The Improved Oregon Defense: Defending the Counter Trey

Coach Morris Analysis, Fish Reports, Learning the Jim Leavitt 3-4 Hybrid Defense

For the past two weeks, we, at, have shown examples of good-to-very-good Oregon defense, taken from the Oregon Spring Game.  Last week we looked at the Ducks defending their own Inside Zone Read [IZR], and prior to that we saw good examples of Oregon’s defense containing and stopping the Jet and Pistol Sweeps by their offense.

Today we’ll look at Oregon defending its own Counter Trey.  (FishDuck Note: Coach Morris wrote about this play here) Some of you might remember, Oregon essentially lost the National Championship Game to Ohio State because of the defense’s inability to stop the Counter Trey. (FishDuck Note: Oregon ran the same 404 defense that Mike wrote about last week in the NC game.)

A couple of reminders:

  1. Both of these featured Counters start with a fake Jet Sweep to the offense’s left.
  2. Then the offensive left guard will pull to the opposite side to block the defense’s contain man [in both cases the left outside linebacker], and the H-back [a TE lined up in the backfield] will lead the ball carrier to the side opposite the initial Jet Sweep fake

MANY very good things are happening in this play, shown against the Ducks’ 4-2 alignment:

Intense technique by all…

The contain defender [red arrow above and Left Outside Linebacker, (LOLB) No. 56, Bryson Young] does a marvelous job of “bouncing”/”spilling” [forcing the ball carrier to run outside, where he can be tackled for a loss]. Note Young’s outstanding form in attacking the pulling offensive left guard’s inside shoulder. If the ball carrier went inside his LG’s block, Young could tackle him for a loss.

The Defensive Left Tackle, (DLT) [No. 48, Hunter Kampmoyer and yellow arrow above] is initially double-teamed by the offensive Offensive Right Tackle (RT) and Offensive Right Guard. (OG) Hunter does what he must:  He holds his ground — doesn’t get driven back by the double-team — and maintains his outside leverage on the RG, still controlling the B-gap, when the RT leaves the combo block to block the RLB. That’s very important because Hunter’s now in great position to pursue the ball carrier.  Which he does very well…

Another fascinating defensive twist above for an old coach to see: When the H-Back pulls inside, the Right Outside Linebacker, (ROLB) [No.24, Keith Simms and green line/arrow above] “folds” inside after him to help against a possible inside run, instead of typically containing the Jet Sweep.

The Duck/Nickel Back is assigned the possible Jet Sweep ball carrier.

But the Ducks’ offense is also well-coached:

Impressive technique…

The H-Back [Dark Green arrow above and No. 84, Cam McCormick] sees the contain defender’s force technique.  So, instead of leading the ball carrier inside the LG’s block, McCormick correctly leads the ball carrier outside the block, turning an “off-tackle” play into a sweep.

Knowing the running back (RB) will be forced outside, the Left Linebacker, (LLB) [ Yellow arrow above and No. 35, Troy Dye] must immediately come up to the outside and become the contain man, taking on the lead blocker’s outside shoulder and preventing the running back from getting outside him. Dye is a bit too slow to make a great play, but he does succeed in keeping the ball carrier inside of him, and he gets in on the tackle.

Remember Bryson Young (Red arrow above), the OLB who beautifully forced the ball carrier to go outside? Many defensive players would consider their job done after that successful collision, but not Bryson Young. He then separates himself wonderfully from his blocker and takes a great pursuit angle to become the tackler. That’s a GREAT play by Bryson Young!

The Right Linebacker, (RLB) [Lime Green arrow above and No. 55, A.J. Hotchkins] does an another excellent job; first, A.J. must be sure there’s no Jet Sweep. Then he must be sure the QB isn’t keeping the ball and running.

Finally, A.J. gets to pursue the real ball carrier. Amazingly, he still gets in on the tackle, aided by a terrible missed block by the RT.

In our next example below, the offense comes within one block of scoring a TD.  The Ducks are now playing their 404 defensive front, and the Defensive Left End, (DLE) [No. 92 Henry Mondeaux], playing the 4-technique, saves the play.

Mondeaux the man…

The LOLB [No. 18 Jimmie Swain in red arrow above] uses a regular contain technique, “attacking” the pulling Left Offensive Guard’s (OG) outside shoulder. It looks like too much of a “torero” technique – with Swain definitely not seeking a major collision with the blocker. But “discretion is the better part of valor” as Swain would get buried by the 100 pound larger OG. (Actually the mistake is by the blocker, by falling instead of maintaining his block) Also Swain doesn’t quit on the play and gets in on the tackle.

The LLB [No. 39 Kaulana Apelu in orange arrow above] does an excellent job of quickly scraping tightly off the Offensive Right Tackle to fill the C-gap [inside the OLB], and correctly and aggressively taking on the lead blocker’s outside shoulder, forcing the play inside.

The RLB [No. 53 Blake Rugraff in yellow arrow above] has to deal with the moment every LB dreads: when he has to get past a blocker who has “position” on him. [between him and where he needs to go] It becomes very much like a ball carrier facing a tackler. Blake correctly decides to go “underneath” the Offensive Right Guard (ORG). But he needs to dip and rip past the blocker’s inside shoulder more quickly and aggressively, instead of just using his hands to essentially surrender.

The Nose Tackle, (NT) [No. 34 Jordon Scott in red circle above] initially does a very good job of attacking the center. But then Jordon does a terrible job of separating himself from the center [No. 75 Zach Okun].  Jordon could have made the tackle on this play; instead he’s still fighting with Okun when the ball carrier is well past him.

But now let’s look at the key to stopping this Counter Trey: If the Offensive Right Tackle could have successfully blocked the Defensive Left End [Mondeaux], I think Royce Freeman would have scored a TD. Instead, because of Mondeaux’s excellently defeating and separating himself from the Offensive Right Tackle’s inside shoulder, and waiting in the B-gap, (Lime green arrow above) Royce has to cut to the opposite side of the line.

This is a man’s block…

Great decision by Freeman. Tired of my always praising the defense? Wanna see some great offense? Watch the the Offensive Left Tackle, [I had to look up who he is] Redshirt Freshman No. 60, Logan Bathke, destroy the Defensive Left End [No. 97, Jalen Jelks] THAT is a GREAT block.

It proves that the defensive 4-technique isn’t fool-proof, and that the Ducks have an outstanding young offensive lineman, that most of us weren’t aware of. Bathke drives Jelks back into his Right Linebacker. Result: big hole over the left offensive tackle area.

The Duck OLB [No. 19 Fotu Leiato] spends too much time outside, checking the potential Jet Sweeper.

So, how is the play stopped? By great tenacity.

Rugraff [No. 53] gets off his block and takes a great pursuit angle to the other side to become the first tackler. Leiato [No. 19] hustles inside to join the tackle, and Swain [No. 18] keeps on going from the opposite end to join in on the tackle. Safety Tyree Robinson [No. 21] also makes a feeble attempt at a tackle. (But I can’t remember Tyree Robinson EVER making a real good tackle)

After all that, a potential TD, or a long gain to the side opposite the original hole, is held to a 3-yard gain.

So there are two more examples of the “New and Improved Oregon Defense”. Don’t be skeptical – enjoy it. It’s only going to get better with time — and more great coaching and adding more real good players…

Coach Mike Morris
Pleasant Hill, Oregon

Top Photo from Pac-12 Network Video

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