The Oregon Game Plans: Kelly or Helfrich?

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Fish Reports

You knew this discussion had to begin: who WAS primarily responsible for the game plan and play calling on the field?  I thought it critical because I developed a checklist of what we needed Chip’s replacement to be skilled at, and the only item on the list unresolved was GAME-PLANNING.  I have detailed the unique attacks that Oregon has unleashed on other teams in the past, and the question is how much was Coach Helfrich involved in the design of those game plans?  They were a key component in our victories and if their continued evolution cannot be duplicated, then Chip’s record at Oregon will not be either.  Let’s look at some examples from the Fiesta Bowl that will help us arrive at some conclusions…

What we see above is a variation of TWO plays that we run, and it was a curiosity to watch in in the Fiesta Bowl.  We were running a playside Outside Zone Read to one side, and a guard pulling to form a Power Play to the other side?  It was fascinating to see a mixed version of our Power Play, a Power Read Play, if you will.  Is this the first time we have observed this unique play?

No, but it was an obscure play in the middle of our season.  Against Arizona State (above), we see the guard pulling and leading Barner into the hole.  Marcus Mariota (QB) is clearly zone reading the OLB, who is sitting; thus the hand-off to Kenjon.  This play turned into a touchdown, as ASU had not seen it in previous game replays.

Here is the same play (above), only with Marshall running it and we see the pulling guard.

You can really see how Marshall bounced outside (above) and got great yardage off the play.  We had not run it before, and now we pop it against ASU in the middle of the season and then put the play back in the toy box?  Nope — the Power Read emerged again in the Fiesta Bowl, but how would Kansas State know to prepare for that play from the middle of the season when you consider ALL the plays that we run?

This was a variation (above) of our Straddled Triple Option play, where we used the pitchman coming from a different angle.  We discussed in an earlier analysis that I had to dig WAY back to find when we last used the formation strategy to throw off an opponent.  When was it?

Here we note Barner (above) as a freshman stepping backwards in the same way and taking the pitch for the first down that secures the first Rose Bowl berth for us!  Are you kidding me?  Oregon’s strategy in the Fiesta originated from a game in 2009??  How do you prepare for that as an opponent?

We see Mariota reading a Wildcat defender (Above in purple circle) in the Fiesta Bowl with Barner running to the inside?  Is he going to pitch?  What is going on with this play?

Marcus (above) gets past the read defender and sprints into the end zone for a touchdown!  This is a very old play, the Inside Speed Double Option.  We ran it in the past, but I had to dig deep to find when we used this play to befuddle opponents.

Remember this touchdown (above) from the BCS National Championship Game following the 2010 season?  The outside linebacker comes out to stop the QB (Darron Thomas) and Thomas pitches inside to LaMichael James for the touchdown!  I remember it as unusual because we typically run the Speed Double Option to the outside.

In the very next game, the first game of the 2011 season we see (above) the play run again with the pitch inside to LMJ who gained some good yardage.

Here is the play again in the LSU game (above) with the QB keeping the ball and running for big yardage.  This is the other choice available of the Inside Speed Double Option and this is the last time I saw this play prior to the Fiesta Bowl of 2013!

So let me see if I have this right…. our game plan for the Fiesta Bowl consisted of taking a play that we only used sparingly in the middle of this last season, a play from the end of the 2010/beginning of 2011 season (nearly two seasons ago), and an unusual RB formation for the Straddled Triple Option that went back to 2009?  Holy Crap!  That is impossible to prepare for if you are the opponent.  You cannot possibly have the practice time to defend every play or variation that Oregon has done over the last how many years?  So this begs the question — whose game plan is it?  Is it entirely Chip’s game plan as I’ve given credit to in the past?

Four days ago Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard reported that ALL the offensive coaches together prepared the game plans, and that Chip called the plays from the field with input from Coach Helfrich in the booth upstairs.  This means that the crucial components of the unusual game plans—the obscure plays pulled from the past were a group effort and the majority of that collection of coaches REMAINS AT OREGON.

I hear a collective sigh of relief from Oregon fans in over 50 countries….  (I know I did!)

THIS was the last element that I had doubts about, and that was whether Coach Helfrich and his staff could construct the winning game plans in the future, and now we know that they CAN.  Coach Helfrich is the only coach to have a headset on listening and understanding Chip’s reasoning for his play calling.  Mark has obviously assimilated a ton of information and can implement these learned concepts.

Will Mark call plays like Chip?  No, and at times that might be for the best.  Josh Schlichter of is an astute football observer who sees things that few do.  As we watched the Michigan of ’07 game, Josh could tell when coach Bellotti was calling plays, and then when his offensive coordinator, Chip Kelly was.  The same was true this last year!  He could tell when Chip was being stubborn, and when Helfrich was being flexible, which bodes very well for the future.  These game plans were not Kelly or Helfrich game plans, but OREGON’s game plan.

In the end, we truly will not know until they play the games, but the probabilities are on our side that Oregon will be continuing the innovative game plans that we have seen over the last five years.  You can bet that we at will be relishing the study of these game plans and the touchdowns that ensue!

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

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

Top Photo from Video


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