Understanding the game of football can be a complicated process, but just being a fan and sitting down with your friends and family to cheer for your favorite college football teams on Saturday afternoon is simply fun. There are many words a football coach in Kentucky could use to describe the Oregon Ducks, but the one word that I always equate with the Ducks is EXCITING.
Oregon’s style of play draws many types of fans, from the occasional observer flipping through the channels to watch a few plays, to the over-the-top, hardcore fan who must watch every second. Why? Is it the suspense of which Nike uniform is being worn that game, or is it the fast-paced style of play the Ducks use offensively? Hopefully in this article I can help un-complicate some of the concepts Oregon uses to thrive in their up-tempo spread offense.
Above: OFFENSIVE LINE PROTECTION
Fans normally do not see the importance of pass protection when watching games on Saturdays. However, the most important concept in a successful, big-play offense is the ability of the offensive line to consistently perform. Above are three screenshots that allow you to observe the Ducks pass protection.
In the first picture you will see the offensive linemen mark their territory to protect Marcus Mariota. They will make a pocket around Mariota so he has ample time to make an accurate throw downfield. This occurs on nearly every passing down (save for a roll out), but fans seem to miss its importance because they tend to watch only the ball.
Above: right tackle No. 62 Matt Pierson and left tackle No. 75 Jake Fisher take pass drops, enabling Mariota to step up into the pocket. Right guard No. 78 Cameron Hunt and left guard No. 76 Jake Pisarcik stand firm inside to prevent the pocket from collapsing into Mariota, while center No. 54 Hamani Stevens seals the middle of line of scrimmage, ensuring no run-through.
The game of football is the ultimate team sport, and the Ducks offensive line takes pride in its role. Offensive line is a selfless position that doesn’t get a great deal of praise or glory, but they are the most popular players inside the locker room. As this article discusses the big plays Oregon executes, keep in mind who makes them possible.
The diagram, above, shows a play that results in a touchdown for the Ducks. In this particular play you will notice the Oregon State defense begin to take chances as a result of the Ducks pace, which that seemed to wear the Beaver defenders down. As the Duck offensive linemen hold their ground, the receivers run crisp routes, taking advantage of the Man Under zone coverage in the secondary.
The left safety on the snap of the ball rotates to the center of the field as the right safety becomes a run stopper. This gives No. 9 Byron Marshall space in the middle of the field to run a skinny post. No. 85 Pharoah Brown runs a deep cross, forcing a linebacker to run with him, and keeping the deep safety in center field. This gives Marshall more space up the seam on his post route.
Above: The corners are playing very tight on the outside receivers, which allows Mariota to make a clear read of the defense’s intentions.
Above: here, Oregon is at its own 19-yard line. Based on the corner chasing the motion receiver, it’s apparent pre-snap that Michigan State is in man coverage. As the ball is snapped the safety attacks the bubble route on the left, which in turn opens up the middle of the field. Mariota recognizes this, steps up into the pocket and delivers a strike. The offensive line creates a great pocket, allowing Mariota to step up for this big completion.
While watching the videos above, notice how the offensive linemen are in unison with their pass drops, and observe how Mariota is able to step up in the pocket as a result. Also watch the receivers work hard to maintain route consistency and maintain downfield blocks once the ball is completed. Now this is exciting football!
I may be in Kentucky, but “oh how I love to learn about your beloved Ducks!”
Oregon Football Analyst for CFF Network/FishDuck.com
Top Photo Courtesy of the Tournament of Roses
(First three photos are from Video)