Oregon’s Offensive Passing Attack: The Basics

Oregon is a run first team but uses a lot of quick passes to keep the defense honest.  Almost all of the passing plays can be checked to in any formation.  The passes get the ball to the perimeter as quickly as possible as a way to counter opponents shifting their defense towards the direction of where a running play is designed to go, meaning that the passes go towards the side where the running back is lined up.


This is a staple of the passing offense.  The play can really only be run when there are two eligible receivers to a side.  The receivers can be a wide receiver or a wide receiver and a tight end (most often it’s run with a tight end on the line in a three-point stance. The outside receiver is going to run straight up field in order to clear room for the inside receiver who is running a quick out five yards down field.  Many teams will give cushion to the inside receiver allowing for a quick release.  There are two scenarios that occur when the Ducks are in trips on one side of the field.  Either the middle and outside receivers run straight, clearing space for the inside receiver, or the outside receiver runs straight and the two inside receivers run five yard out routes.

You can see the linebacker is running towards Paulson as does the secondary player lined up overtop but there is enough separation for an easy pass and catch.  The defensive back covering the outside receivers are out of the play covering receivers who went deep.

Now Paulson is four yards from the end zone and has a linebacker chasing him who is five yards away and an undersized defensive back in front of him who’s going to try and make a play at the goal line.  An easy touchdown for man who’s named David Paulson.

Here’s an example of a play action pass that is not simply a bootleg with receivers dragging across the field.  Will Murphy has motioned across the field and he is simply going to look for a bubble screen.  LaMichael James will check release and end up around the same place Murphy does.  The tight ends will get depth of about 5-10 yards and cross each other and angle towards the sideline.  Tuinei, the lone wide receiver, will stretch the field vertically.  This creates an easy vertical read for Thomas as he can hit Tuinei, Lyerla, or Murphy, he’s got three options across the sideline.

The Beavers appear to be running a zone with the linebackers and Paulson will get picked up but Lyerla has a clear spacing advantage over the safety who will chase him across the field.  Lyerla will get to green and make it an easy read for Thomas to throw the ball to the space that Tuinei cleared out with his route.

You can see how open Lyerla is once he catches and turns down field.  There’s one guy to beat and Lyerla gets a touchdown on a long passing play.

The most common play action pass will be a run to one side of the field a bootleg the opposite direction.  The benefit of running the play out of shotgun is that it allows the quarterback to look at the pressure the entire length of the fake (pro style bootlegs force the quarterback to look in to the backfield for a long time while executing the fake).  All the receivers in the offense move the opposite way of the fake.  So if the running back is running to the left all the receivers will run to the right.  This is because when the defense follows the play you want the receivers moving the opposite direction to take full advantage of the play action.  A lot of times Paulson will have an option to continue across the field or to stop in a soft spot and wait for a pass.  Due to a lack of good camera angles I’ve simply hand drawn what a common play looks like (go to 1:58 of this video to see the exact play I’ve just drawn) and if you go back and watch any Oregon highlights you’ll see the patterns.


This is a more advanced set of routes that Oregon runs a lot.  LaMichael James is going to run a route to the flat.  David Paulson is going to run a ten-yard out route and he’s going to look late as he is the third receiver in the progression.  The outside receiver is going to find a soft spot in the coverage and run a hitch.  These routes not only stretch the field vertically but also horizontally on this side of the field.  There are routes on the backside if the first three looks aren’t there.  Most often the backside routes are ten hard hitches and if the progression gets to the fourth and fifth target one of them will be in single coverage.

The defensive back saw LaMichael was coming and since he had responsibility for the flat he passed off the wide receiver to a linebacker on the inside, but Tuinei found the soft spot and the linebacker wasn’t quick enough to cover, making an easy pass and catch for Thomas.  While Paulson does appear to be open he is third in the progression, and since progressions determine that the first receiver open in the progression gets the ball Paulson probably didn’t get looked at.  The key here is the triangle that Oregon created play side.

Oregon runs a similar play to the one above but this one involves two hitches and because of spacing reasons has two wide receivers on the side of the running back.  The outside most receiver is still going to cut inside and hitch at the soft spot in the zone, which should be a giveaway if its man coverage since the defensive back will have to move with him.  The inside receiver is going to run a hitch at the sideline and LaMichael James runs a route to the flat.

This again creates the triangle we saw in the first play.  It’s a good man or zone beater and stretches the field horizontally and vertically.  It is very surprising how often Oregon runs these plays after rewatching the games a few times.

I spent a lot of time after the Stanford game looking at a passing play that relies on triangles and you can find that here.  It is also one of the few plays you see every week along with the ones above.  You need to scroll down a little to find, about halfway.

These are the passing staples.  While there can be different personnel on the field these passing patterns can commonly be seen.  Oregon can get away with running a smaller playbook to other teams because Oregon set up their offense in a way that gives them the chalk last, so any answer the defense has to something Oregon runs, the Ducks can quickly counter.

Based on the popularity of this post I can go more in depth in to some passing concepts and reads by the quarterback, or maybe this spring I’ll need a football fix and just do it anyways, the more response the quicker I’ll probably get to it.

Big thanks go to Chris Brown at Smart Football for explaining some of these topics.  Most importantly on this one.