This past season was historic as the Oregon football team was able to capture the Pac-12 Championship and win the Rose Bowl. This was not, however, a season that saw Oregon overwhelming opposing defenses with big plays, tempo, and dynamic playmakers as in years past. Rather, it was an offense without an elite wide receiver that utilized creativity in the passing game.
One source of that creativity was the tunnel screen, a play design that allowed Oregon to stretch defenses horizontally instead of vertically, resulting in clutch plays at key moments throughout the 2019 campaign.
Above you will see a standard tunnel screen to the boundary (short) side of the field. Defensive backs and linebackers typically prefer to run around a pulling lineman to make a tackle, but running to the boundary side gives the defenders less room to avoid blocks. In 2019, Oregon ran the standard tunnel screen with great success to the left side with Outland Trophy winner Penei Sewell pulling from his left tackle position. In the above play, Sewell buries the boundary side defensive back, and Jaylon Redd takes it to the house in the second quarter of Oregon’s 35-31 win over rival Washington.
In the above variation of the standard tunnel screen, Oregon adds a “Lin” motion to the play, with Mycah Pittman reversing his motion at the snap and retreating to his original alignment. Pittman’s motion draws the defensive back away from the play, creating an Oregon numbers advantage on the boundary. This tunnel screen variation allowed Oregon to convert a 4th and 9 trailing 31-21 late in the game.
While the tunnel screen typically targets the X or (slot) receiver, the above video shows the tunnel screen can also target the Z receiver. In the play above, Juwan Johnson’s 25-yard gain leads to a game-winning, chip-shot field goal in the closing seconds against Washington State. Oregon would go on to win the game 37-35.
Tunnel Screen–Field Side
The tunnel screen can also be run to the field (wide) side of the field. While the field-side screen doesn’t necessarily force defensive backs to take on pulling linemen, it allows the offense to get the ball out quickly to a receiver in space. In the above video, the Ducks run the tunnel screen to Johnny Johnson III twice to the field side and then a third time to the boundary. While these plays weren’t enough to beat Arizona State, the tunnel screen helped Johnson set a career high with 207 receiving yards in the game.
Last up is the deep threat off the tunnel screen. Instead of blocking, the wide receiver fakes the block and accelerates past the defender. If the defense takes the bait, as in the above video, the receiver is open down the seam.
With new offensive coordinator Joe Moorehead joining the team next season and the possible emergence of elite, taller receivers such as Devon Williams and Bryan Addison, it will be interesting to see how the Ducks’ passing game evolves. While the Ducks leaned on the tunnel screen and its variations with last year’s personnel, there is no reason the scheme cannot be utilized successfully with improved talent and a more advanced scheme.
Coach Jeremy Mosier
Top Photo by Tom Corno
Phil Anderson, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.
Longtime Oregon Duck fan with family in Portland. Former Offensive coach at Glenwood High School in Illinois. Team qualified for the Sweet 16, 3 Elite 8 appearances, and one state championship game in class 6A. Currently an administrator at Geneseo High School in Illinois. Father to four kids ages 9, 7, 4, and 2 years old. Coached former athletes that have went on to play college football at numerous schools such as Clemson, Duke, and Army. NCAA athlete at Millikin University 2000-2004.
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