FishWrap Friday Game 1 Preview: Oregon vs. LSU (Part 3: Linebackers, Chavis, and the Nickel Defense)

7 days until the season begins, and despite controversy from coast to coast, there will be football on September 3rd. In the finale of this 3 part preview, first, we will have to go back and have a painful review of the National Championship game.

Let’s refute the urban myth- Oregon’s offense wasn’t totally dominated physically in this game. In fact, Auburn didn’t do anything groundbreaking or special and didn’t find an “Achilles heel.”

Auburn’s defense had a simple game plan, that was to sell out in stopping the inside zone, and hope Darron Thomas messes something up. He didn’t. However, against a much more athletic and dangerous defense at Auburn, Oregon had a whole bunch of lapses in concentration- anything from pass protection, missed blocks, errant passes, failed meshes- really dumb mistakes that could have been avoided easily. The grass was even a factor on some plays!

The physicality of Auburn’s defense, prevented Oregon from putting up 250 yards on the ground, but Oregon prevented itself from scoring more than 20, and earning at least half of its average on the ground.

But then again, some credit is due to Auburn. The Eagle-Tiger-Things did do some really smart things, including their destruction of Oregon’s midline play, which would have been the best, immediate, counter to the defense selling out to stop the inside zone. Even if it wasn’t Nick Fairley, Auburn’s DT’s would bull-rush the mesh point, destroying the play, and saving Auburn at least 14 points, no doubt.

The pitfall of not only Oregon’s spread attack, but all spread attacks, is the difficulty presented when the defense is backed up into the end zone. When that happens, defenses, especially Auburn’s, blitz the crap out of the interior of the offensive line, and since Auburn had some super fast and physical linebackers, they could stop tazer and outside runs.

Now, LSU’s defense is more talented than Auburn’s along the defensive line, and in the secondary, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be better off beating the Ducks because of that. The reason being John Chavis.

The reason Cal had plenty of success against the Ducks was because they sold out against the run, and Thomas responded poorly. Check this out:

Count ’em, 8 guys (including the safety) up in the box. When the ball is snapped, this happens:

Notice how the linebackers crash to the line of scrimmage, and the safety flies over to cover the triple option outlet.

Now watch how LSU covers a similar play that Auburn runs (apologies for poor quality):

6 men in the box, giving Auburn a huge advantage.

How about another play?

Still, 6 men in the box.

But still, having bad personnel match ups isn’t always the thing that dooms teams against the spread- their technique does. Here’s another example:

Even if Auburn puts 7 guys in the box using their H-Back (similar to Oregon’s wishbone formation shown in the national championship game) LSU still lines up with 6 guys in the box, and then their linebackers do this:

They just stand there, waiting for the play to develop, giving Dyer more than enough time to jet through the LOS. Go ahead, watch the film from the game (yes, those are highlights because I don’t have the actual film) and show me where LSU’s linebackers are acting on their coached reactions, and successfully stop the play. Time and time again, LSU’s defensive line would get good stoppage along the LOS, but the linebackers would be 5 yards off the LOS while Dyer and Newton were free to get 5-8 yards a carry, en route to a 400+ yard performance on the ground.

If Chavis puts 6 guys in the box, lets his relatively average linebackers act on instinct against the Ducks, he’s no better than these guys:

To some degree, it doesn’t really matter how good your defensive line is, if your linebackers are sitting back and waiting for LaMichael James, he’ll get 10 yards a carry, with no problems.

But still, LSU can clog the middle and disrupt the Mesh, and by extension, Oregon’s entire offense. If they can to do that, they won’t need good linebacker play, they won’t need to crowd the box, they just have to avoid getting spread out and dominate Oregon’s “weak” interior.

So, you’d have to be really dumb to let a formation spread you out if you want to avoid coaching up your linebackers.

But how can we know that Chavis would be that unprepared? Look no further than the Spring game:

Let’s just take a look at the alignment- LSU’s defensive line is not just spread out hash to hash, they’re further than that:

That’s like, 3 guys in the box? This play was a simple zone dive, that ended up going all the way down to the 1.

Knowing that Chavis will let his defenses get spread out just by having a tight end out there only makes Chip Kelly all the more confident as he makes his game plan for the season opener.

In conclusion, there are two Cardinal sins you can make when you play the Ducks:

1) You lose gap responsibility in your alignment to a base formation.

2) You don’t take chances against Oregon’s keystone concept (Inside Zone).

Chavis is lined up to make mistakes in both departments.

Fearless Predictions:

While the Tigers are on offense: LSU will have marginal success against the Ducks, and they’ll score a touchdown or two off of good field position. But Oregon has a championship team, and not just on offense. The Ducks will eventually stop Ware and company, forcing Jefferson/Mettenberger/Lee to the air, and something tells me Kragthorpe’s teachings will work, and make LSU a lot more efficient and effective. However, the hole is mighty deep for the LSU passing offense.

While the Ducks are on offense: Sure, LSU will use their athleticism well and will make some stops, and they will play well against an unproven Oregon offensive line. They’ll even get Oregon off the field early more than a few times, and they could even force enough mistakes to give their offense enough opportunities to win the game. That’s all banking on the idea that Darron Thomas and Chip Kelly haven’t learned from the final game of the 2010 campaign.

Both teams will play well, but Oregon won’t make the mistakes that they did last year in Glendale.

Oregon: 33

LSU: 24

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