Blast-From-the-Past of an Oregon ‘Natty Contender

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Blast from the Past!

My friends, I found a forum post written on a number of Oregon forums after a full practice I attended (back when we could) for fall camp of 2010, and it is so interesting to see the thoughts I had about particular players at that time, and what my head predicted for the season at the end of the article and what my heart said? (We were undefeated in 2010 until the National Championship game, and that loss was by a field goal) My thinking back then is a hoot to read now, and I hope you enjoy the stroll down our Duck Memory Lane today as I did; the pictures from our archive were from that era.  Charles Fischer

Why would anyone want to play football anywhere but Oregon when you see another August day with 75 degrees, a breeze and no humidity? Get outta here! You get this and yet don’t have to endure long winter months either. It is so temperate, and so lush and green unlike the fried brown states of SoCal, Arizona and Texas. It doesn’t get any better than today for a football practice and scrimmage.

It was entertaining to hear Coach “Oz” (Tom Osborne) growl about guys standing around more than he’d like. “If you want to stand around and be a 6-6 team….go to Corvallis.” Now I think he meant Seattle, as the Beavers have been pretty good recently, but the point was made. We are not like any of them, and are held to a higher standard.

On a Special Teams play we saw Keanon Lowe field one of Jackson Rice‘s boomers and then turn up-field to get blasted by Michael Clay trailing the play. Welcome to Oregon, Keanon! (It brought a bunch of hoots from our sideline.)

Keanon Lowe turned out to be a pretty good receiver and citizen for Oregon.

In previous reports I explained the differences between the Inside Zone Read and Outside Zone Read, and how to identify them primarily on backfield formation and by watching the blocking. It’s not foolproof as already Gageac and I detected an anomaly to that rule, but it is consistent the vast majority of the time.

These two formations are the basis for tons of play-action pass series and other play variations that spring offshoots from these two foundation plays of the Chip Kelly Spread Offense. The internet was buzzing about how Coach Kelly just began zone-reading the Defensive Tackle occupying the “3”Technique position. Then others began to chime in about how it really began back in the ’08 Holiday Bowl.

(Present day note from Mr. FishDuck: Above is a video of Darron Thomas reading an Arizona Defensive tackle, No. 99 as a Mid-Line Zone Read a year after this original report. Nobody among the Oregon media covered this before or since)

Today I watched Dennis Dixon in the 2007 USC game zone-read a Defensive Tackle for an easy eight yard Touchdown. The writers/sportscasters/sound bite professionals really have no clue. Go back to my reports, take the time to learn, and you will know more than the talking heads on ESPN most of the time. (unless it’s Coach Bellotti teaching us.)

In the USC game last year….Herbie diagrammed how the defensive end was Zone Read, and how Carson York caved his guy in. Actually, it was the defensive tackle being Zone Read, and it was Darian Weems who made the key block. These guys should be ashamed; if I had spent the hours in the prior week preparing for a game as they do–I would know more!

Darron Thomas does the Outside Zone Read and hands off to LaMichael James who is headed to the corner. Eddie Pleasant is parallel to the LOS and is trying to put on the burners to meet him at the corner. These are two very fast warriors butting heads, and my interest was up a notch to see how this played out. Suddenly, James stopped on a dime and did the famous “cut-up” that Coach Kelly has spoken of in his coaching clinics.

Kenjon Barner, LaMichael James and Darron Thomas.

It is not a cut-back, but a cut-up where you stop-plant-and-liftoff into an open gap before the sideline. You heard the collective “ooh” from the crowd surrounding me, and LaMike cut-up for ten yards before backside pursuit made the tag. (remember…it’s not a scrimmage.)

Make the defense conscious of the inside, and then go outside. Make them paranoid about the breaking outside contain, and you use the double-option Inside Shovel pass. This play goes back four years at Oregon and is a staple of Urban Meyer‘s attack previously at Utah, and at Florida currently, as Chip blows the dust off plays when the current personnel match up well with it.

I’m assuming that the vision of both QBs allows this play to return and put pressure on the defense on the outer edges of its inside gap control, and outside contain simultaneous. A very nasty strategy that creates mistakes regardless of the preparation! Whoa baby!

Josh Huff went on to making tons of huge plays for Our Beloved Ducks.

I’ve been trying to figure a description of Josh Huff for people to picture as I admire the thick legs of this newbie wide receiver. Then those legs reminded me of linebacker legs, so think of BoLo legs with a receiver upper body and build at six feet tall. He looks ready-made to play now, and he hauled in a long beauty from Darron Thomas that I doubted he could catch.

He had to delay his leap, contort backward, and pull in the ball away from the defensive back, but the battle left him defenseless from the wicked impact on the ground. He got up slow and went to the sideline to catch his breath and let the smarting of the whack on his side ease up.

He pulled in another dandy from Bryan Bennett in the 3-on-2s that barely cleared the DB, but required him to lay out in front. He did, and got the catch and a reaction from the galley as we celebrated the effort and extreme athletic ability.

Jeff Maehl, No. 23, celebrated a ton of touchdowns at Oregon.

Jeff Maehl is hurting our QBs because he is making too easy on them. He is blowing up as a receiver rarely seen anywhere; he is always open and the QBs know this and focus upon him too much. It becomes ridiculous when Costa throws up a 35 yard prayer that is short and shouts being picked, yet Jeff goes up, outfights the DB for the ball, and pulls it close to the body and moving the body so that the ball doesn’t touch when he crashes to the ground. Wow.

I couldn’t decide how to react; it was an incredible catch, but Nate Costa should have never thrown it. Jeff’s in rare air….and the comparison I made to Cristin McLemore last report began to come to mind again. McLemore felt that, “no one can cover him!” Maehl is shouting that with his body language and his results. He’s hurting our QBs now, but will be quite the weapon when we strap it up for games. Good for him!

Terrell Turner, No. 45, closes in on a sack in the Civil War.

The defensive play of the game occurred when Brandon Bair blocked a Darron Thomas pass and Terrell Turner caught it returned it for a TD! (I didn’t know that DEs could get high enough for a leaping “victory-bump,” but Turner did it well!)

Coach Kelly did some “attitude adjustment” of a newbie when he told him that he is not to jaw at the officials. “You play and keep your mouth shut.” The final play that resulted in a blitz which overloaded the left side by Eddie Pleasant (safety) and Josh Kaddu (Linebacker) reminded me of the fourth down against UCLA where we did a similar thing and swamped that play as well. Defense wins the Competition Day on the last play again. Coach Nick Aliotti is a wily one!

The QBs thrill and frustrate. Nate threw some sweet passes, but throws too many boneheaded picks still. Darron holds the ball way too much, and he gonna get killed doing that. Add to my concerns about his pocket presence, and I see why he looks to Maehl all the time.

Costa threw some nice balls to DJ Davis and Blake Cantu on both long and shorter patterns. Yet Thomas threw a long beauty to walk-on Will Murphy that anybody would have been pleased with. I watched a wonderful Inside Zone Read fake that turned to a play-action pass; no one was open so Darron ran to open field for a wonderful 15 yard gain. Very Dixonescue.

Eddie Pleasant and the fast defense of 2010…

Bottom line? The offensive results would have been better against prior Oregon defenses; I maintain that this defense this year is special. You’re not going to have Rowe-Matthews-Bair-Paysinger-Boyett-Jackson-Pleasant playing together again. Some will still be there later, but not this special group, and I sense they know it and want to make the most of this unique year together. We are going to have some breathless moments from our defense. Count on it.

Ponder this one….we line up on offense and we are quickly moving into position in our No-Huddle Offense. This has been happening all game, and the defense is becoming fatigued and caring less about being in precise position since the primary objective is to get air in the lungs again. The defense sees that we are lined up for an Inside Zone Read to our right and the defensive signal comes in to shift over to counter it. The defense gets into position as the QB barks out signals, and as he calls out, he hesitates and then the running back shifts over to an Inside Zone Read to the left!

No quarterback stood strong in the pocket like Darron Thomas, No. 1.

There is no time to shift back as the ball is whipped up to the QB; in fact the defense is now shifted and slanted away from the play which means that our offense is running that play with an extra blocker to the defense’s weakened side. Thus it goes for touchdown that could not have been stopped, and I just described the game winning play in the second overtime against Arizona.

They were caught flat-footed, and our adjustment done in the second before the snap made all the difference. This is something that I didn’t see until this summer, as I didn’t really know what an Inside Zone Read was until a month ago. (Trust me…most don’t, including many who read my report. You have to see it on replay to understand) We were practicing this and did it in today’s practice.

Now the variation practiced was different, but the strategy was the same; as a defense–there is nothing you can do with a last second offensive adjustment and you’re screwed. It is another area that I marvel at the simple brilliance of our offense. The defense can line up right and still lose? Holy Crap!

This team believed in themselves and did something special. No. 1 is Darron Thomas No. 4 is Josh Huff,, Eddie Pleasant is No. 11, and Cliff Harris is No. 13 along with Chip Kelly.

Final thoughts? My head says that with new QBs we get 9, maybe 10 wins this 2010 season if all goes well. My heart says….we can go undefeated. We have a fortuitous matching of USC and a reeling, a weak Pac-10, (I think only three will be in the final top 25) and we face the toughest tests from Arizona and Stanford at home.

Not easy, but we can do this. I have never watched both sides of the ball be so good in the same fall camp as this year. Yeah, we can falter with injuries or brain-dead Quarterbacking, but I think we’ll be OK in both those areas.

We can be as fans like our leaders; confident but not arrogant. We can state our goals and respect our opponents, and yet brave enough to articulate our dreams while believing it can happen.

We do so love our Ducks!

Charles Fischer   (Mr. FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon
Top Photo by NIKE and

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Chris Brouilette, the Volunteer editor for this article, is a current student at the University of Oregon from Sterling, Illinois.

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