Dawn of a New Era: Oregon Redefining “Innovation” with DEFENSE

Jeremy Mosier Analysis 46 Comments

No, the title to this article is not a typo, and no, the sky is not falling. Chip Kelly’s Blur Offense was once the pinnacle of innovation, but that was so 15 years ago. There’s a limit to how fast an offense can be run, and offenses across the country have reached that limit. It is now the dawn of a new era, an era of defensive innovation, and Oregon finds itself once again at the forefront. In this article we will examine the how Oregon is changing its offensive identity in favor of defensive innovation.

Defining “Innovation”

Merriam-Webster defines “innovation” as “creating something that is new.” But as business author David Burkus says, “Great leaders don’t innovate the product, they innovate the factory.” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t create social media, he changed the platform. Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, he revolutionized the industry by inventing the assembly line. So when it comes to innovation in the world of college football defense, don’t expect an entirely new defense product; expect a new way of delivering that product.

Innovation at Oregon: Beginnings

Let’s take a trip back to Oregon’s football’s pivotal moments where innovation propelled the program to new heights. What are the first things that come to mind? Offense? Uniforms? Nike? Phil Knight? Tempo? All of the above? Regardless, nobody thought of hiring an offensive coordinator from New Hampshire, chrome helmets, and the fastest offensive tempo in the history of football the day after the 38-8 loss to BYU in 2006.

When Oregon went to the Rose Bowl in 2009 there was little faith early on that Chip Kelly’s offense would revolutionize college football considering his week-one loss to Boise State when the Ducks scored only a single touchdown. What if in 2015 Oregon Head Coach Mark Helfrich proposed a five-year plan that included no more QB runs, a Pistol run-based offense, toned-down uniforms, and overhauled recruiting? That would have never have led to the 2019 Pac-12 title, Rose Bowl win, and the top recruiting classes from 2019-2021, would it? We have to embrace the fact that innovation is a process: it can initially fail, and we may only recognize it in hindsight.

Innovation Meets the Need

Oregon’s defense has been innovating for a few years, and if you are still skeptical then ask yourself: How did Oregon sign the No.1 (Kayvon Thibodeaux), No. 2 (Justin Flowe), No. 5 (Noah Sewell), and No.11 (Dontae Manning) ranked recruits in program history in a single calendar year? All of them…defensive players. Dynamic defensive players have become a hot commodity because they can cover multiple run and pass gaps that the modern spread offenses attack. Innovation is cyclical: the defensive innovation of today is a result of the offensive innovation of yesterday.

What makes Kayvon Thibodeaux special is his unique ability to play multiple gaps. In the video above, Thibodeaux shows his versatility to cover all of the run gaps and even the flat pass gaps. The final play above illustrates Thibodeaux’s generational talent as he covers the inside run, sheds a blocker, and then sacks a dual threat QB for a loss near the sideline…all in one play.

It’s Not Just About Recruiting Elite Athletes

Players like Kayvon Thibodeaux will always improve a football team. Innovation on the defensive side of the ball requires not only elite talent, but intimate knowledge of schematics, techniques, and players. Andy Avalos has shown promise in his first season as defensive coordinator in all three of those categories. The above video is a compilation of Oregon covering every run and pass gap over the entire field. The end zone view illustrates just how difficult it is to play against this defense from the quarterback’s and offensive lineman’s perspective.

“He’s (Avalos) very receptive, he’s not just trying to jump down your throat. He’s going to talk to you and try to communicate with you to figure out what you were thinking about and why you were thinking that way or did something,” senior linebacker Troy Dye explained.

Dye is attesting to the connection Coach Avalos has with his players, and fans of defensive play have some fun times ahead as the innovation at Oregon on defense continues!

Coach Jeremy Mosier
Geneseo, Illinois
Top Photo by Kevin Cline

Phil Anderson, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.



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Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Cristobal Breaks the All-Time Recruiting Record at Oregon:

With the verbal commitment today of Daymon David, (a 4-Star with Rivals.com) Oregon now has 15 verbals in this class that are 4-Star or 5-Star players. This breaks the record set by Cristobal with the 2019 class of 14, and frankly–the Ducks are not done yet.

Oregon has a real shot at 17 or even 18 of the most coveted players giving their verbal commitment to this recruiting class before it is over. My prediction of matching the record of 14 was a bit too conservative, and did not fully appreciate the energy and skills of this incredible staff at Oregon. Happy Days!

For perspective, the number of 4-Star and 5-Star verbals at all Pac-12 Schools:

Oregon 15
USC 14
Washington 4
Arizona State 3
Utah 3
Cal 1
Colorado 1
Arizona 0
Oregon State 0
Stanford 0

(To use a great word from Jon Joseph….“four Pac-12 teams need to get off the schnide.”)


Who’d’a dreamed of this back in The Sufferin’, my friend?!

It allows these type of thoughts: If Mario wins a Nat. Champ at Oregon, will he maybe be the first and only person to win one as player, assistant coach and head coach, and at three different schools and complete opposite ends of the country?

Jon Joseph

THAT, is a great trivia question. I am going to allow younger, tech savvy folks to find the answer.

I think that Walter Camp may have accomplished this feat?


I’m not young or particularly tech savvy, but it looks like Mario could be unique in this case. One thing he has going for him is the lack of championship winning players becoming a head coach. Scott Frost won playing at Nebraska, but none as an assistant. Now, some could say, and with as much credibility as ’91 UW, and UCF did, that his 2017 UCF, 11-0 coached team was the real champion.

Dabo was a player on the Alabama 1982 championship team, and head coach at Clemson, but nothing while he assisted there.

Jon Joseph

Thanks for the better educated feed back.

I think Camp played on a champ team at Yale, went on to be assistant coach for a champ Yale team and then won a title at Yale or elsewhere?

He was the ‘author’ of modern CFB.


at three different schools and complete opposite ends of the country?”

IF Walter Camp did indeed win a championship as all three at Yale, he certainly did not accomplish this part of the question, since both his championships as a player and assistant coach were at Yale.

But still, heady stuff if he did indeed win the big one as all three.


Get all these guys on the bottom line.

Recall, this ‘season’ does not count against any player’s eligibility. For example, Brady Breeze can play in 2020 and also in 2021.

Tyler Shough hopefully sees live action in 7 to 9 games to help him get ready for next season’s game in Columbus. How great would it be to break the 0-10 schnide vs the Buckeyes in the Shoe? It will be the Ducks and not the Bucks with the experienced QB coming into 2021.

The NCAA is going to have to allow roster expansion to accommodate the lads who decide to stick around for an extra year.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I am WEIRD with WORDS:

Jon…there are a few words out there rarely used and are entertaining to just see them and find reason to use them. Your use of “schnide” is one of those I love.

Another for me is “belay,” and yep…I am easily amused. An old English Navy term to fix or “stop,” and again….so fun.

Avalos shouts from the sideline…belay that last call; run the right (D-Line) slant instead!”

You keep this up, you could be keel-hauled?

Is there anything that needs more fixin’ than a rusty Pac-12 scupper?

Man (Larry) overboard!


Question: If a player who; after being informed that his college team would not play games in the fall and declared for the NFL draft, signing with an agent upon that belief, upon being informed that he was misinformed priorly and his team would indeed play this fall; decided to try to reverse his decision and play this fall, do you think there is any way that the NCAA would allow him to reverse his decision in this Covid year?


Rivals 4* Safety, Daymon David just committed to Oregon, a possible bonus from this is that David is a pal of fellow Maryland standout, WR, Dont’e Thonton.


And the rich get richer.


Great video work, Jeremy! Thank you.

Jon Sousa

Thank you very much for the article. I loved the clips from the Rose Bowl win…. Made me want to watch it again (10th time???).

Jon Joseph

Yep, lot’s of good Ducks D to watch in that game.



“Six weeks would be from Monday but we’re only getting these rapid tests (from Quidel) next week,” Scott said. “So I think that (Halloween) would be the most ambitious, maybe a week or two too quick for us. But somewhere in that zip code is when we’re playing, if we’re playing.”

Starting on Halloween would leave a maximum of seven games before a Pac-12 Championship Game would be played Dec. 18 or 19, the same weekend as the other Power 5 conferences and before the College Football Playoff selections on Dec. 20. That would be the least games of the Power 5 conferences.

But in light of the 15 games that have been postponed across the country so far, Scott said it’s too early to presume the Pac-12 would automatically be left out of the CFP if it schedules a shorter season than its peers.

“I don’t think if you ask any of my fellow commissioners they can tell you how many games their teams are going to play,” he said. “They know what they’re going to try to play, but we’ve already seen in the first two weeks every league that’s tried to play has had to postpone games. So no one’s feeling supremely confident at this point, especially those that don’t have daily tests, that all their teams are going to play every game.


I sure hope the Pac-12 doesn’t have to rely on the other conferences not playing all there games in order for it to get a shot at the playoffs. Remember that “Lazy Larry” is not a good source to hang your hat on.

Interesting in the link you provided the article starts out with Larry Scott doesn’t expect a vote, nor is the Pac-12 commissioner ‘going to push for one’ . This just shows the incompetence of “Lazy Larry”. At getting payed over $5 million a year he should have had everything in place for everyone to vote “Yes, let’s start playing”. It sounds like “Lazy Larry” doesn’t really want to play this year.

I don’t see that the Pac-12 has any more things to resolve then the other conferences have had to resolve in their decision.


Yep BDF, to include anything concerning, “lazy Larry” with an article about forward thinking, innovation, is as incongruous as it gets. Like you said, the summation of Larry’s plan is that it might work out if the conferences that are playing experience problems later on.

Jon Joseph

The SEC was smart (no surprise) to wait until late September to start. But I do not see the SEC getting through the season without cancellations.

Jon Joseph

The B1G starting in October is in. IF the Pac-12 does not tee it up before November?

2 more Saturday games canceled including the Baylor/ Houston game.


If the other conferences have cancellations they why couldn’t the Pac-12 get away with a 6 game season in an effort to get into the national playoffs, providing all 6 games get played ??


That would really shine the light on how the Pac-12 is perceived relative to the rest of the conferences. Imagine if it was the SEC who was starting a little late; The Playoffs wouldn’t be pushed back?

Jon Joseph

Doc Pepper and ESPN would be doing the pushing.

Jon Joseph

And THIS my friend will be the playoff committee rub. Is a 2 game canceled 7-0 Ohio State in over a 8-1 Georgia?


Waiting for the results of the playoff committee on that one would break the ratings.


That would be Ohio State, so the Committee could show their, “Diversity” in not going all SEC & Clemson.

Jon Joseph

Come Halloween perhaps Larry can go door-to-door disguised as a conference commissioner?


Avalos was a great hire. I expect him to get a head coaching gig in a few years. It’s amazing how quickly MC changed the theme of the program from innovative, blur offense to power football and stingy, aggressive D.


You know it’s funny that the article was started off with Chip as head coach rather than as OC since he actually started coaching at Oregon in ’07…but really it was back in ’05 under the Bellotti/Crowton that truly started the transition to Oregon being a spread-option offense.

The other thing that actually I find a little ironic is that to this day the Boise State defense (once under Avalos) has still managed to hold every version of the Oregon offense in check. You know what that tells me? That Andy Avalos was possibly the greatest coaching hire to date. Yes, Mario Cristobal is making things happen that we haven’t seen here before, but we’ve won with other head coaches at the helm, and it’s been mostly because of the offense…although that being said, I still think too few people gave Nick Aliotti the credit he deserved.

Lou Farnsworth

Great article coach! Loved the Thibs clips with the embedded graphics…awesome.

Minor correction by an OCD history buff: Ford in fact did not invent the assembly line, not even in the context of automobiles, Ransom Olds was doing that before Ford. The innovation that Ford borrowed and brought to auto construction, was a moving assembly line, which had been around since the 1800s in the food processing sector, and actually long before that in others. Ford himself wrote about the influence of the moving DISassembly line in slaughterhouses as the source of his inspiration.

And don’t even get me started on the light bulb!

Thanks again Jeremy!

Jon Joseph

Thanks for the assembly line note. Often the guy who gets the credit (Edison not Swan) is the guy who figured out how to make $ off the idea.

For instance, Nikola Tesla pretty much invented ‘everything’ and died broke. Elon Musk for one, deeply appreciated Tesla’s contributions to science. I think it is great that Musk gave Tesla his due. However, would anyone buy a car called ‘Musk?’


Ha, ha, “a car called Musk”, you got to love it.


A brilliant friend once told me, steal all you can from others, and then go to work. He is a Professor Emeritus at Stanford and that is one of lesser accolades. It isn’t what you know, it is what you do with what you know.

I would say the most revealing part of the article was the quote from Dye. What Avalos is doing with what he knows is teaching effectively.

Avalos brilliance isn’t so much in the innovation it is in communicating what he knows to his players. Yelling at players to do what you want doesn’t work in this day and age, too well.

Finding out where your players are and guiding them to where you want them is the innovation Avalos is providing. Effective coaching creates the magic we see on defense. I hope Avalos keeps providing this as it seems the kids dig it and get it.


I guess you could call this “the art of coaching up a player”. I wonder if this is common among the coach’s that have the reputation of “coaching up” players ?? Kyle Whittingham for example.


Thanks for the great article! I always love video analysis. You did a good job of illustrating the defense. The video highlights the quickness, hustle, and speed of our athletes. What a great game to use for your example! Go Ducks! I hope the PAC will be back soon! C’mon Presidents…


Innovation on defense? Thanks Coach, yeah, the talk after the Boise State drubbing wasn’t how innovative Oregon looked. But like you said, it’s a process, and it didn’t take long for everybody to see what was happening with the, “blur” offense

I think the same kind of thing is happening now; on the defensive side, with better parts. Cristobal is all about the process; and upgrading. Explosive offenses can be made less effective as opposing coaches study the film and make adjustments. It’s harder for the offenses to deal with a defense that is suffocating the life out every attempted play.


Any word on the season? Is it going to be a go?

Jon Joseph

I think the Prez are meeting today to make a decision?


I wonder if anyone seriously doubts they will vote to play.


Interesting article coach. Thanks for bringing it to us. Along with coach Avalon’s innovation on defense he has also brought us some great recruiting, and that is always a good thing.

Oh how promising things look for the future of Ducks football. Only if “Lazy Larry” would do his job and find us a way to play this year.


Not a fan of Canzano, but he nailed it this morning, Lazy Larry is the latest perfect title for our leader. https://www.oregonlive.com/sports/john_canzano/2020/09/canzano-pac-12-conference-lacked-urgency-until-it-didnt-may-have-cost-the-oregon-ducks.html


Damm good article about “Lazy Larry” in that link Haywarduck, I hope everyone reads it.

Jon Joseph

If his bosses allow him the largess, why not be lazy?

He is doing one heck of a job as a network Prez. no?

Jon Joseph

Thanks Coach.

Loved everything about the article but for the reference to Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘innovation.’

Zuckerberg stole the Facebook concept from 2 Harvard classmates. The classmates sued and Zuckerberg settled for the now, based on Facebook’s market value, ridiculous sum of $60M.

Let’s hope we will see the Ducks D play ‘this season?’


Yep, you just can not trust those “Harvard” people.

Jon Joseph

Especially, the tennis players who repeatedly double fault.