Golden Era vs. Now: Has Oregon’s Run Game REALLY Changed?

Jeremy Mosier Analysis

Expectations weigh heavily on the Oregon offense this year, no sense shying away from it. The meteoric rise of Oregon football in the early 2000s was fueled by innovation, executed at a blur-like tempo and presented in uniforms unlike anything ever seen. This overload of stimuli throughout the “Golden Era” of Oregon football (2009-2014) has cast a shadow over the program that only grew larger as the Ducks fell in both of their national championship game appearances.

This success, and the way it was achieved, gave Duck fans a unique identity that changed the college football landscape. This is the foundation that has Oregon fans expecting nothing short of excellence on the offensive side of the ball every year. For those longing for the past 50-point, 90-play performances, we have to give a fair assessment when comparing past to present. Are we really that much different today compared to the “Golden Era” of the Oregon offense?

Shotgun vs. Pistol

In this analysis we will compare the running game of the “Golden Era” Oregon offense to the offense we saw in the 2018 season and 2019 spring game. The biggest difference between the pistol and shotgun formations is the lack of the QB run threat in the pistol, as he often turns his back to the defense.

In theory, the pistol allows the running back more versatility to attack both the left and right side of the defense, as he is not aligned primarily to the left or right of the QB. The disadvantage is that he is further away from the line of scrimmage (typically seven yards). Those who favor the pistol offense would argue that it allows the running back to build speed and get downhill at a higher velocity.

Power Sweep

The power running game is a staple for Oregon football when comparing past and present. In this particular power sweep play (above), you will see small variations in the current pistol set. However, Oregon did run some effective power running plays — such as this sweep variation — from the pistol during the “Golden Era” with Marcus Mariota and Darron Thomas at the helm.

Most of the blocking assignments are the same with the play side lineman getting a push and the backside lineman pulling towards the play side. In short, the offense is trying to outnumber the defense on one side of the ball. The pulling lineman want to get downhill but may kick out an outside defender if the defender’s positioning dictates. This would result in the running back cutting inside (Oregon vs. Stanford 2018) instead of running more to the edge (Oregon vs. UCLA 2014; notably the second run above).

Inside Zone and Inside Zone ISO

The inside zone run was the foundation of the Oregon offense during the Golden Era. The play above is based around the interior lineman getting one or two double team blocks on the defensive tackle(s). Oregon often adds the H-back (another running back lined up in front of the QB) to act as a lead blocker in a variation of this, often called “inside zone iso” (isolation). This H-back acts like a traditional fullback. In the play above, the offensive line blocks the interior while the H-back seals the edge defender.

This scheme is very versatile and you will often see the run-pass-option and read option off of it. You can learn more about variations off the inside zone from a previous article: Oregon’s Quick-Strike Run-Pass Option: Three Plays in 2.2 Seconds.

Split Back Inside Zone RPO

The split back inside zone RPO (run-pass option) adds another element to the inside zone running play by adding a pass option. Regarding the running play, motioning a back out of the formation often stretches the defense by forcing a defender to commit to the pass threat rather than play near the line of scrimmage as a run defender. Oregon has run this play effectively over the years and its appearance in the spring game shows the Ducks will likely utilize it again this upcoming season.

The plays above are just a few examples of running plays that have stayed with the Oregon offense over four coaching changes since 2012. In another series we will go beyond the base running plays and look at stretch plays and passing plays that are very similar to past plays, but slightly different under the current regime. Regardless, we ask the reader: is the running game that much different now?


Coach Jeremy Mosier
Geneseo, Illinois                                                                                                                                                                          Top Photo by Kevin Cline


Spencer Thomas, the Volunteer Editor for this article, is an attorney for the Social Security Administration in Atlanta, Georgia, and coaches High School Football for Hillgrove HS in Powder Springs, GA.


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