Coaches are Buzzing: Oregon’s Wildcat Power Zone Read!

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The coaches and fans are buzzing about Oregon’s new play unveiled against Oregon State last Saturday night. I was on the phone with one coach that evening and with three coaches the next morning from across the nation as we were all fascinated with Oregon’s new Wildcat Power Zone Read. Now that is a mouthful, but the good news is that this will be one of the most puzzling analysis articles ever on the site — but a lot of fun from the pondering of the intent behind the play.

I was fortunate to have Coach Tony Hoolulu in Hawaii advise me on the inner workings of this play while the Grizzled Ol’ Coach (Mike Morris) offered some thoughts about the “why” of this play. As always I am learning from them and passing along to you … and this one is a dandy!

Looks like any play beginning until we notice who is at QB!

From Video

Looks like any play beginning until we notice who is at QB!

Above we see the beginning of a typical Oregon play until we notice who is at the quarterback position; it is Charles Nelson, the freshman receiver/running back/kick returner/kickoff legend and wonderkind who had two touchdown catches in this game. Next to him in the running back position is QB Marcus Mariota. Holy crap–it is a Wildcat formation!

It is a Power Play!

From Video

It is a Power Play!

Another surprise was in store for us as the left guard pulls to lead the blocking to the right side as Oregon does in its Power Play and it is none other than No. 72 Andre Yruretagoyena! It is great to see him on the field along with right tackle Matt Pierson at the same time.

Charles Nelson is Zone Reading?

From Video

Charles Nelson is Zone Reading?

More surprises are in store and this is why the coaches and I were buzzing; it is evident that Charles Nelson is Zone Reading the Oregon State defensive end (light blue circle). As before with the other Zone Read plays — if the defender is sitting as the Beaver is, then you hand off. Nelson did and how weird it as, it is Mariota getting the ball after the mesh!

It IS a Power Play and Zone Read!

From Video

It IS a Power Play and Zone Read!

Note how Andre Y. (yellow arrow above) passed right on by the defender being zone read (light blue arrow), and is headed to block a Beaver linebacker. It truly is a Wildcat play, a Power Play, and a Zone Read play all into one.  Wait! Add one more element to this play as Mariota pulls back to pass! (My head is going to explode.)

Marshall makes the catch in the flat...

From Video

Marshall makes the catch in the flat…

On top of everything else this play contains — it is a Pass-Run option for Mariota. Above we see Byron Marshall make the catch and he is about to make some YAC (yards after catch).

An amazing amount of options...

From Video

An amazing amount of options…

It is pretty amazing to have all the components going on in this play that can put pressure on the defense.

Another view of this multi-faceted play.

From Video

Another view of this multi-faceted play.

It becomes clear from this angle that if the Beaver defender being zone read (orange arrow above) moves out to chase the QB, then Oregon’s pulling guard (Andre Y. No. 72) can block the OSU linebacker above No. 44 and Charles Nelson has a nice running lane straight ahead of him (yellow Arrow above).

End Zone View

From Video

End Zone View

It strikes me how this has so many components to defend and if presented in a no-huddle sequence, defensive alignment and assignment errors could certainly occur from this play.

Look at the running lane!

From Video

Look at the running lane!

Above is a screenshot from earlier in the game when the play was stopped due to an illegal procedure penalty. You see No. 76 Jake Pisarcik pulling to the right and headed to block a linebacker (short yellow arrow). You can’t see Tyrell Crosby as he is behind Cam Hunt, but he is going to help for a second and then go block the linebacker (long yellow line and arrow).

Coach Tony Hoolulu

Photo by Tony's family

Coach Tony Hoolulu

Note the dotted red line and arrow above showing the running lane that Charles Nelson has if he pulls the ball according to the Zone Read! What an innovative twist on the Zone Read concept to make the defense lose again to either option it chooses, and thanks to Coach Tony Hoolulu for explaining all this to me. (If you are a coach reading this, do read the announcement way below.)

Why the heck are they introducing a play like this?  Coach Mike Morris suggested that it could be a nuisance play to make the opposing teams prepare for the different options to it. Yet he also explained that the mistakes by a defense that is confused can create an explosion play and perhaps help overcome a third and long situation for the Ducks.

He asked me, “When you see a Wildcat formation–what kind of play will you expect is coming?” My answer was a running play of course, and he explained, “That is why when defenses see a Wildcat formation, they don’t play pass defense.” Aha! Could Nelson loop around and have Mariota do a throw-back to him? “Of course,” the Grizzled Ol’ Coach answered, “since they have Nelson doing everything else and now the mesh?  No surprise there.”

A monster game for Charles Nelson with two TDs.

Kevin Cline

A monster game for Charles Nelson with two TDs.

This just opens up a ton of questions; is Oregon going to pursue the passing component to it further?  Is this just a “mess the opponent up” type of play?  Will we even see it again? Or will it surface in two games from now at a bowl game or playoff game?  Or two years from now? Interesting things to ponder (as we like to do on this site) and I would enjoy getting your feedback on what the intent of this new, yet remarkable play could be.

A hint? In an interview by Ryan Thorburn for the Register-Guard, Offensive Coordinator Scott Frost implied that Nelson’s number could be called out of the backfield more going forward. Hmmm.

“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 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...

  • CFDUCK

    To me the conceptual beauty of this is that it adds complexity and subtlety to the Wildcat, which has traditionally just been a way to outnumber the defense. Now, you don’t just outnumber them, you neutralize several players with read-options. With Nelson running the ball, there really is big play potential there if they choose to chase the QB and cover the receiver. Brilliant!

    • FishDuck

      I am still stunned at how they could teach Nelson he mesh and Zone Reading in such a short time. What an athlete!

  • After the handoff, are lineman no longer “eligible receivers?” In other words, could they go farther downfield than allowed on a normal passing play?

    • FishDuck

      Hey Paul,
      Sorry, but I don’t know the rules on that one!

    • Michael S. Putnam

      No, lineman are never eligible unless they have an eligible number (not 50-79), and are the end man on the line of scrimmage (LOS)/or are aligned at least 1 yard behind the LOS. The handoff doesn’t change their eligibility as receivers.

      Honestly, the Ducks play here is technically illegal since you will see at least two Duck OL a yard or two past the LOS when the downfield pass is thrown. The reality is that if OL aren’t more than 2-3 yards downfield on a forward pass, the refs rarely call that penalty.

      • Kruse

        technically, it’s not a penalty – lineman can be 3 yards downfield in college – the problem is, this is being abused right now and being stretched to 4-5 yards – which we saw in the Arizona game both last year and this year. This will be abused again Friday by Rich Rod if the refs aren’t watching for it

        Rule 7, article 10 in the NCAA rulebook states:
        Ineligible Receiver Downfield
        ARTICLE 10. No originally ineligible receiver shall be or have been more than three yards beyond the neutral zone until a legal forward pass that crosses the neutral zone has been thrown.
        PENALTY—Five yards from the previous spot.

        • Michael S. Putnam

          Bravo! Good lookup on the rules. Yes, 3 yards is a very debatable distance, especially when facing Zona.

        • Noah James Smith

          Might be, but there is an unwritten rule of about 5 yards on play action passes it would seem. As long as they aren’t calling it, who cares.

  • Douglas Fur ’74

    It’s a psy-ops play. To do something unusual on a play called “the wildcat” the game before you play the Wildcats. I think it should be called the “confuse-a-cat” play.
    DRB

  • Insider23

    This isn’t “zone” read… it is just power read.

    • Tyler Henry Hawkins

      It’s conceptually a triple option play reading #2 L.O.S. Seems to me the idea was that if the DE went for the RB instead of squeezing then the pulling G was suppose to kick out the Sam on the other side creating a hole for MM. However the DE squeezed forcing him to keep it and then reading the Sam to determine if he was going to throw the flat or not. This was the same type of play Auburn used frequently during the back half of last season.

      • Insider23

        Right. But nowhere in that play is there any “zone” scheme. So, one cannot call it zone read. It’s “gap” scheme. Which means that it is power read, or power triple option, whatever you want to call it. However, it is not power zone read.

        • Michael S. Putnam

          Insider 23 has it right. This isn’t a Zone Read play because the blocking scheme is not zone blocking. The blocking scheme is Power, and thus it is a power read play.

          • FishDuck

            One thing about having a site where hundreds of coaches read and occasionally chime in; we disagree on what plays are called and why.

            “Wildcat Power Read” is something I can live with. Thanks to both for writing.