Did the coaches read my article last week after Oregon’s loss to Washington asking where the Ducks’ Jumbo Formation has gone? Probably not, but it’s nice to think they did, as Oregon really did lean on its run game and the power element of its offense in their win over the Washington State Cougars. Both Bucky Irving and Jordan James ran for 100+ yards as the Ducks ran all over the Washington State defense.
This was by no means Oregon’s best offensive performance of the year; the offense didn’t even get off to a fast start as it stalled out on the first drive of the game and the first drive of the second half. Dan Lanning did seem to cool off on his 4th down playcalling and opted for a couple of field goals rather than going for it.
But it still feels like Oregon is getting too cute at times when power is the best answer. Will Stein and Lanning were still opting to put the ball in the air for the sake of balance and not because they actually needed to. or perhaps it was Bo Nix making the call at the line of scrimmage. Either way, the best instance of this was 3rd-and-three with about two minutes left in the game. Instead of running the ball to pick up the first down, Nix threw an incomplete pass. Oregon then punted and Washington State put up eight points in garbage time.
This wasn’t entirely a bad play call, but it felt completely unnecessary. Why not hand the ball off to James, as Irving was sidelined with an injury scare, and let him carry the ball for three yards? Or, fake the hand-off and have Nix run it for three yards? It was getting cute with another pass play when lining up and running power would have converted a third down and allowed the Oregon offense to keep marching.
There were two nice plays where it felt like the Ducks were embracing their power mentality. The first was when Irving ran for a two-yard rushing touchdown, the first Ducks touchdown of the day. Here he ran hard between the tackles and Washington State couldn’t stop him.
Oregon lined up in a power formation with seven linemen and tight ends on the line of scrimmage, effectively a jumbo formation, while also using a fullback and a running back in the I-formation. This formation has power written all over it, and this is the formation that the Ducks need to be using for short-yardage more often. It was a staple in last year’s offense.
The linemen created a hole big enough for Irving to run through, and Washington State had no answer for it.
Later Nix got his second rushing touchdown of the season by faking the hand-off to James as he walked into the end zone untouched. This formation wasn’t the same power formation that Irving scored on but it was still a jumbo variation.
In this play, pictured below, it had Nix and James lined up in the shotgun — but there were still eight linemen and tight ends lined up as blockers, with another tight end just off the line and put into a pre-snap motion. However, he still acted as a blocker as he was the one who sealed the edge and gave Nix the running lane to score.
Sometimes power isn’t strictly about raw power, but showing power and balancing it out with some mental trickery, like the Nix rushing touchdown. That is what makes these power formations so strong; the Ducks can show power and beat the majority of teams with this lineup on any given down, but they also have a mobile quarterback in Nix who they need to utilize in these situations.
There has been some fear around running Nix on designed run plays, and for good reason, as it was a designed quarterback run play that led to his injury last year. However, this is absolutely a safe run play for him. He has plenty of blockers and the defense is going to be keyed in on taking out the running back. Nix needs to use his legs a bit more, because if teams respect his legs, they’ll have to dedicate a defender to play as a spy and that takes them out of a play stopping the running back.
These plays are beautiful additions to the Oregon playbook right now because they balance the power with the mind games. However, what makes them truly powerful is that they are high-success plays. The ball is staying on the ground in short-yardage situations and they convert on those downs. The run game is the lifeblood of this Oregon team, and it feels like the coaches are remembering that.
Let the runners run and the linemen block and good things will happen because of it. Utah is up next and they’ll provide far stiffer run defense, but that doesn’t mean the Ducks should shy away from running the ball right at the Utes this Saturday.
Top Photo By Steven Chan
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in technology in SLC, Utah.
David Marsh is a high school social studies teacher in Portland, Oregon. As a teacher he is known for telling puns to his students who sometimes laugh out of sympathy, and being both eccentric about history and the Ducks.
David graduated from the University of Oregon in 2012 with Majors in: Medieval Studies, Religious Studies, and Geography. David began following Ducks Football after being in a car accident in 2012; finding football something new and exciting to learn about during this difficult time in his life. Now, he cannot see life without Oregon football.
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