The Fish Report: Subtle Highlights

You knew I couldn’t stay away; I stated that after the Summer Series of Reports I was done writing reports until next spring.  Think of me now as a “last filter” that catches some nuggets that others overlooked in their reporting.  I believe that the coverage of the Duck football is excellent from the media, but there were some fine points that I noticed that were not discussed, and that I thought some of you serious Oregon football enthusiasts would enjoy.  The professional writers/commentators deliver content that is appropriate for the 90% of fans who enjoy the “blah-blah” of information that we already know.  The in-depth information shared among the 10% Nerd Oregon fans (like me) wants to know more and be entertained by it.  I am grateful to read and learn from so many of you on these football boards.


We were howling at the game, ThaiDuck and I.  He flew in from Southeast Asia that morning and it was a pleasure watching the game with him and trading notes.  One play that got air under my big-behind was the TD to Paulson right off the bat.  Now I know that Thomas missed some receivers, did not see other open WRs downfield at times, and threw the pick.  Yet I thought this was a perfect first outing for him, considering what I want to see occurring in our offense.  We saw excellent velocity on one roll-out, superb accuracy as he threaded another sideline 15 yard pass between two defenders, and the LONG BALL BABY! He threw that 39 yarder to Maehl which I believe was as long or longer than any downfield pass in all of last year.  (A play that wasn’t a screen, but an actual long pass)  We did this in the first quarter of the first game?  He looked comfortable in the pocket and I squealed in delight as I saw a Downfield Passing Attack that we lacked last year.  I have been adamant that for this offense to truly take off…we need a vertical passing game which will open up the sideline passes and the running lanes.  I saw glimpses of potential, as some plays DID look like Dennis Dixon back there in the pocket once again.


The TD pass to Paulson?  It was a warning shot across the bow for Defensive Coordinators we will face!  Remember how Arizona last year brought the Free Safety up to defend the Zone Read?  We didn’t take advantage of it until late in the game by passing to the TE, Ed Dickson, who is covered by the Free Safety.  Here we are…right up front in the beginning of the first game…we TELL the DCs at other schools that if you bring the FS up fast and hard…we will run the TE right by you for Touchdowns!  What about the defenses that hold the FS back to prevent this?  Now the Ducks have more running room!  Something I’m still getting accustomed to is how Chip Kelly likes to screw with the media and not tell them much, but he loves to show his chess strategy to DCs in advance and dare them to stop him.  As they move to react—he has a trap set as they try to contend with the obvious.  Don’t stop the obvious?  (Like the Inside Zone Read)  Then we run for TDs with basic physical football!  What an extreme combination of simplicity and brute force coupled with nasty smart football……


Darron held the ball too long…Thomas had “happy feet”…”he needs to pull it fully together in the pocket…”  Criminey!  Remember what started my research on the new defense?  Last spring I saw how NONE of our QBs were ever comfortable in the pocket from our pressure defense, and the fall camp turned it up a notch with the QB battle along with the speed-and-savvy of these veteran defenders.  DT is going to soon realize that one of the best defenses he’s ever faced, and by far the most confusing defense is encountered in practice every day.  He will actually be able to take a breath in games with all the Offensive line starters returning, and the absence of the mind-numbing blitzes that Nick employs.  If I had been an Oregon QB this last spring and fall?  I would have been a muttering mass of protoplasm by now.  Yeah…he’s got some happy feet at the moment—do you blame him?  As much as a Costa fan that I am…I am struck by how the passing game is already superior to last year, and the upside that DT contains.  We have to be patient with him, (think Masoli in the Utah game last year) but our offense can be BETTER than pre-injury 2007 as he rounds into form.  I see a scary balance between passing and running along with some additional strategies that make me consider that an offense superior to Dixon/Stewart is possible.


I smiled smugly to myself at the game as I saw Barner run for a Touchdown off the Triple Option Play that I described in the last report.  It wasn’t until I watched it on TiVo in slow-motion that I gasped at the full implications of this play.  For Defensive Coordinators…that play is Absolute PURE EVIL. When we ran a triple option in the past—we ran an inside shovel pass option with the QB keeper or pitch-man option to the same side of the field. That is what triple options of the present and past function on…the dive back, the QB and pitch-man triple options attacking one side of the field.  Yet look closely at our triple option in the TD to Barner, and you see that we have two RBs behind DT, and Kenjon is on the left.  The play begins and the Zone Read mesh is done left-to-right as the Inside Zone Read is going to the right side of our Offensive Line.  DT hands off to Barner, and he explodes through a hole and with the momentum gained is hard to stop once he gets into the secondary and scores.  So the Inside Zone Read went right…but the remaining two options went LEFT!


Remember…you have learned from these reports that a benefit of Zone Reading is not blocking a defender and having that extra blocker on the play-side, which allows for bigger gains in open field.  For the defense…it is crucial to have backside pursuit come over to stop the RB once he gets into the secondary.  What if the Safety and offside LB are tied up with the double-option going to their side?  Then they can’t come over to help which turns routine gains into TDs once our RBs make a defender miss on the right side!  Yet if they don’t defend the double option coming to their side—we have a huge running play going down the backside of their defense.  Whoa baby!   But-Wait!  The defense can tell which side we’re going to if they look at the two RBs and see that one of them is a WR who went into motion and settled into the backfield.  This WR would be the pitch-man, and the other RB would be the Inside Zone Read back, right?  But what if we have Barner AND James as the duo backs?  Which way then?  Holy Crap.  This is going to be fun!


Keep in mind that these are Xs and Os that can create huge scoring, but how do you defeat it?  Simple; it gets back to defenders defeating the blocks on them which is basic fundamental football.  We had some triple options stuffed for a two yard TFLs by New Mexico, and we had the most negative yardage plays of any team in the US last year.  If you defeat our blocks…you can stop us.  Look at the Cal game last year for example.  We decisively beat the Bears, but when you replay the game you will see some plays where we got stuffed badly by their bigger and athletic defensive linemen.  Ditto for Paea and Olander against OSU.  It’s not just about superior strategy….after you call the play you gotta block it well, and we do!


Our Zone Reading by our top two QBs was more than a little suspicious to me; no carries by Thomas?  Only one Zone Read carry for Costa?  Then Hawkins comes in and goes wild on Zone Read carries?  Hmmmm.  It looked to me that on a number of Zone Reads…the QB could have pulled the ball and ran.  Were they gagged from running unless it was completely wide open?  I noted that often our blocking was different on the Zone Read in the first two quarters; instead of letting a lineman through to Zone Read…we blocked all the defensive linemen and the top two QBs were often Zone Reading the backside OLB!  Since the OLB was staying put…then you hand off to the RB.  Yet if we were Zone Reading the DT or DE and sending the free O-Lineman out to block the OLB….running opportunities could be there.  Hmmmmm.  Hawkins comes in the game and we now start letting through the D-Lineman that we’re Zone Reading and Daryle eats them up?


Go back to the TD run by Hawkins and you see we’re running an Outside Zone Read to the right and ‘Hawk is Zone Reading a player who is in front of an Offensive Guard..not quite a DT, but more of a NT.  This defender comes forward and leans toward the RB, so Daryle pulls the ball and goes left to run it in.  Seems to me the blocking scheme was assuring the top two QBs handing off to the RB, while we opened it up for ‘Hawk.  So Chip was correct in the morning paper in that the top two QBs made the right reads…because the blocking was designed to guarantee that result?  Interesting.  Is Chip screwing with the media again?  Keep in mind that I’m simply a hack guessing here…….


Do NOT be fooled by most of the Oregon Sports Media as “The Fish Report” will correctly tell you about our new HYBRID defense begun over a year ago.  I have seen some twenty-some year old “experts” on TV and others in print say that “we’re just lifting an arm up out of a stance with Kenny Rowe..that’s all.  It’s a 4-3 with a hand up….as he can rush the QB, or defend the run, or go into coverage…it is just a little more flexibility.”  Don’t be sucked into that easy sound/bite, first blush, surface-level explanation to what we’re actually doing.


Ask yourself…WHY is Kenny lifting a hand up?


We want to confuse the offense with blitzes that are not obvious…coming from any direction.  If Rowe is lifting a hand and going into coverage it is because the OLB or Safety on his side is blitzing and we want the TE covered! We are blitzing from that ZONE, whether it be the Safety, the OLB, or the DE and the offensive linemen don’t know who is coming from where, hence the confusion in pass blocking, let alone delayed blitzes.  The 3-4 defense makes this Zone Blitzing easier to disguise and implement, and the key component is NOT the 3-4 defense, but the fact that Nick wants to dial it up and apply huge pressure to opposing teams.


The most common 3-4 formation you will see from Oregon is the three-down-one-up formation where we have three Defensive linemen with a hand down in a stance and one DE is standing up, frequently near the TE, on the strong side.  From this formation we have a wicked collection of Zone Blitzes that I described in earlier reports…and will show you with video in the future.  The other major 3-4 formation is three down D-Linemen and two standing up on the outside of them.  It looks like a 5-2 defense, but the fellows on the outside are effectively LBs who can go into coverage, or rush the passer as well.  Look for those formations in our games and you will also see them often in NFL games.


You want numbers or proof?  Now keep in mind that charting is an inexact science as I’m trying to determine on a play if they had a blitz on…or Casey is simply reacting quickly to a running play forming and he’s charging a gap.  Sometimes also it gets fuzzy whether an OLB is actually on the LOS…or he’s simply threatening to blitz before the play, so the formation could actually have been a 3-Duck-Chuck, when I report it as a 3-4 of three-down and one-up.  Keep in mind also that it was 59-0 at halftime, so I did not chart the second half, because we ran primarily a standard 4-3 defense in the second half for 3rd teamers and walk-ons who got to play.  No need for complicated stuff with that score and trying to allow the fellows who practice hard to get some hits.


Now we have the disclaimers out of the way….we ran a 3-4 formation 73% of the time in the first half!  Recall how I charted the first half of the Spring game at 75% and Nick said that this year we will be more like the Spring Game?  We ran the 4-3 defense only 8% of the time in that first half of the New Mexico game, and we ran Specialty defenses 19% of the time!  Why did we only have one sack?  Because we only Zone Blitzed 41% of the time when we ran the 3-4 or Specialty defenses.  (But we got a TON of TFLs)


Remember that the Specialty Defenses occur most frequently on 2nd or 3rd and long; in this game we ran all three primary Specialty defenses in the 2+2 defense, (Two down, and two up) the I-Spy-3 defense, (the middle NT tags the O-linemen and comes back to prevent the draw and QB scrambles) or the 3-Duck-Chuck defense. (Three D-Linemen rushing hard)  We also have exotic Zone Blitzes used in these initial formations.  You will also note that sometimes we are charging hard and trying penetrate a gap, and other times we were making contact and holding off the O-linemen so we could see where the play was headed.  Charging a gap?  That’s a One-Gap defense.  Going into a Read-and-React mode?  That’s a Two-Gap defense.  When you watch closely you can see the differences and it gives Nick just unbelievable options in the different formations, the Zone Blitz packages, the One-gap disruption or Two-Gap read-and-react mode, or heck…my head is spinning.  Now THAT is why the staff doesn’t explain it to the media; defense is complex and doesn’t fit into a sound-bite or a quick twenty five word explanation.  It’s just easier to deny or deflect the question.  (But WE know better)


We ran a NEW Specialty Defense!  Just before halftime was a formation that I had to check closely on replay to be certain, and yes, I saw it correctly, and it’s new!  It was SIX D-Linemen on the LOS…and at the snap we had the middle two peel backward into coverage.  A new Zone Blitz!  I love it as we’re attacking the flanks of the pass blocking…but they don’t know it until it’s too late!  Remember also that this is on replay…and that opposing coaches see it too.  No secrets here.  Next time we could line up the six and do something completely different….like stunt the inside guys and peel off the outer defenders, and then run a delayed blitz with a fifth rusher!  The Zone Blitzing concept is predicated upon putting pressure on the offense with confusion and yet having five or six still back in coverage! We love it!


My feathered friends….I’m having a medical emergency.  I am stranded in Houston on business this next weekend, and if I don’t have access to a DVR to go over the plays of the Tennessee game…it’ll kill me.  Duck fans in Houston…I’ll bring beer and munchies—you provide the DVR and a spot on the couch and together we will delve deeply into Oregon Football.


Wherever we live…we love our Ducks!





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