ALERT: The following quotes by Defensive Coordinator Brady Hoke are NOT accurate. He stated a very polite version of what you will read, and I dramatized it to make a point. (I am known for drama … but I always back it up as you will see)
Coach Hoke cleared his throat and eyed the 60-70 high school football coaches eagerly sitting in front of him. He took a big breath, and everyone in the room knew something important was about to spill from the new Oregon coordinator’s mouth.
“Whose wise idea was it to pair the Bend-but-don’t-Break-Defense with the Oregon Offense?”
We all looked at each other puzzled …. not knowing what he was driving at.
“That defense works….I know as I’ve coached it, but why would you pair it with an offense that has been in the top five in the nation for scoring in each of the last five years? Oregon is known for rapid scoring, having some of the highest numbers of under-two minute drives in the nation. An offense like that can score a TON, so why pair it with a defense that is designed to be out on the field for long stretches–and keeps this scoring machine off the field?”
The room was quite surprised by this ambush, but the looks on everyone’s faces clearly agreed with Hoke’s logic. That said, where was he going with this? Our answer came soon enough as he began to outline his defensive philosophy and priorities.
“The Oregon defense this year will be attacking and unpredictable; we will force early punts, turnovers, and occasionally when the opponent scores a quick touchdown on the Ducks … who trots back on the field? The OREGON OFFENSE!”
Suddenly, it all made sense; if anyone can make up for an occasional quick TD on the Ducks due to a more aggressively-styled defensive scheme, it would be this offense, especially with the skill players in tow this fall.
Keep in mind that I personally have been a proponent of the “bend-but-don’t-break” defense, as I felt it helped our team have a chance to win without having the SEC-type defenders that a USC might have. We have done analyses of that philosophy helping us win big games on this very site, so it shook me up how easily his logic melted away my bias.
I admit it certainly makes sense that the Oregon offense will score more points if it is on the field more minutes, especially in the first three quarters. But how do you get the defense off the field quicker than previous defenses? The answer comes from the open practice held before the Spring Game that was very lightly attended, which I covered for Ducks fans. It is simple, not profound, but it will work.
The method used by Oregon defensive linemen in the former 3-4 defense was a Two-Gap technique, which required them to stand up the offensive lineman, observe where the play was going while being responsible for the gaps on either side of the offensive lineman, and then pursue the play.
The current method used in Hoke’s new 4-3 defense is a One-Gap technique, where the defensive lineman explode into one single gap to create havoc. It is much easier to implement, as once you get the players knowing which way they need to go, it is full-on attack mode from the snap. That said, it can be very strenuous to execute play after play.
But it was especially exciting for me to witness the defense practice blitzes and change their one-gap assignments as fast as a no-huddle offense! I literally watched them morph into different defenses from play-to-play during this open practice. And I saw first-hand how very hard it was for offensive linemen to adjust and carry out their assignments.
They did not show much of it at the Spring Game, but we do have an example that illustrates this concept. The third arrow from the bottom, Drayton Carlberg has been charging the outside shoulder of the offensive lineman every play, thus making him predictable to block. However, on this play we see a blitz called that has him suddenly charging the inside shoulder before the blocker can adjust. It results in a tackle for loss as you will see in the video below.
This is not rocket science or a massive new innovation in defensive technique; teams have been slanting against the Oregon offense for years. But the key is being unpredictable and multiple. The offensive lineman above was surprised on the above play not by Carlberg’s technique itself, which was not unusual, but because the defensive call at the time was unusual.
Did you notice that the scoring in the spring game was barely half that it normally is? Note also the number of drives that gained some yardage but eventually stalled? The new defense is working my friends, and it is the combination of an attacking mindset and unpredictability that will put the potent Oregon offense on the field for more minutes than ever (my prediction).
I asked our statistical analyst, Evan Markel, to study other spread offenses to see the typical amount of possession time versus Oregon’s and extrapolate how much Oregon would have the ball with the new defense and how many points our beloved Ducks would score. His analysis is here, but the bottom line is that he felt an average of over 50 points per game is quite possible.
I will make my predictions about the Oregon season in another article, but you can see how I believe we are going to set scoring records on offense due to philosophical change on defense from the bend-but-don’t-break, to the One-Gap Attacking, Unpredictable 4-3 Defense that we will see this fall. This is going to be great fun to watch!
“Oh how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Oregon Football Analyst for FishDuck.com
Top Photo by John Sperry
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