This is certainly an article where we want to discuss the USC game, but something even more important than my fondness for alliteration (The Title) needs to be touched upon. If a football hack like yours truly is going to criticize the coaching decisions when I feel they are wrong, then for credibility to be maintained — I must give them full credit when those shortcomings are addressed with success.
I refer to the monster game that CJ Verdell had for the Ducks last week, and how so much of that success was not due to the blocking! We had a seismic shift occur in the running decisions and style by Oregon’s key running back, and this significant change will dramatically affect the rest of the season, perhaps even today in a big way. Let’s take a look …
Many of us have been disappointed with the lack of cutbacks and subsequent drop in explosion plays by Oregon running backs in the past two years. Above you see a screenshot highlighting my complaint in my Spring Game Breakdown article. The number of examples in each game are so numerous, that I stopped writing about it except occasionally in the comments. I had a hard time believing that the running backs who made their living with cutbacks in high school could no longer see those opportunities; I figured they were being coached away from their intuition.
But everything changed in the game against Washington State; it was dramatic, and it shouts for our analysis.
The three major decisions that running backs have in running the Inside Zone play, regardless if it’s from the Shotgun or the Pistol formation, is whether they are going to Blast, Bend or Bounce. One of the best articles on the web explaining that concept that still receives thousands of reads each year by high school coaches and players comes from this very website. The examples are very similar to what you’re about to see below, only they were achieved out of the Shotgun with the same foundations of powerful blocking and downhill rushing that the current coaching staff prefers.
Above looks like the beginning of so many A-Gap dive Pistol plays of the past, where the linebacker (red arrow above) is going to come up and meet Verdell in the hole and stop him for a very short gain as we have seen so many times.
But wait! This time Verdell notes how the blocking on the outside by Calvin Throckmorton (No. 54) is effectively sealing those players to the inside and the question has always been, “why not Bend-it to the outside?”
As you will see in the above video, Verdell does precisely that, and we see an Inside Zone play with the Bend running decision implemented with amazing results. A play that usually went for one yard gashed the Cougar defense for 17. To me, this is how to best utilize the depth of the Pistol formation; see the gaps and blocking angles to select and explode baby!
The play above appears to have the very same outcome that we have groused about so many times, as we see the Cougar linebackers (red arrows above) close in on the A-Gap that Verdell is a fraction of a second away from bursting into.
What I saw next made me gasp, as it was routine to see this from running backs at Oregon years ago , but I had not seen this exhibited by CJ Verdell before. This is happening in milliseconds, but he has ran the play often enough and has enough confidence in his offensive line to know that No. 68 Shane Lemieux is going to seal those linebackers to the inside (red “T” above), which allows him to cut behind that seal block (dotted yellow line) and be off into the secondary.
My friends, what you see above is a one-yard gain turned into a 32-yard explosion play brought about by reading the blocks and bending away from the blast path the play was originally intended for. If the linebackers camp out in the intended gap, then it leaves other opportunities open, and CJ Verdell is now beginning to see them.
The question becomes, did the light just go on for him after a full season and two thirds of another? Or was it a green light that came on from the head coach to the running back coach who then gave the Ducks RBs the thumbs-up to use their vision and intuitive skills? The Mr. FishDuck guess? I believe this was all brought about by Cyrus Habibi-Likio, and it began in the Stanford game. I was going to write about how he was picking the gaps to run in after the linebackers had committed to another gap, but I ended up lusting even more for the defensive line sack techniques in that game.
Last week in the Washington telecast, you may recall the sportscaster noting how Habibi-Likio ran to the open backside of the play and turned it into something big. I believe the coaches saw that and let him continue to do it, and subsequently gave the green light to the rest of the running backs. We will never know the truth, but it seems to be the most plausible to me.
Next Saturday is the bye week, but the best article of the season from yours truly will be on that day. We have a legendary coach who will be explaining the overall Mario Cristobal strategy, and how Mr. FishDuck has been completely wrong and why. I promise you will be blown away as I was.
Oh yes, and let’s discuss the game against the Trojans before, during and afterwards!
“Oh how we love to learn about and discuss our Beloved Ducks!”
Charles Fischer (FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon Top Photo From Video
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