Dan Lanning is Embracing the Middle Eight Theory

David Marsh Editorials

Football is a sport of bizarre statistics that mostly seem irrelevant, but if you dive into them, they tell a greater story. If while reading through Oregon football news you’ve dismissed some stats reported about Oregon dominating the “middle eight” of a game, you can be forgiven. This is kind of a weird stat to be throwing around; after all, what is so important about these particular eight minutes?

This stat takes the last four minutes of the second quarter and the first four minutes of the third quarter and looks at how many points a team scores during this point in the game — and in this statistic, Oregon is the best team in the country. The point differential between Oregon and their opponents during these eight minutes is 9.5 points. For context, Utah is No. 2 in the country at 6.6, and Ohio State is at No. 3 with 6.4.

This is a part of Dan Lanning’s greater game plan, and last week Charles Fischer wrote a fantastic article examining how Lanning may just be Chip Kelly 2.0. Lanning has a high-scoring offense that can put up points fast, but he also understands how to use the clock. Using the Middle Eight Theory is just another way that Lanning is using the clock as a devastating weapon against his opponents.

What is Middle Eight Theory?

Middle Eight Theory has been floating around for quite some time, and it is really about demoralizing the opponent and getting their offense out of sync. At the NFL level, if executed perfectly, a pro team can effectively maintain control over the ball for about an hour of real time because it leverages halftime as well.

Now, Lanning is not looking at just controlling the ball for this middle period of the game; instead, he is looking at utterly dominating it. This is the point in the game where Lanning is looking at taking control over the game and putting up as many points as possible as he looks at putting the game to bed.

Oregon’s aggressive playcalling left BYU gasping for air going into the half.

Since the Georgia game, Oregon averages 14.42 points during these middle eight minutes. Usually that is a touchdown before the half and a second one within the opening four minutes of the second half. On its own, that doesn’t feel inherently impressive but this is a momentum play that saps the strength from the opponent while putting Oregon in the best position to win. From a psychological standpoint it weaponizes halftime as the opposing team enters the locker room having given up a score before half, and they know they are going to be faced with a relentless Oregon offense when they get back on the field after the half.

This feels like it requires Oregon getting the ball at the half, having deferred the opening kickoff, but it is not dependent on that. If Oregon has to kick off the second half, their defense is well rested and usually goes out onto the field with a lead to protect rather than the opposing offense which needs to play catch-up. That is a completely different mindset and Oregon’s defense has been pretty stingy when it comes to points allowed in the third quarter, which also means Oregon’s offense is probably getting the ball back and they are going to drive the field on the opposing defense once again.

Lanning’s Aggressive Mid-Game

Lanning’s game plan really unfolds in three phases. The first phase is really the first quarter where Oregon is just trying to get a feel for their opponent. This is usually when Oregon is at its weakest as the Ducks may settle for field goals when they would otherwise have scored touchdowns.

The second phase is the frantic middle of the game where Oregon is rolling. This is where Oregon plays with the most tempo and is incredibly aggressive, this is also includes the middle eight minutes where Oregon is playing at it’s best. This is where Lanning and Kenny Dillingham are calling plays that score touchdowns and are taking some major risks in the process.

It was in the Middle Eight against BYU that Lanning decided to go for it on fourth-and-one on the Oregon side of the field, this drive ended in a touchdown for Oregon. If you go back and watch the game footage this is the part of the game where BYU defenders are putting their hands on their hips and look exhausted as Oregon puts on the pressure with the tempo. It is in these minutes that Oregon is looking to pile on the points, and quickly.

Cal struggled with the high intensity Oregon onslaught during the middle eight minutes of their match-up with Oregon where Oregon scored 14 points.

Then this last week against Cal, it was during this part of the game when Lanning burned all of Oregon’s timeouts to try and get the ball back when it looked certain that Oregon was going to force Cal to punt with just about a minute left in the half. Cal punted, and Oregon ramped up the tempo and pushed the ball down field and was looking to score. This drive ended in an interception as Bo Nix was forced to throw a Hail Mary with only three seconds left on the clock for the final play, but this is a tribute to Lanning’s aggressiveness in the middle of the game. Most coaches with a lead would have been fine with letting the opposing team run out the clock to end the half but Lanning wanted another shot at scoring before the half.

Now just think about how Cal’s players would have felt when they entered the locker room at the end of the half. Oregon was trying to score on them with less than a minute and no timeouts, and they forced Cal to actually play out that final minute of game time — and they knew if they let up for just a second Oregon would have scored. Then coming out of half, Oregon got the ball back and then drove the field on Cal, and scored.

Now we reach the final phase of Lanning’s game plan, that Charles was so kind to go over last week, where Lanning stays aggressive with the ball but looks to milk the clock. This final phase of the game is less about tempo and trying to pile on points and more about burning the clock to ensure the win. This is only made possible because the opposing team is tired from the frantic mid-game.

So this weekend when you watch the Ducks take the field against Colorado and the clock approaches those middle eight minutes of the game, pay attention to Lanning’s play calls. He will be aggressive and will be looking to score right up until halftime. This is part of a well thought out and executed game plan that will hopefully get Oregon back to the Pac-12 Championship game, and maybe the College Football Playoff.

David Marsh
Portland, Oregon
Top Photo By Eugene Johnson


Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in SLC, Utah.

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