Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Fish Report: Oregon's New Offense?

Special Guest Column by Charles Fischer, alias "FishDuck"

They say that time heals the heart, and after waiting a few months before I could emotionally cope with viewing the National Championship game again,--I can state that the old adage is WRONG. Oregon fans will always have a little hole in their heart from that game, and I felt the angst and depression that intense fans feel after watching it again. Only the wise counsel of Gageac (A Duck Buddy) helped to offset the sour taste from the loss as he prescribed the new hit series “Portlandia” and we hooted for an hour as the game turned into a memory--for a short time. We have analyzed the game to death over the winter, and now it is time to take the positive elements of it to go forward and ponder the implications for this next year.

There were huge surprises from the game and the biggest became clear at the game’s beginning as we saw why Chip closed practices to the public leading up the NC game. We were running new formations and plays in this game, and there is a different attack strategy behind these formations that could have significant relevance for the upcoming year. Is Chip changing the offense, simply adding another tweak, or will he put these tools back in the tool box? Over the next two reports I will cover the new formations and plays and how they could change things this next year for us. These reports are SLOW READS, meant for the fan who wants to know how our offense is evolving, and taking time in the offseason is ideal for this level of contemplation. Again I offer the usual disclaimer of not being a coach or expert, but a hack who guessing at it like the rest of us. That being said,--I was stunned at the number of broadcasting mistakes declared aloud during the NC telecast, such as a routine Outside Zone Read being called, “an End-Around.” They still do not know the basics of our offense at ESPN, thus I think my analysis/guesses will be better than that!

It began right out of the gate in the second play of the game at 14:31 in the 1st Quarter as we lined up in a formation not seen at Oregon before. Try to picture this as I describe what I call the “Back-Slash” formation. We had two WRs flanked left, and then we had the QB, Thomas, lined up behind the center with an H-Back (Tight End) in front of him and to the left, with a Running Back behind him and to the right. If you look at it from behind them, it looks like a line from the H-Back through the QB and to the RB that goes at an angle. The slanted line of the three backs looks like a “Back-Slash” that you see on a computer keyboard, ( \ ) hence my christened name. (I have no idea what the coaches call it, but it is easier for us to categorize it that way.)

[photo from]

At the snap we have a triple option, but with a different flair than in the past. The slotback flanked out comes in motion from the left and goes behind the whole formation and then charges straight ahead. After Thomas takes the snap he is doing the mesh with this Dive Back and Zone Reading the Defensive End on our left, and since the play is going to that side--it is a playside Zone Read which is different than the usual backside Zone Reads we ran throughout the season. The DE charged to the RB, and Thomas wisely pulled the ball and went to the outside. The H-Back who had been in the backfield on the left has now run around the left side and is leading the blocking. Darron is running into wonderful open space and if he had gone forward and slid to on the oncoming DBs--then he would have gained nine yards. Instead he did something he’s never done the whole season, which was taking off parallel to the left. He compounded the error with an awkward pitch to James who gained only two yards.

Go to the next series we have the ball and at 11:34 in the 1st Qtr, we run a “Forward-Slash” formation with the RB behind and to the left of Thomas and a H-Back in front and to the right of the QB. Looking from behind you will see the angle of the line of the three backs as a forward slash angle like we see on a keyboard with two WRs flanked out to the right. ( / ) This time the slotback comes in motion and behind the formation again to be the Dive-Back on the Triple Option, but we miss a block on a Linebacker and it blows up the play. Make that block and a good gain is in sight!

These are examples of how the new plays and formations WORKED, but we mucked them up which is why we transitioned into the usual formations in the second half. It takes time to get the timing, the blocking and simply being accustomed from hundreds of reps to a playside Zone Read. Remember that the Auburn defense faced a playside Zone Read every day in practice and was more accustomed to stopping it than we were in attacking with it. Even with an experience handicap in running these new plays/formations--we frequently had them well blocked, but judgment errors held us back as opposed to the Auburn defense stuffing it.

We see the first variation off this new formation at 8:40 in the 1st Qtr that had me sitting up straight in my chair. We were lined up in the “Backward-Slash” (\) formation where we had two WRs flanked out left, and the H-Back in front and to the left of Thomas, and the RB behind him and to the right. The slotback went in motion and came to the right and behind the formation to be the Dive-Back again. As Darron was handing off to him we see the H-Back fool everyone as instead of running outside and to the left and leading the blocking there--he moves to his right and leads the RB through the hole! The H-Back got a nice block on the Linebacker, which sprung the RB for nearly five yards on a dive play! The defense has to be so conscious of the outside, that they can get caught moving or leaning that way which allows us to set blocks other directions to take advantage of their anticipation. Let me get that right--wasn’t that like an old fullback leading the way in a traditional “I” formation attack? Yeah baby! I love it!

I was wondering about the recruiting strategy of going after so many Tight Ends and H-Backs, and yet we didn’t throw to them as much as I would prefer. NOW I see what Chip is up to; a player like Lyerla who is 6’5” and 240 can become one heck of blocking fullback on given plays, or he could be short yardage RB, (he WAS a RB in High School-think of the jump scoring play) or he can get open as a TE with his speed. The defense has to fear them coming out the backfield with a head of steam for a block, yet if they avoid the block--he may run past them on a pass pattern. The new formations make the H-Back/TE a very valuable player!

So, we see a pattern emerge of the play going to the side of the two WRs, and at 6:13 in the 1st Qtr we see Chip break that tendency. We’re in a forward slash formation, (/) (RB to the left and behind Thomas, and the H-Back in front and to the right) and the slotback is coming in motion from the right where both WRs began the play. Usually this slotback would circle behind and be the Dive-Back with the play going to the side of the WRs or the right. But this time Thomas goes LEFT and the RB is the Dive-Back, and the slotback in motion is the pitchman going to the left. The playside DE is unblocked and is sucked inside to follow the Dive-Back and Thomas makes the right Zone Read and pulls the ball out and runs outside down the LOS; he then steps inside to cause the outside defenders to move in to stop the QB. No sweat as he flicks the ball out to the pitchman and it grabs an easy five yards on first down. We can triple option EITHER way out of a forward or backward slash formation? That is a ton of pressure to put on a defense as we can attack either direction, inside or outside! Holy Crap.

I just about lost it all at 11:55 in the 2nd Qtr as we were on our own seven yard line and was trying to dig out of the shadow of our own end zone. We had the new Forward-Slash formation, (/) (Two WRs right, H-Back to the front and right of Thomas, with the RB behind him and to the left.) and the slotback on the right goes in motion-but wait! He is not going back behind the backfield to be a Dive-Back; he is continuing across the field from right to left as if it was a sweep coming or Outside Zone Read. Immediately we see the Auburn defense shift that direction, as we see the RB come forward like he is going to be a Dive-Back. But Darron puts the ball in the RBs belly, pulls it out and steps back. It’s a PLAY-ACTION PASS off this new formation! (And we thought it was a Running formation) Thomas throws a beauty downfield to Maehl for 81 yards, which resembled the long pass against USC from the same spot on the field. Now we have a new formation to confuse teams with! Running? Passing? Outside or Inside? There are TONS of spinoff plays from these new “Slash” formations! Wow.

Do we really need FIVE Running Backs? When we use the “Slash” formations--absolutely. Note how LMJ or Barner were the slotback coming around as a pitchman or circling behind to be the Dive-Back. The RB played the other part, thus a “Tazer” has taken a huge step up in usage and importance in our offense with these new formations. The fact is we couldn’t have run these formations with the injury situation at times this year; the addition of Seastrunk and DAT (DeAnthony Thomas) this next year will make running the “Slash” formations easier as both RBs can be Tazer or traditional Tailback and on the field at the same time. Again, the recruiting is being tailored to where our offense is going, and that is UP!

We’ll look at more new formations/plays in the next report.

We Love Our Ducks,


Charles Fischer

[Editor's note: FishDuck simultaneously publishes his "Fish Reports" at The Duck Stops Here as well as Addicted to Quack and Duck Sports Authority.  When TDSH moves to the Bloguin Network here in the next couple of weeks, Fish will have his own home page and archive on the new site.  Reader contributions and comments are always welcome at The Duck Stops Here, but keep in mind the Fish sets the standard.]


  1. Dale and Fish,

    Why in the world did Kelly reinvent the wheel? It makes no sense. You are what you are going into that game. Maybe it's just my opinion, but I still don't think by that game he had had enough big game experience behind him to know how to win that game (which was by all accounts very doable). When Ohio State beat Oregon, I thought Ohio State was a better team. I still don't think Auburn is a better team than Oregon, although they did have better talent. And I do think Kelly thought too far outside the box - he's got to realize fundamentals are more important and you've got to let your players make plays (don't make plays for them!). Thoughts?


  2. RCS--

    Good comments. My guess is Coach saw his main advantage over Auburn was speed on the edge, and he wanted to exploit that to maximum advantage, give them looks they weren't prepared for. The field conditions were terrible, and the team didn't execute the new plays well.

    They'll be back in some big games over the next three years, and this experience will make them stronger.

    I don't have the exact numbers in front of me, but in the sixteen years of the BCS, at least one of the teams has been a repeat visitor from the year before about ten times. And Auburn has very little chance to go back, replacing Fairley and Newton and about 22 seniors, including most of the offensive line.

    You are absolutely right that execution wins big games. Kelly is a confident, innovative coach who believes in his players. Every experience of adversity has made this team stronger. They'll be back with a vengeance, like Chuck Norris.


  3. The reason for the change in formation was because Oregon had to find a way to overcome the outmined offensive line. Chip knew if allowed to attack the same plays he ran all year, that an overwhelming Auburn defensive line would neutralize their offense. So it was his best shot at leveling the field with Auburn.

  4. This may sound a little selfish, but if they do return to these games they'd better perform stronger than they did here. You can't spell "window" without "win" and they do need one to establish themselves more permanently. Personally, I think they let a lesser team off the hook. But I don't entirely agree that they had speed on the edge (Maehl and Tuinei often were caught from behind in the game - Tuinei for a possible touchdown) and after hearing about the endless preparation I'm not sure we got our money's worth.

  5. wow. i'm going to agree with the guy who is asking about kelly's game-planning. after watching those highlights and seeing darron blow it as often as he does, i have no idea what kelly was thinking. that's just plain bad preparation, i think.

  6. Floriduck--

    All coaches look for an edge and new wrinkles going into a big game, and regardless of what coaches do, it comes down to execution under pressure. The plays were there. As FishDuck points out, failures in blocking and lapses in decision-making had the Ducks coming up short.

    A lot of what the Oregon coaches did in this game worked very well. The passing game went for 363 yards. A fake punt resulted in a vital first down. Two two-point conversions were successfully converted. The defense held Auburn to 19 points.

    But three trips to the red zone produced a single field goal. Some close calls went the other way. Auburn had a better day and controlled the line of scrimmage.

    I agree the Ducks need to come away with a better result next time. They'd agree. Right now they're the Buffalo Bills of BCS bowl games.

    I still think Chip Kelly is the best coach to get them there, and Darron Thomas is the right quarterback to lead them in their next big game. As good as he played as an inexperienced sophomore, his next two years look very bright.

    Thanks for your comments, and to Charles for inspiring a lively discussion.


  7. I've said it before and I will say it again...

    Thomas is a pussy, and an AVERAGE quartback. He needs to toughen up, be willing to take hard hits, and work on that ridiculous throw that takes the ball too far away from his body on the pullback.

  8. B--

    That is the most ignorant and unsupported comment I've ever seen on this blog. Darron Thomas is tremendously courageous in the quarterback position, and it was evident in his first few games as a starter. Heck, it was evident when he came off the bench against Boise as a freshman.

    Remember the touchdowns he threw in the Tennessee game, or the trick play he ran against Oregon State in the Civil War his freshman year? Over and over he's proven his willingness to take a hit to make a play. No one on the team would question his courage, and you have no credibility to do so, particularly anonymously in a blog.

    I only printed your comment to expose its ignorance.

    DT threw for 30 touchdowns and 2881 yards in his first year starting. He's one of the top returning quarterbacks in the nation, and he's committed to getting even better, working on his footwork and delivery year round.

    Don't ever come back here with such a rude, weak comment. I'll delete it without hesitation.


  9. I love Fishduck's teachings to us. I can now spot a few things on the field that I've previously been missing. Thank you Fishduck, very much!

  10. lol.. boohoo dude... I am a total Ducks fan, but agree with what the anonymous poster said. He is an AVERAGE quarterback at best. It's the team around him that has made him perform well. And you should know that lots of other Ducks fans feel the same.... specifically, that he needs to work on his game. Instead of berating the dude, why dont you pass this on to DT so he will do something productive with it. lol.

    Feel free to delete this post too Mr Almighty All Powerful Oz of the Blog. lol

  11. Dear lol,

    All this anonymous bravery, and complete lack of an intelligent point.

    30 touchdowns, 12 wins, and a PAC-10 championship as a sophomore. It was, statistically and undeniably one of the best seasons by a quarterback in Oregon history. Average quarterbacks don't produce those kinds of results.

    New blog rule: I will delete any post that starts out "lol boo hoo dude." You immediately give yourself away as a complete idiot.


  12. Ok here is an intelligent point: DT would not have the numbers he has with a lesser caliber team than the Ducks.

    My point being that he is an average QB that accomplished alot because of th team. He needs work. Major fundamental work. And there are many college QBs that are better than DT.

    And the only person that is making himself look like an idiot here is the guy that is acting like DT is a God.

    Prove me wrong.

    And prove to me that I am alone in that line of thinking, because I assure you many Ducks fans agree with me.

  13. I can't wait till Dale demonstrates his super-natural powers to prove you wrong! Yup, he'll create an alternate universe--viewable to us in HD--in which DT plays on a lousy Ducks squad and then we'll finally see that DT can light up the scoreboard handing off and throwing to a family of pygmies!! That'll be so awesome. I can hardly wait!

    Please name which experienced college quarterbacks returning next year are better than DT. After you provide your short list, then remember that the Ducks will never have any of those guys on their team. So, what's the point in disparaging a young college quarterback with great results in a first season starting? We all hope DT gets a lot better. And he will. That's the beauty of having a good young quarterback. Go Ducks!
    -Dave V

  14. Short of super-natural powers, I could merely point out that his passer rating was 150.97, higher than Dennis Dixon in either his sophomore or junior years, higher than any of Joey Harrington's, higher than Jeremiah Masoli with Jeremiah Johnson, LeGarrette Blount and Jason Williams in his supporting cast.

    He's 12-1 as a starter, better than Andrew Luck or Matt Barkley, and Barkley is surrounded by four and five-star talent.

    Appreciate the support Dave. We'll get a pretty good measure of Darron Thomas' ability and character this season. If he continues to develop and improve as a passer and a leader, maybe the critics will come around.

    A fan could reasonably critique his mechanics, which he is working on every day, but I honestly don't know how ANYONE could question his courage. On a half dozen of his touchdown passes last season he stood in and took a shot to deliver the ball. I think he's a very tough-minded and resilient kid. It's very clear Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich believe in him.