While our usual Arizona Gameday banter will be interesting, watching for a defensive strategy used by Jim Leavitt to stop the rushing attack of the Wildcats two years ago will contain its own drama. Khalil Tate can chew any defense to bits if he has the running room, and Oregon squeezed that away from the Arizona star that prior day; will defensive coordinator Andy Avalos use the same successful strategy to secure an important win in the Ducks’ quest to win the conference?
The “Squeeze” strategy employed that evening not only works to shut down the Zone Read attack of the Wildcats, but a variation of this strategy has been used against the Ducks to counter the Zone Reading within the Pistol formation. The problem for the offense comes when a defender can effectively cover both players within the mesh: the quarterback and the running back. It takes great discipline and athleticism for a defender to pull it off, and I’ve witnessed it done against our Beloved Ducks many times. Let’s look at the basis of the strategy so we know what to watch for Saturday night …
At the snap, the backside defensive end (DE) or outside linebacker (OLB) attacks the “mesh point,” where the QB and running back are exchanging the football. Instead of “sitting” at the line-of-scrimmage, he aggressively moves inside the offensive backfield toward the mesh point. The defender must maintain balance and the proper leverage to prevent Tate from pulling the ball and exploding outside, as he is ultimately responsible for the QB in this assignment.
Against the Wildcats, the goal of the Squeeze is to force Arizona’s dynamic QB, Khalil Tate, to hand the ball off to the running back (a give read), thus eliminating the ‘Cats’ most explosive playmaker.
From an offensive perspective, quarterbacks are often taught to read the shoulders of their read key. Square shoulders, such as those of the defender in the above example, (La’Mar Winston No. 32) generate a hand off to the running back, or a give read. Something else for us to watch for is whether the defender (above) can keep his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage at all times during the squeeze, because if he were to turn his shoulders to the inside, he wouldn’t be able to contain the QB on a pull (keep) read.
It is essential that the Oregon defender doing the squeezing attack the outside shoulder of the QB to prevent him breaking contain on the perimeter.
Once the DE/OLB (red circle above) confirms the QB has completed the hand off to the RB, he will trail the ball carrier down the LOS. Remember, he is responsible for back side containment, and this includes any cutback by the RB after the hand off.
This requires athleticism, discipline and considerable body control. To effectively execute this scheme against a skilled, dual-threat QB, it takes a true athlete who can match the athleticism of the QB, remain disciplined, and has the ability to make one-on-one tackles in space. Oregon turned to La’Mar Winston that day, and fortunately, he is now an experienced senior on the Oregon defense who is joined by many other highly athletic DEs and OLBs such as Mase Funa, Kayvon Thibodeaux and DJ Johnson who can carry out this strategy as well.
The basis of every defense is stopping the run, and in the case of the Wildcats …. that means keeping Arizona Star Khalil Tate contained. If he goes off against the Ducks — it will open up their passing attack as well and force Oregon to play an offensive track-meet of scoring type of game. Let’s hope the current Oregon defensive staff decides to not take that risk!
It is always fun to have some items to look for in a game, and this is a unique strategy that is tailored to curtail a particular star; let’s watch for it and discuss the game before, during and after as always.
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Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
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