Oregon Offensive Strategies as Seen Against Washington
Oregon beat Washington by 17 in Seattle this past weekend. With the most dominant defensive performance of the year came some a new pitch play (which has already been discussed but I’m going to give some more in depth analysis for people who have the basics down). Teams have begun to shift their linebackers over to the side the running back would run to on a zone read. This means that all the players except for the backside defensive end and linebacker will be running towards the path of the running back, which is partly why you saw so many cutback lanes open for LaMichael James. Oregon showed a lot of power plays running the football and we finally have some good camera angles to show a part of Oregon’s passing attack.
Here’s the first time we see the pitch play. There are two receivers to the left, on the side the tight end is lined up. Notice that the linebackers are shifted to the side where a read play would most likely end up. Think of the pitch play as a quick counter to the zone read. The defense cannot shift the linebackers one direction or they will get trapped on the inside.
You’ll see the linebackers are going forward. The first thing a linebacker on any play, on any level will do, is take his first steps to the line of scrimmage, which is what you are seeing here. The tight end walls down the defensive end who lined up just inside him. Note the two linemen pulling, it’s the center and the guard.
The guard pulls up and hits the outside linebacker who was lined up over the slot receiver. The slot receiver blocks the safety. The center blocks the mike linebacker. When the linemen are pulling they are taught that they are going to block the first defender they see. Search and destroy at its finest. Because the defense shifts before the snap towards the side the running back would normally fun, they get walled off easily and that creates huge running lanes for the running back.
Late on the same drive we see the same formation from before. Here the Huskies have their 4-3 personnel and the linebackers are shifted towards the side the running back will run to. Oregon already has a numbers advantage on the strong side of the formation.
This time we see the two guards pulling. I looked at all the pitch plays and looked to see if there was a pattern on who pulled, like if the two guards were uncovered then they would pull, or if the center and guard were uncovered then they would pull. However, I didn’t find a pattern so all the pulling linemen must be predetermined in the play call. Not very exciting unfortunately.
Here you see one of the guards way out in front of James and he has sealed his defender, allowing LaMichael James to cut up field. What is most impressive about these blocks is that they are downfield. Blocking at the line of scrimmage doesn’t really work with this offense, as seen against LSU. The offense really takes off when the line gets a push and linemen can get to the linebackers and secondary seven yards deep.
We see a different formation that Oregon runs out a pitch out of featuring three receivers to the right. The tight end is one the left side of the line. This play will only be run to the side of the tight end. This is because in order to plow the defensive end in to the middle the blocker has to have leverage by lining up outside. Defensive ends most commonly line up outside of the tackle, but inside the tight end as linebackers have responsibility of the tight end. This is a three-man front and now you see the linebackers are starting to line up more balanced than before.
David Paulson blows the tight end in to the middle and walls off all the down linemen. All three cornerbacks on the backside are tied up with the three receivers. The safety has his feet flat and the linebackers are rushing towards the pitch. The most exciting part of this play is that the play side center, guard, and tackle are all pulling to the outside. Three pulling linemen are incredibly uncommon and is most likely a result of the defense only having three down linemen.
Tackle Darrion Weems takes out the outside linebacker, the guard takes the mike backer, and the center takes the far side linebacker. These blocks leave the running back in a one on one with the safety. Getting one on one matchups in space is the whole point of the spread offense, and this play is great at isolating defenders.
Oregon used a lot of tempo in this game, especially in the first half. When Oregon does go fast they run simple plays with certain keys. Keys include how many players are in the box, if everyone is lined up on a receiver, and where the linebackers are shifted. For Darron Thomas he’s had so many reps that these all come naturally. The tempo causes defenses to think while they are tired and force them in to making mistakes. In this photo you see seven players in the box, with the defensive back lined up on the side of the ball where the running back will run to. The safeties are talking to each other and not focused on the play.
The ball is snapped and Thomas has an instant read towards the outside, seeing as there are only two defensive backs covering three receivers with the safety occupied. The linebackers and defensive back have bit on the play action. The defensive backs see the bubble screen action and you can see the safety trying to make up space. Huff gets to make a move on the safety in space and easily gets by him after the safety failed to break down. Huff is eventually tackled by the safety who came all the way across the field but after ten-plus yard gain.
Here’s some of the most technical analysis. Oregon uses a lot of packaged routes. Packaged routes are when two receivers have their routes work in a grouping to make it easier to read defensive backs. These are also seen easily in flood plays. In the formation above it is tight right and two receivers towards the boundary, each appearing to be covered in man defense with the slot receiver covered by the safety.
The slot receiver ran a bubble screen and the outside receiver runs a 10-yard hitch route. The white blur in the middle is David Paulson and he is running a post route to the space in the middle of the field. You see the defensive back runs up field to cover the bubble screen route. This cues Darron Thomas to immediately hit the hitch route as he will be open.
Huff makes a good catch on the outside for a ten-yard gain. The safety makes the tackle but it is too late at that point. Oregon’s passing offense is run through a progression system, meaning that Darron Thomas looks at each receiver in a predetermined order. His first look is the bubble screen, second look is the hitch, third look is David Paulson. David Paulson may have been the better look on this play, but since Huff was the first open receiver in the progression he gets the ball thrown to him.
Oregon used a lot of power plays against Washington, especially in the second half to kill the clock. Oregon lined up with the running back slightly behind and to the side of the quarterback. There were two tight ends and they were on the same side of the line. In the picture above you see the backside guard pulling and serving as a lead blocker for the running back. This is known as a trap play. The guard picks up the linebacker who looks to fill the hole and the running back runs off his hip.
This picture creates a very cluttered line since Oregon fans are used to huge holes forming. It is enough for Oregon to get a first down. The Ducks then run this play three times in a row inside the ten yard line and eventually punch it in for a touchdown.
The offense has gotten more exciting as the year goes on and the progression of wrinkles has gotten interesting. I’ve been taking notes on the offense and defense for a long time and have enjoyed sharing them with whoever comes to the site. Oregon’s offense is simple in concept, but complex in execution.