The Oregon Duck Offense: Misdirection in the Play-Action Game

Coach Eric Boles Analysis

This week, we’ll dive into one of the many benefits the Pistol formation has extended the Oregon Duck offense. On deck in this article is the variety of play-action pass looks the Pistol allows. Where all play-action passes from the Shotgun look pretty much the same, those from the Pistol can look very different, depending on the call. It even allows for a cool little misdirection that Oregon has pulled out from time to time this season.

Snag Concept off of Play-Action


The play diagramed above is a simple Snag Concept. For now, I want to focus not so much on the concept itself, but the bit of misdirection that was used to create the illusion of miscommunication in the backfield. The action in the backfield makes it seem as though Justin Herbert missed a handoff.

In the video above, watch how Herbert reverse pivots, seemingly missing the handoff to Travis Dye who blows right by on the right, apparently then forcing Herbert to roll out to the same side.

When looking over this play, I emailed the above clip to a high school coaching friend from Michigan. I wanted a second opinion, and we are in agreement that this action is all by design.

You may be wondering why a play-action like this would fool a defense if the ball is never even in reach of the running back. The idea seems to be that the look of missing the handoff sucks the linebackers into believing that the quarterback now has nowhere to go. From a defensive perspective, if the quarterback didn’t get the ball to the running back on a designed run play, he’s now going to have to run it himself. Herbert even attacks the line of scrimmage a bit to sell the notion.

Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles frequently depended on the Snag in 2013.

The Snag Concept itself is a triangle read (see diagram above). In the video clip, receiver Brendan Schooler is going to carry the corner deep (could be a fade or a corner route), leaving the safety to choose between the route in the flat by the running back Dye, or Dillon Mitchell on the slant-sit. The defender chooses Dye and Herbert delivers the ball to Mitchell for a near touchdown.

While watching other college football games recently, I noticed that the Alabama Crimson Tide used this exact play-action pass with the same backfield misdirection, except from under center. I’m almost positive that’s no coincidence, given coach Mario Cristobal’s background in Tuscaloosa.

I personally really like the mind games coming from the above play design. The style of run game the Ducks implement sets this type of play up beautifully. I’m glad offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo is willing to reach into his bag of goodies and bring plays like this out every once in a while. At the very least, it gives Pac-12 defenses more to prepare for from here on out.

Coach Eric Boles
Newark, Ohio

Top Photo Credit: Kevin Cline

New 2024 FishDuck Publishing Schedule….

During the off-season the publishing schedule will consist of articles on Mondays and Tuesdays. Do keep checking as new articles could be published during the week when a writer has something to say.

In mid-August of 2024, we will go back to the seven-days-a-week of articles during the football season as we did in the football season of 2023.

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