Past Play Reappears: Oregon’s Mid-Line Zone Read!

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Analysis

Head Coach Mark Helfrich has brought new life to older plays in the Oregon playbook, but few are as odd as the Mid-Line Zone Read play. It seems to violate what we have learned about the Zone Read at Oregon, and it is a play that we rarely see. Readers of these Tuesday analyses are becoming as amused as I am to see old plays pop up as new solutions to our Red Zone challenges.

The Helfrich/Scott Frost offensive brain trust at Oregon has taken this revival strategy from a level of amusement to simply being football-brilliant at times, hence lets take a look at the most recent addition to the multi-year rotation of the unique play we know as the Mid-Line Zone Read!  

Talk about a “Blast from the Past!”

Remember the Inside Zone Read from the old formation?

Remember the Inside Zone Read from the old formation?

Whoa, Doggies! Look at the above screenshot from the 2011 game at Arizona! Part of the fun of being around a few years is being able to turn to “archival” material to help us learn something current, and to enjoy seeing these “blasts from the past.”

As you see above — the typical Inside Zone Read features Zone Reading the defensive end (light blue circle above).

The DE is sitting...

The DE is sitting …

You can clearly see (above) how the QB, (Darron Thomas) is zone reading the defensive end of Arizona. If the DE chases LaMichael James, then Darron will pull the ball; if the DE sits as he is, then Darron hands off.

It is so fun to see James scoring again  (above)!

The beginning of an Outside Zone Read in Civil War, 2009.

The beginning of an Outside Zone Read in the Civil War, 2009.

Above we see the beginning of a goal line play from the Civil War game of 2009, as the ball is being snapped and James is moving to start the mesh on an Outside Zone Read.

The center let the Nose Tackle through?

The center let the nose tackle through?

Oregon’s center, Jordan Holmes (No. 54, above) is purposely letting the nose tackle, Oregon State star Stephen Paea, through the line without blocking him!

It's the Mid-Line Zone Read!

It’s the Mid-Line Zone Read!

No, this was the intent as this play is the Mid-Line Zone Read, as the Ducks let the nose tackle through and zone read him. Since Paea was not chasing the running back, then the correct choice is to hand off to LMJ, who scores a touchdown (blue dotted line/arrow above). Note how the Beaver came out to shake hands with Masoli (red circle and sarcasm above).

A birds-eye view!

A birds-eye view!

One way to neutralize a great defensive tackle (above) is to zone read him? No matter where he goes — the ball is not there. It is not an easy solution, because the defender is so close, but it allows the Ducks to have an extra blocker by NOT blocking the nose tackle, and Oregon reacts to his decision.

We are going to be back in this place soon...

We are going to be back in this place soon …

Move forward three years  and Oregon is in the Rose Bowl following the 2012 season. Wisconsin had a big troublesome nose tackle and the Ducks went back in time to find a way to deal with this type of challenge.

The Ducks are letting him through!

The Ducks are letting him through!

Oregon is running a Sweep Read (above) and the center, Hroniss Grasu, is pulling and letting the nose tackle (red arrow above) make his choice about where to pursue. It appears the Badger is going after the running back and this nose tackle is very close to the mesh point! The “read” is a Mid-Line Zone Read.



Since the Wisconsin player was charging the running back, Thomas pulled the ball and ran through a huge hole in the middle of the defense, as most of the Badgers followed the Sweep Read to Oregon’s left. Darron made eight yards on this play, and it began to slow down the charge of Wisconsin’s big defender in the middle of the line.

A sight we'll soon see again...

A sight we’ll soon see again…

If the nose tackle occupies the gap in the middle (as in the 2009 example)– the QB hands off.  If the defender charges the RB of Oregon, (as above) then the QB pulls the ball and charges straight ahead for great yardage. We don’t see this play very often …

A fourth and one?

A fourth-and-one?

Fast forward two years and we have a close goal line play in the Pac-12 Championship against Arizona. Look (above) how the Wildcats have eight defenders in the immediate box to stop the Ducks, and yet Oregon only has six blockers on the line of scrimmage!

Oregon is letting the Nose Tackle through again!

Oregon is letting the Nose Tackle through again!

The Ducks are NOT blocking the nose tackle, thus it is Mid-Line Zone Read! 

The Rolls-Royce gets crashed...

The Rolls-Royce gets crashed …

Wow … talk about taking the bait! The nose tackle (above) crunched Oregon’s RB Royce Freeman (above), but Marcus Mariota had already pulled the ball and was headed to the lane created by the vacated NT of Arizona.

The 2014 version looks pretty good!

The 2014 version looks pretty good!

Mariota (above) just cruises into the End Zone, making it look easy. It is a stunning play as you cannot imagine running through eight Wildcat defenders at the goal line to be an easy jog for Oregon’s star. However, when the play is executed well and popped on the defense as a surprise — then results like this can happen.

This is another superb example of how Oregon has a playbook that is large, but some plays are reserved for intermittent use, and often spanning years between their implementation. It is another demonstration of how Helfrich continues to use one of the strategies begun during the Chip Kelly era, and how he also used this to solve the Ducks’ red zone challenges. I’ll bet we haven’t seen the end of the Mid-Line Zone Read.

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

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

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