Oregon Defensive Line Secrets: Stopping the Run

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Oregon’s defensive performance against Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship ranks as one of the best ever at Oregon for a game of such importance. The majority of the credit goes to the Duck defensive line which shut down the inside running game of Arizona using techniques that we have barely covered before at FishDuck.com. Let’s take a look at the overall strategy behind what Oregon is trying to accomplish with the defensive line, and examine the “how” this defensive line achieves its goals, which will answer many questions for the typical Oregon fan.

Count me among those learning as the Grizzled Ol’ Coach, Mike Morris, delved into one of his favorite topics concerning offensive/defensive line play. We will learn what the “Men of Oregon” did in the trenches, and what to watch for in upcoming games. Great fun!

Third and eleven...we need to make a stop!

From Video

Third and eleven…we need to make a stop!

As you see above–it is third and long and it is early in the game. We need to make a stop and get the ball to the offense!

Watch both Buckner and Armstead!

From Video

Watch both Buckner and Armstead!

A few years back I attended an Oregon Coaches Clinic (for high school coaches) and they had an acronym that I cannot recall, so I am improvising the technique flow of the Oregon defensive line. It is SODA, as in Strike, Observe, Discard, and Attack. Above you see both DeForest Buckner (From the Great State of Hawaii, yellow arrow) and Arik Armstead (green arrow above) in the strike and observe phases.

Defensive Line Coach Ron Aiken gave a half hour presentation on the battle between the trenches to get the inside hand positioning that needs to take place as they “strike.” After he was done, Offensive Line and Assistant Head Coach Steve Greatwood came to the podium for his presentation and pointed to Coach Aiken as he walked away and said, “Everything he said is precisely true, as we are trying to counter it!”

Note how above both are “cheek-cheek” checking into the backfield as we reported last year in an analysis of Taylor Hart. They have delivered the “strike” and are now observing where the play is going. All in split seconds!

Closing in on the kill...

From Video

Closing in on the kill…

Look how (above) they have extended their arms to “Discard” the offensive blockers and are now closing in to “Attack” with the tackle. Armstead is slightly ahead of DeForest, but Buckner (from the Great State of Hawaii) is just showing such wonderful defensive line technique. That is how you do it!

THESE are defensive studs...

From Video

THESE are defensive studs…

It is such a joy to watch them both demonstrate the same SODA process at the same time!

He is at "Striking and Observing!"

From Video

He is at “Striking and Observing!”

Above you see Alex Balducci (No 56) striking the Arizona center and checking the backfield. Note how Balducci’s head is on the left side of the center’s head. Alex sees the Wildcat RB is headed to his right…

A sweet "Discard" and now attack!

From Video

A sweet “Discard” and now attack!

Now look above at how Balducci (yellow arrow) has shifted his head over and is in the process of “Discarding” the center’s block and “Attacking” the Wildcat running back. Note how Armstead (No. 9) and Christian French (No. 96) are also checking the backfield. Alex Balducci is 6’4″ while Buckner is 6’7″ and Armstead is 6’8″ and that initiates the question of, “Why do we recruit such tall defensive linemen?”

So they can “Observe,” or see over the offensive line! Six foot fireplugs are great, but height is valued because Coach Aiken can teach the correct technique, and these young men have height in abundance!

Alex does this SO WELL!

From Video

Alex does this SO WELL!

The SODA strategy is carried out by all three interior defensive linemen, and the nose tackle above (Balducci) can make plays on his own, as well as help set up his teammates.

This is shaping up well...

From Video

This is shaping up well…

It is third and one and we need a big stop by the defense. Note above after the snap how DeForest Buckner (from the Great State of Hawaii, yellow arrow) has charged inside of the offensive tackle as he has responsibility for the gap between the offensive guard and tackle or the “B” gap. The green arrow above points to Alex Balducci at nose tackle, who is plugging up the “A” gap nicely.

A picture of defensive line beauty...

From Video

A picture of defensive line beauty…

Above we see EVERY gap covered by Oregon defensive linemen and linebackers. It is just a screenshot of football glory as everyone is trusting his teammates and completing his assignment. On the left side “B” gap, Buckner has beaten his opponent to the inside and is drawing a bead on making the tackle.

No first down!

From Video

No first down!

Buckner (yellow arrow above) has plugged the gap and is about to make the tackle, but note how Arik Armstead (green arrow above) took away the gap on the other side and forced the RB into Buckner’s arms. It is a team effort in technique and following responsibilities!

A perfect stuff on 3rd and short!

From Video

A perfect stuff on 3rd and short!

Armstead not only took away the gap, but used superb arm extension to drive the offensive guard backward and limit the lanes for the Wildcat RB.

At his height, Armstead can see easily into the backfield with good technique.

From Video

At his height, Armstead can see easily into the backfield with good technique.

Above you see superb “Strike and Observe” technique by Arik Armstead (yellow arrow) as he has won the inside hand positioning and is now checking into the backfield. Note the green arrows of Balducci and Buckner (from the Great State of Hawaii) doing precisely the same thing. You cannot imagine how much fun this is to watch in slow motion on a TiVo DVR!

No man's land for a RB!

From Video

No man’s land for an RB!

There is no place to go as Oregon has destroyed this Inside Zone play of Arizona. Balducci (green arrow above) has beaten a double-team to the inside and Armstead (yellow arrow above) is “discarding” his blocker and is about to gobble up the RB (Attack). If you love defense — it doesn’t get any better than this!

Armstead shows us strength and technique!

From Video

Armstead shows us strength and technique!

It is exciting to see how our defensive line controls what you could see was a HUGE Arizona offensive line, and one that was very experienced. Watch for the SODA strategy (Strike, Observe, Discard, Attack) in the Rose Bowl, and if you go back to the Rose Bowl from the 2012 season, you will see Taylor Hart doing the same thing! If you check the Rose Bowl following the 2009 season?  You will see Brandon Bair implementing the same techniques!

You have just learned as I have from the Grizzled Ol’ Coach, Mike Morris, what to watch for and thus how to make defensive downs that much more enjoyable for us! Truly my friends…

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

Charles Fischer  (FishDuck)
Oregon Football Analyst for the 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...

  • Lucas

    just out of curiosity, this strike and read technique how does this translate into a pass rush. I know that you are specifically talking about stopping the run in this piece, but are we teaching a different technique when we think the opposition is going to pass? If not, and we are teaching the same technique, doesn’t this limit the pass rush that we get

    • FishDuck

      Pass rush IS different as they use Rip techniques and Swim moves that I’ve shown in analyses done last year. I’ll cover them again later, but wanted to focus on run defense after such a bunch of great examples of it in that last game.

  • Dan

    Does this mean that we no longer are asking our defensive lineman to play “gap control” defense? Have we gone to a more attacking defensive line strategy since NA retired?

    Thanks for the insights.

  • MAITAIDUCK

    Well it’s just really good to see a new DC that know’s how to get Talented players to play together and not on their own as in Don Pellum has now taken that bend but don’t break Defense and made it into 1 of the best right now and all 22 as in 2 deep are all playing great Defense and this is what it will take us to win it all and that’s shut down Defense I mean Finally because we’ve done so much better in recruiting the last 6 years on that side of the Football. These 3 D Lineman were expected to be a lot better sooner or later as in Buckner, Armstead and Balducci and they are getting after it and winning the LOS. That’s what it will take and that if they at least stop their run Game I would certainly feel real good about our chances of getting to Texas and find it funny that those OVER RATED Players at FSU have disrespected our team as in thinking that they will have no problems beating us as in I Love their Plan because the more they disrespect us the better Oregon will come to play as in SHUTTING them down and UP as in their MOUTH’S.

  • John

    This seems to be the similar scheme Nick A. used by having Defensive Lineman engage in the O-Line and allow the Linebackers to cleanup the gaps. Only by watching your videos the last handful of years I noticed Pellum didnt really do this in the beginning of the season. It was Very vanilla. Good to see there going back to the bread and butter.. BUT, I can see the FSU O-Line being able to puch the Ducks abit. Keep an eye out for FSU’s TE (The one that doesnt wear gloves). He’s a Great blocker, but is a nightmare in Play action