How Oregon Destroyed the Blitz With the “Rub-Cross” Strategy

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Analysis, Fish Reports

Oregon fans were understandably apprehensive going into the Arizona State game. They knew the Sun Devils blitzed a ton, which would be problematic for four redshirt freshmen offensive linemen and the Ducks’ true freshman quarterback Justin Herbert. Could Oregon counter these blitzes? How would the coaching staff handle obvious passing situations against the blitz and keep the coveted new QB protected?

Fortunately, Justin has been well-versed in recognizing and countering the blitz since the seventh grade, when he began working in the Sheldon High School offensive system, which is quite similar to what Oregon runs. The coaches set up a game plan that Herbert could easily carry out using the “Rub-Cross” concept, and it was devastating to Arizona State in how it created explosion plays and touchdowns for our beloved Ducks.

Let’s learn more football!

The typical cross routes take time...

From Video

The typical cross routes take time …

A typical response to the blitz is to run “Rub-Cross” routes by receivers on opposite sides of the field who will cross just five yards downfield, with two objectives. One aim is to gain a step on the defensive back (DB) and run away from him. The second aim is to have the DBs run into each other. The “Rub-Cross” is a horizontal scheme that attacks the flat, the shallow areas on the perimeter of the LOS.

The challenge is that it takes time for the open receiver to materialize. Above we see how two receivers are running their Rub-Cross routes against a normal four-man rush.

This was not a blitz (above) but one of the four rushers beat an Oregon offensive lineman. Even if a receiver is open, it is hard to get the ball to him when you are trying to evade a sack. The fundamental “Rub-Cross” strategy works, but not on this play as the Ducks needed more time. To combat this problem, Oregon implemented a “Rub-Cross” with receivers on the same side of the formation, which needs less time to develop.

Let’s watch it unfold.

The Blitz is coming!

From Video

The blitz is coming!

On this play there is a blitz coming from six ASU defenders, and they will slant, as you see by the red arrows above. The middle linebacker of ASU (“MLB” or “MIKE”) is assigned to the tight end, No.85 Pharaoh Brown (if he goes out into a pass route) and is responsible for stopping Oregon’s Pac-12 leading rushing attack and No. 21 Royce Freeman. The Sun Devil safety is assigned to the slot (Johnny Mundt, No. 83) in pass coverage.

Both the Safety and MLB cover No. 83!

From Video

Both the Safety and MLB cover No. 83!

The MLB, above, has checked for a running play and had his eyes in the backfield, and once Freeman went into a pass-protection stance, his attention turns to Brown slipping to the outside on the other side of the field! You can see the safety above has his eyes locked on Mundt.

The "Rub" wasn't needed!

From Video

The “Rub” wasn’t needed!

Both the safety and the MLB (red dotted lines and arrows above) are focused on Mundt or a distant Pharaoh Brown (green circle and dotted green line/arrow), who is moving to the outside (Brown is not visible in this screenshot due to the down-and-distance special effect added by the Pac-12 telecast).

Where was the “Rub?” It was supposed to be by Darren Carrington (No. 7 and yellow dotted line/arrow above), as he was going to place his “route” in the path of the safety he thought would be, or should be covering Brown. But the rub was not needed due to the confusion in the ASU secondary.

Oh baby! Now that is how you defeat the blitz with a same side rub-cross” (above) which doesn’t require the same amount of time as the typical rub-cross from receivers on opposite sides of the formation. Herbert can deliver the ball quickly and Mr. Brown delivers the logistics for a touchdown (stiff arm, anyone?)!

We have another blitz coming!

From Video

We have another blitz coming!

In this next play, Herbert (green arrow above) is pointing out the blitz coming from as ASU, which wants to overload Oregon’s right side. This is going to be a big play for both teams, as the Ducks have a difficult 3rd-and-10. The Sun Devils started the play with two deep safeties, but one had to “roll down” into coverage across from the slot, which sets up a better “rub” angle for the Ducks.

We will see a different Rub-Cross between the number two receiver from the bottom, and the slot receiver on the same side of the LOS (yellow double arrow above).

The Free Safety is not so free in a moment!

From Video

The Free Safety is not so free in a moment!

Note the route that Jalen Brown (green dotted line/arrow above) runs, as he comes out and cuts hard to the right to head upfield. Mundt (yellow line/arrow above) is headed around Jalen. The Arizona State DB has his eyes on Mundt and does not see the impending “rub.” The Sun Devil free safety (red dotted line/arrow above) still has his eyes in the backfield and is not aware of his oncoming impediment.

This is "bad-or-bad" for the free safety!

From Video

This is “bad-or-bad” for the free safety!

The safety, who moved in closer to cover Mundt, has run into the defender covering Brown, and both ASU players tumble to the turf in a perfect rub route! Now the free safety has an impossible coverage situation, as he either covers Brown (red dotted line/arrow above) or Mundt (orange dotted line/arrow above) down field.

The teamwork and precision on the above play is astonishing, as we noted Herbert detecting the blitz, the offensive line holding up beautifully and a wonderfully executed vertical rub where even Jalen Brown is open for a touchdown – in addition to Mundt! Great block downfield by Carrington, as well.

This Mundt-Brown concept above is called a “TD-Switch,” done with a vertical rub. This is not the traditional “Rub-Cross” executed by receivers on opposite sides of the field who cross five yards past the LOS. This is a vertical attacking strategy, while the traditional “Rub-Cross” is a horizontal tactic. The TD-Switch also takes very little time to open up when facing a blitz, which is preferable.

The basis of the Spread Offense is to stretch the defense both horizontally and vertically. Both rub strategies can achieve this while effectively defeating the blitz. Having a quarterback who is experienced implementing these concepts as a freshman is that much more exciting for fans of our beloved Ducks.

“Oh how we love to learn about college football!”

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

Top Photo by Dillon Vibes

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