Oregon Defensive Line Secrets: Stopping the Run

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Analysis

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!

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!

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...

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...

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!"

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!

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!

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...

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...

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!

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!

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.

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!

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!

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

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