In 2013, the Arizona Wildcats and Head Coach Rich Rodriguez tore through the Ducks and the nearly non-existent Oregon defense that day raised a lot of questions among Ducks faithful. But I’m here to tell you, Duck fans, that the future is bright. The Oregon defense can shut this Arizona offense down in 2014, without any major changes.
And that’s good, because the retirement of former Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti does not mean change is coming. Promoted from within, new Defensive Coordinator Don Pellum is a long-time staple of the Oregon defensive staff, and he has indicated that the defense will remain largely unchanged for the 2014 season.
With no major scheme change, how will the Ducks manage to create a different result when the Wildcats come to Autzen Stadium in October? The easy answer is: Do what you do, but do it better this time.
The Oregon defense seemed to lack focus when they faced Arizona last year. Execution on the majority of the 87 offensive snaps the Wildcats took was undeniably poor. The result was a hard-to-swallow 42-16 defeat to an unranked opponent.
Now that the bad taste from that loss has returned to your tongue, let’s get to the bright spot. In 2014, the Ducks will not lack focus against this opponent. They have a defensive scheme that is great for shutting down Rich Rod’s Spread Offense rushing attack. And it all starts with how Oregon is going to take away the Zone Read Option.
I mentioned that I was researching this article to my good friend Shane Sams, who created CoachXO.com and was a Graduate Assistant under Rich Rod at West Virginia. He told me the playbook essentially consists of 5 plays. The Zone Read play, and Play Action passes off the Zone Read, are at it’s heart. Take away the Zone Read, you take away the life-blood of the entire attack.
Despite the less-than-positive results from the 2013 game against Arizona, we do have some great examples of how the Oregon ‘hybrid’ 3-4 defense can, and should, shut down Rich Rod and the Zone Read, in 2014.
The Ducks defensive linemen play a 2-gap technique. That means they are figuring out where to go on the play based on the movement of the offensive linemen. It is a difficult technique to teach, but when executed well, it is a nightmare for zone blocking schemes.
On a 1st-and-10 play at the start of the 2nd quarter, the defensive line executed that technique to perfection. The results prove that. The Arizona QB, No. 7 B.J. Denker, takes the snap and reads outside linebacker No. 91 Tony Washington (above). Washington squats and holds his position to defend against the quarterback keep, so Denker gives to his running back, No. 25 Ka’Deem Carey (shown below).
The play is a Zone Read Right. The offensive linemen all step to block the zone to their immediate right. That tells the Ducks defensive linemen to attack and control those gaps. The 2-gap technique is to mirror the steps of those offensive linemen, then lock-out or post the left arm to take control of the blocker (below). Once he has control, the linemen rip with their right arm to get the blocker’s hands off of them. That allows the defensive linemen to get free and make the tackle.
The nose tackle, No. 90 Ricky Havili-Heimuli and right side defensive end No. 66 Taylor Hart, are the big contributors on this snap. Check out the beautiful job by all three linemen of posting the left hand. Hart’s technique on this snap is impecable. Havili-Heimuli uses his hands to shed his block when the center over-reacts to his strong post with the left arm. He works back behind the block to destroy Carey on the play (below).
This snap was one of the few times that all 3 defensive linemen simultaneously executed the technique to perfection in the Arizona game. Keep in mind that this play makes up a significant proportion of the Arizona offense, so the failure to execute was not because they were surprised. It was simply a lack of focus on this day that prevented the Ducks from executing a skill they have surely practiced, and successfully performed, thousands of times before.
Later in the same quarter, the Ducks show another example (Below) of how this defense has all the tools to dominate an offensive scheme like the Wildcats and Rich Rodriguez employ. On this play, Denker is going to keep the football and go — nowhere.
On a 3rd-and-2 later in the 2nd quarter, Arizona calls another Zone Read play. This time, the Oregon defense aligns in a Bear Front, with the defensive linemen sliding in closer to the football (shown above). That eliminates much hope of a successful inside running play. Left defensive end No. 44 DeForest Buckner, proves that when he brings Carey, who does not have the football, down to the ground rather harshly.
Denker wisely keeps the football but finds his path blocked by blitzing linebacker No. 48 Rodney Hardrick (above). He has a 3rd option on this play — a quick bubble pass to the inside receiver. But that is taken away by outside linebacker No. 25 Boseko Lokombo. Still, Denker sees hope because his wheels let him beat Hardrick around the edge.
At this point, the Ducks execute a drill that good secondary coaches work weekly with their players. The drill is called a Crack-Replace. When a receiver comes down inside to block an interior defender such as a linebacker or a safety, that is called a ‘crack block.’ A crucial part of a great defense is to recognize crack blocks, warn the defender who is about to get cracked, and then replace him by taking over the job that he was originally assigned to do.
Against this Zone Read play, No. 21 Avery Patterson, put on a clinic on how to execute the crack-replace technique. Patterson is assigned to man coverage on No. 6 Nate Phillips. The ‘Cat turns inside to seal off a pursuing linebacker (shown above). When he does, Patterson immediately inserts in the play, now taking over the role of linebacker on his defense (below).
Patterson cuts off any hope Denker had of a positive gain with a open field form tackle (below). A great example of what can happen when all 11 defenders maintain focus and execute their technique. The Wildcats had nowhere to run … or throw!
Denker is a great athlete in the open field and this tackle by Patterson is all the more exceptional on the Arizona QB. Following assignments and defeating blocks stops all offenses!
Rejoice, Duck fans! This year’s Oregon defense is going to be focused when Arizona comes to Autzen. They’ve got the same bad taste in their mouths from last year’s game that you do. And they have the scheme to stop Rich Rod’s accomplished offensive attack. All they need to do is execute!
I may be in Virginia, but “oh, how we love to learn about your beloved Ducks!”
Coach Joe Daniel
Twitter: @footballinfo (http://twitter.com/footballinfo)
(Top Photo by David Pyles)