How Stanford Stopped the Oregon Offense

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Fish Reports

Losses such as this one are frustrating, but we have a unique learning opportunity as Oregon fans to find out just what the Cardinal did to stop the highest scoring offense in Oregon history.  This article is co-authored with Josh Schlichter and today is the first of two parts breaking down some examples of the impressive performance by the Stanford defense.  Since our beloved Ducks don’t lose many games these days, it raised our curiosity level at to where we spent an entire day studying the game and consulting with a very special retired coach who was both an Offensive and Defensive Coordinator in this conference.  As a fan who wants to learn, I realize that analyzing the Stanford strategies will help us recognize what our opponents in the future will be employing against us.

Many of you recognize the play above as Oregon has scored a ton of touchdowns from it.  It is a Naked Bootleg, which means the QB does not have a pulling lineman to block for him.  You’ll note the offensive linemen have done a shoulder turn to the left and are blocking for an Outside Zone Read and DAT is headed that way to potentially take a handoff.  Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Line Coach Steve Greatwood has done a terrific job teaching the linemen to sell it as an OZR.  Yet it will be a play-action pass as we will have the H-Back (Orange Line) drag across to a short pattern in the flat, while we have two Wide Receivers run a down and in pattern to drag across the field.  (Green Line)

This play is not going well, as our TE (above, in Orange Circle) is tied up at the LOS before he can get into his pass pattern.  We see the Stanford DBs not fooled at all as they are tight on our WR, (Red Circle) and #44 for the Cardinal is prepared for Mariota doing a bootleg as he begins to close in for the tackle.

Marcus has the defender upon him immediately and must throw it away out of bounds, as no one is open.  It was amazing how well the Cardinal scouted our tendencies near the goal line, had the defense prepared for this favorite play, and were not fooled by the play-action component at all.  This is a superb example of great personnel smothering the play from the excellent preparation by the opposing coaching staff.  Stopping Chip’s offense takes great discipline, and in this case we have to tip our hat to the complete effort by the Stanford staff and defense in stymieing Oregon.

In my report of the USC game (above), I explained how an unbalanced line sprung upon USC confused the Trojans, and set up a record-setting rushing day for Kenjon Barner.  Unbalanced in this case is having three receivers at the bottom of the screen with one of them on the LOS.  We also have a TE on the LOS on the same side, thus he is “covered” and is not eligible to catch a pass.  USC was not sure how to line up against it and we buried them running the ball to the strong side behind our tremendous blocking.

Oregon lines up (above) in the unbalanced line against the Cardinal with the triple WR set at the top of the screen with the TE on the same side.

Oregon runs a speed double option to the strong side and #44 is being read and forces the pitch to Barner (above).  In the red circle is a Stanford defender who has beaten his block and is headed outside to join the Free Safety who came up swiftly to stop Kenjon before he could even get going.

The speed and skill of the Cardinal is astonishing as the defender being read (#44 above) is right there to help the tackle, and the other Stanford players in the picture beat their blocks to stop Barner for no gain.  Stopping any offense is simple — defeat the blocks, and the men in white at Autzen on Saturday did a tremendous job of it.

To have so many around the ball takes more than athleticism in this case, as it also takes a defensive call to check to a different front or coverage.  They had a predetermined defense to this formation, and as soon as they saw it they checked out of what they were currently in, and into the different defensive alignment designed to stop the run and pass plays out of this formation.

For the last play of the third quarter we line up again in the unbalanced line (above).  Are we going to continue to beat our heads against the wall?

We see the Cardinal accenting or slanting their defense toward the strength of the formation (above), as we run an Inside Zone Read to the weakside of the Oregon formation!  Mariota is Zone Reading the Cardinal Defensive End, (#93) and since he is “sitting” the correct read is to hand off — and he does.

The Stanford defense (above) is focused upon the strength of our formation and does not have the numbers on our weakside to stop good hat-on-hat blocking by our offensive line.  So…we run an unbalanced line to shake things up, but they counter with a different defensive alignment, and then we counter that with an Inside Zone Read to the weakside.  It is a good countermeasure, but it has taken too long to arrive at this solution and becomes too little, too late.

It is evident that while these examples show the preparation and execution of the Cardinal defense — it takes more than a few strategies like these to stop Oregon.  This is the closest that Oregon has come to seeing defensive talent similar to the Auburns, Ohio States, or LSUs of the past.  We had a number of inexperienced offensive personnel that got their first taste of exceptional competition and it will season them for the great games to come in their career at Oregon.  Tomorrow will be the second part in a special series that Josh and I created, and he will reveal some more complex Stanford strategies, our counters to them, and the Cardinal responses that turned the tide of the game toward Stanford.  Learn these well, as I’m sure we will see them again…maybe even this week!

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

Charles Fischer  (FishDuck)
Oregon Football Analyst for
Eugene, Oregon

Top Photo from Video

We wish to express thanks to a very special consultant (to this article only) Coach Denny Schuler who played his college days as a WR for the Ducks and coached for Oregon as a Defensive Coordinator from 1986-92.  He was also Defensive Coordinator for Cal in 1983-84, as well as serving as Offensive Coordinator for Cal in 1993-95, and for Oregon State in 1996.  We are honored to have the insights of a coach, with few peers, who knows this conference on both sides of the football.  He alternates living in SunRiver, Oregon and Hollister California with his wife and former Oregon Cheerleader, Cindy.

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