Game Plans of the Oregon Spread Offense: Helfrich versus Kelly

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The transition from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich has been fascinating to observe in many areas, but now we can begin to compare their game plans, since Helf’ has now been heading Oregon for nearly two years. Are there similarities? What are the differences? I laid the groundwork in three videos two years ago that fans and coaches loved, thus I thought I would compare what we learned then from Coaches Kelly and Helfrich to what Coaches Helfrich and Frost are doing now. (Helfrich was the Offensive Coordinator under Chip Kelly, as Scott Frost is OC under Helfrich.) While my observations are simplistic, (I am just a hack, you know.) it does get the thought processes running, and I would appreciate your feedback as we all learn together!

The Speed Double Option from 2010!

From Video

The Speed Double Option from 2010!

One strategy that Chip Kelly liked was to pull an old play out of the playbook to surprise opponents. In 2010 (above) Oregon had begun to use a Speed Double Option extensively throughout that season to complement the basic Inside and Outside Zone Read plays.

Darron Thomas pitching to LaMichael James1

From Video

Darron Thomas pitching to LaMichael James!

How much fun is it to see Darron Thomas pitch the ball to LaMichael James with Jeff Maehl blocking for them downfield!  This play worked well, and then Chip put the play in his back pocket and we did not see it after that season. Earlier this year I thought about how pulling that play out might help us…but maybe there is a reason they haven’t?

Red Zone Dilemma...

From Video

Red Zone Dilemma…

An area of concern for Oregon offensively was our Red Zone offense going into this season. What ideas did the coaches have to improve our scoring to where it had been in the past? Above is a key 4th down and 1 against Washington inside the Red Zone again…

A Speed Double Option after four years?

From Video

A Speed Double Option after four years?

Whoa!  Imagine my thrill up in the stands seeing an old Speed Double Option again! (See above.) What a perfect time to pull it out after FOUR years?

Can he make the first down?

From Video

Can he make the first down?

Mariota (above) has decided to keep it, but in front of him is the talented Husky Middle Linebacker.  He has to make the first down for Oregon to score.

What a great play call!

From Video

What a great play call!

Marcus (above) dove into the pile and just barely made the first down!  The Ducks scored on the next play and the game swung Oregon’s way. What a great time by Helfrich to pull the same strategy as Chip and take an old play that fits into our offense and use it to surprise the opponent.  So far…Coach Helfrich/Frost is successfully imitating the Coach Kelly/Helfrich staff with this game plan strategy.

It's a Pistol!

From Video

It’s a Pistol!

A second strategy of the Coach Kelly/Helfrich team was introducing something completely new to an opponent, thus no possible way for the opponent to prepare for it. Above we see Oregon unveil the Pistol formation and run our offense through it.

Zone Blocking-looking good1

From Video

Zone Blocking-looking good!

This play above is not a Zone Read, but just an Inside Zone play where the Zone Blocking begins as usual. (Gosh I love those throw-back uniforms!)

 

Byron Marshall can run out of any formation.

From Video

Byron Marshall can run out of any formation.

Byron Marshall (No. 9 above) has burst into the clear and is on his way for a sizable gain. The huskies were clearly thrown off by the new formation,  as Oregon introduced a bit of it in the UCLA game and expanded the plays out of the Pistol to include sweeps and play-action passes. So current coaches Helfrich/Frost have successfully duplicated the Chip/Helf staff in creating something new to throw at the opponent.

Where is the Pistol? Back in the playbook!

From Video

Where is the Pistol?  Back in the playbook!

A key follow-up strategy to introducing a new play or series of plays under the Kelly/Helfrich staff was to turn around and put the play back in their hip pocket as they did with the Speed Double Option play.  Above we see in the Stanford game that Oregon was not running the Pistol, and returned to its usual formations.  Imagine the time taken by the ‘Furd to prepare for something that did not happen! Nice duplication of this strategy by the Helfrich/Frost staff!

A better passing offense?

From Video

A better passing offense?

As the Ducks were playing California recently (above) I could not help but think about the change in the offense under Helfrich/Frost to more passing to balance out the offense (the dreaded tight-trips formation above).

Brown uses logistics to beat the Bear.

From Video

Brown uses logistics to beat the Bear.

This play is an example of using the Duck running game to set up the passing game so nicely. Above you see Pharaoh Brown (red arrow) separate from the linebacker covering him because the Cal LB had run support as first priority. Of particular interest is how much walk-on Matt Pierson (No. 62 and yellow arrow above) improved and is doing a great job protecting Marcus Mariota.  How interesting that the defensive end Matt is blocking is none other than Todd Barr, whom the Ducks recruited hard to Oregon?

This staff coaches up wonderfully...

From Video

This staff coaches up wonderfully…

This is a pretty sweet passing touchdown to Brown as Oregon has turned up the amount of passing plays under the Helfrich/Frost staff.  I personally always felt that achieving balance in the offense was the last hurdle for Chip Kelly to complete and although he did not, his heir at Oregon has done so nicely with 56% of the yardage coming from the passing attack thus far this year.

This staff has the gameplans down...

From Video

This staff has the game plans down…

It does beg the question concerning the increasing sophistication of the Duck passing attack…is it due to the presence of Mariota and is the staff utilizing the strengths of the personnel? Or is a permanent change as evidenced by the tremendous receiver talent at underclassmen and those joining the Ducks over the next two years?

That provides us some discussion points over frosty cold ones or hot cups of java, but what is clear to me is how the Helfrich/Frost staff has retained the components of the game planning of the original staff as hinted to in an earlier analysis. They watched these strategies become as important as the execution itself and I believe we will enjoy watching these themes surface in games over the coming years.

I wonder what they have in mind for the Pac-12 Championship?  Fun stuff to ponder….

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

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

Top Photo from 2010 Video

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Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer

Charles Fischer has been an intense fan of the Ducks for thirty years and has written reports on football boards for over a dozen years. Known as “FishDuck” on those boards, he is acknowledged for providing intense detail in his scrimmage reports and in his Xs and Os play analyses. He and his wife Lois, a daughter, Christine, and their dog (Abbie) reside in Eugene, Oregon, where he has been a financial advisor for 30 years serving clients in seven different states. He does not profess to be a coach or analyst, but simply a “hack” that enjoys sharing what he has learned and invites others to correct or add to this body of Oregon Football! See More...

  • Godux

    I think Helf has learned a lot about being HC vs his OC duties alone. There is a lot more on the table with his newer role. That being said he was, as we all know, smart enough not to reinvent the way Oregon plays the game.
    Rather than measure the balance of his plays, it is more important to see how he maintains a moving target, as you well demonstrate in this article. The stats evolve from that and are not a statistical target that the team is trying to reach.
    MM has demonstrated the ability to run for over 100 yds in a game. While he doesn’t go into a contest expecting to do so, I think he goes in with a general guideline where he expects to rely on the team running or passing more often. His superior read skill and decision making may result in that kind of game. Unlike a Manziel or, to a lesser extent Jaimieson, he doesn’t go in expecting to take over a game with his legs.
    All that being said, and enjoyed, as we watch a special talent, I think next year is the real test for Helf. I don’t expect a big drop off. It is finally going to become more evident that ALL positions at UO are plug and play, base on preparation, athletic skill, the ability to play (or at lest understand) multiple positions, and, of course, speed. The Ducks utilize superior skills by individuals but do not build the offense around any one player.
    When the pre-season ratings come out, Oregon is going to drop, possibly out of the top 20 or so. By the end of the season they will have climbed the ladder. They are probably in a better position to do that next season than they are now, with at least three viable candidates to step into MM’s spot. Not that any will do it better than he has, but that at least two of them can step in without a major drop, I’m not sure we are in that position this year since we have not seen enough of Lockie to know. I suspect he could do the job fairly well since it is the system, not the player that matters here.
    That’s not something we have fully realized yet, according to what most of the writing is about. Oregon has produced well enough to have become a power, while not sending on a QB, nor a running back, who is a viable candidate to start on an NFL team. Marriota could change that, under the right system, but we don’t know that yet.
    What you present in the article is the reason this is true. You always knew what A&M was going to do and FSU boils down to relying on Jamieson’s ability to make it up on the fly and take advantage of his great Physical skill. While Marriota can produce those numbers, he does so within a more of a plan than the other two. Both he and the team are much less predictable. That is by design.
    Helf is the captain of that ship and next year he will be recognized more for what he does than what his QB has done for three years. Good-bye and Thank you very much Marcus. You have thrilled us and we wish you well. Who’s next? The consistency and skill of the coaching staff will still be here. The game plans will evolve from the same sources and those should give us an answer we will be happy with.

  • Dan

    I think that Oregon is throwing the ball is more a function
    of having the greatest QB ever to suit up in an Oregon uniform (Marcus Mariota).
    It will be interesting to see whether Oregon’s offense reverts back to a more
    run first mentality next year with Freeman, Tyner and the new stud RBs coming in,
    while breaking in a new QB.

  • Michael S. Putnam

    A few thoughts:

    First, I think you should just use the term “Speed Option”. The only option read is QB/Pitch. I don’t see a second option here, so I would’t use the double option term. There are two typical ways to run this play.

    #1 is to leave the edge unblocked (the play-side DE/OLB). The QB attacks the edge, and keep or pitches based on their response. This is usually a quick hitting play, good versus man blitz, and is fairly easy to introduce to the QB. It is a pretty common play for many teams that don’t even run an option attack.

    #2 is to block the play-side edge and instead option the force defender at the second level (LB/Safety). This takes a little more finesse since this is a slower developing play. Many teams run this just like an old-school toss play just without an immediate toss by the QB. In the examples above, the Ducks are running this type of speed option.

    Honestly, this isn’t a huge change for the Ducks. Speed Option is a pretty easy scheme to install. Nor do I think many Pac 12 defenses are surprised when the Ducks run it. Good execution may be a better explanation for its success.

  • Michael S. Putnam

    As for the pistol- the main reason gun option teams like to run the pistol is to throw off defenses who try to scheme against the offset back formation. Some defenses think DL/OLB twist stunts or blitzes to the offset side is a good way to disrupt the mesh and QB read. The drawback of the pistol is that it is a little slower getting the mesh between the QB/RB set, and often teams give an option look without really running option.

    As for your video clip, I think that is exactly what the Ducks did. If you look, there is no unblocked backside defender for Marcus to read. Truthfully, even with the “Tex” block (OT/TE cross block) the Ducks have a blocker on every defender-or a “hat on every hat”. Watch that play and imagine Marcus pulling and keeping it going around edge- you may see a score. I think there was no option on this play- handoff all the way.

    I think the pistol is a nice wrinkle for the Ducks, especially if they are facing defenses that try to scheme the offset RB side. The traditional view is that when you have an offset RB in the gun, that RB will run typically to one side, while the QB will run or fake to the opposite. This is called “split flow”, and it is an essential concept to gun option teams in trying to slow down LB’s on their fill assignments and defensive pursuit.

    Pistol schemes often resemble more “full flow” where the RB and QB both attack the same side. The Ducks have plenty of other “full flow” options out of their traditional offset back scheme (power option comes to mind), but the pistol is a nice addition.

  • Michael S. Putnam

    As for the passing TD against Cal, pretty sweet is a very good description. On the weak side, the Ducks are employing their Post/wheel concept with the WR/RB (something Arizona burned the Ducks with earlier this year). On the bunch side, the Ducks employing a pick/rub scheme designed to attack man and red zone coverage.

    TE Brown is running a vertical clear while the two WR’s cross behind him. The outside WR runs a shallow cross and the inside WR runs a “pivot” route- faking a flat route and spinning back inside to follow the cross. Honestly, both of these routes come open and could score. Brown’s clear is open though thanks to great technique beating the press and the inside safety jumping the shallow cross in their man coverage assignments. Mariota also influences the safety by staring down the post/wheel in his drop.

    I’m not sure that the passing game is much more sophisticated now that Helfrich is running the show. I think it is much more a product of who is playing QB. Kelly was hamstrung with QB Masoli in that he was a very limited passer. Kelly was similarly hamstrung, but for the opposite reason, with QB Thomas. Although Thomas seemed like the prototypical athletic QB people assume gun option teams must have to find success, Thomas was not much of a weapon as a runner. In fact, I think he was at his best as a pocket QB.

  • Roo Mal

    Your articles definitely do get read, including the old ones. I’m just a student of the game, branching out from NFL and Charles Fisher’s intro videos got me started a few years ago. Kelly/Helfrich, Malzahn, Meyer and Briles are the 4 best and most fun Offensive Systems in my opinion to watch. Boring old Alabama Saban and the same old NFL is the past. The fact fewer and fewer guys are running pro style and even fewer than that are making it in the NFL, means Kelly’s NFL offense is the future of Pro Football. I mean, I hope so, how much more West Coast Offense can we take from a system that ran through all its permutations in the 1990’s?
    Here, the NFL draft, What, 10 people on earth can QB this WCO timing based NFL system, but the NFL has 32 teams, with 22 spinning their wheels with round peg QBS being jammed into square holes. When the Redskins finish ruining RG3, maybe Kelly can turn him loose with a system that works for him. That would be a superbowl caliber offense.