensive line, and how ONE PLAYER (Jake Fisher in this case) can make such a difference to the team.  Add in the experience and coaching up of the newbie offensive tackles and we had an amazing performance from the offensive line emerge in Los Angeles.

No sacks, and a nearly a perfect balance of rushing yards (258) to passing yards (210) bodes well for the future of the Duck offense. I believe that Oregon fans are realizing now we are still building the talent level on defense, and while they make huge plays (turnovers) to help win games–we usually win by outscoring our opponent. Fans have learned that without a great offensive line, Oregon cannot bury their opponents with points, and injuries to Oregon’s talented QBs occur too easily.

Chip Kelly asserted that the offensive line, “are the key to your team,” and Oregon fans are now beginning to understand why.

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

Charles Fischer  (FishDuck)
Oregon Football Analyst for CFF Network/FishDuck.com
Eugene, Oregon

(The top Photo by David Pyles of Cam Hunt destroying a Bruin LB is sweet)

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