It seems that it was not that long ago that I attended a recruiting luncheon and the subject was our current cornerback star, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Coach Kelly was talking about Ifo (a few years ago when this took place) and he explained that he only had to watch four or five high school highlight plays of Ifo, when, “I told the assistant coaches to go on to the next prospect, because I knew he could play for us.” How true that turned out to be, and I could not help but think of that moment when the Grizzled Ol’ Coach recently told me what an amazing game that Ekpre-Olomu played in the Civil War. Coach Mike Morris and I sat down recently to examine many plays that he made against Oregon State, as I wish to deviate from my usual analysis to examine and pay tribute to one of the best corners ever at the University of Oregon.
A foundation play of the Oregon State offense and one that they scored their final touchdown is the dreaded Fly Sweep. The flanker (Oregon State star Brandin Cooks) goes in motion and takes the handoff from the Beaver QB immediately and uses the speed built up to turn the corner. Above, we see OSU blockers taking on the safety and LB of the Ducks, while Ifo is the last line of defense to prevent a big gain. Note also how he must tackle Cooks either inside the gap created by the blocking or if Brandon cuts outside after Olomu commits an inside tackle path.
Most of us fans do not appreciate the closing speed of Ekpre-Olomu in run support (above), as he closed the gap in a heartbeat and tackled the Beaver receiver for a one-yard gain. So many corners can be reluctant about stopping the running game, but Ifo showed us many times through the game that he is fearless and that aggression adds to his closing speed on the tackle.
Open field tackling on RBs (above) who are instructed to make the defenders miss, can also make it difficult for defenders to carry out a “form” tackle, with the head on the outside and “driving up through the ball carrier,” as the Coach told me. This often happens in split seconds, thus a common way to stop the RBs is to cut their legs out from under them and let momentum help make the tackle. Ekpre-Olomu did that often, and while not perfect form, it was a dependable stop.
It’s 3rd-and-7 (which, when playing OSU, is a lock to be a pass) and you can see the green arrows (above), which indicate that Oregon is in a blitz! While that is exciting to you and me as fans — that has to be scary for Ifo when his man-to-man assignment is the Biletikoff Award winner as the best WR in the nation. The Grizzled Ol’ Coach explained how you see Ifo’s foot on the inside (yellow arrow, above), which is crucial to cut off the inside slant or “X” patterns. “You must not let them inside,” is the motto for cornerbacks, especially in this situation. The worst part of it is that Ekpre-Olomu has NO help coming as the safety is close to the LOS, thus deep help is out of the question. OSU threw deep before and would not hesitate throwing it up for Cooks if he gets open.
Yikes! As we see above, Cooks is just too good and negated Ifo’s positioning and got inside anyway! In the microseconds following — the pass is thrown inside and low in front of Brandin to be away from Ifo, and you can see how close they are to the first down line. Oh, baby — not good.
There is only so much a coach can teach, as the athleticism, speed and desire of Ifo, closes the separation (above) as he dives to knock the ball away. There were times in this game where Cooks prevailed, and it is a matchup that will be seen in the future on Sundays. The uniforms will be different than now, but the amazing skill of both players will remain the same. This was an epic matchup within the Civil War rivalry that will be remembered for a very long time.
It’s 4th-and-1 for the Beavers (above), and they are going back to pass! I like to use times like this to keep learning about coverages in the secondary. Coach Morris pointed out how this was a “Cover 3” defense where the LBs cover the short zones to the sides and the MLB covers the short middle zone. Clearly we can see how Ifo has the lower third of the field to cover, while Patterson has the middle third to be responsible for. Terrence Mitchell usually mans the upper third, but at times, Oregon will also have Dior Mathis or Troy Hill helping out as well.
Ifo knows that he is not responsible for anyone else in his third of the field because Cooks is the only one downfield and the ball is in the air! Ifo uses his incredible talent and speed to follow Brandin inside to get there before the ball, making the interception to put an end to an Oregon State drive. Note the hold by Cooks on Patterson to make sure that he cannot come up with an interception. Most of us don’t see that!
While I hate to lose such a valuable member of the Oregon defense, I cannot help but wish Ifo Ekpre-Olomu the best in the NFL draft, as he is the latest in a long line of great defensive backs at the University of Oregon. We have come to appreciate his unique skills and have greatly enjoyed the superb plays Ifo has made throughout his career with the Ducks. In this game were many more examples of great technique and savvy intuition that is the hallmark of the All-American cornerback he has become. My thanks again for the instruction and expertise from one of the great consultants for this website, Coach Mike Morris.
“Oh how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Oregon Football Analyst for EugeneDailyNews/FishDuck.com