Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rose Bowl Preview: Oregon Defense v Ohio State Offense

For further discussion visit the 'Ask the Insider's' Blog.

In my final preview, I'm going to look at how Oregon's Defense performed this year against their opponents, and then consider their match-up with Ohio State.

Oregon's Defense vs. The Field

To me, if I was going to summarize Oregon's defense it would be in the following ways:
  • Vulnerable to getting controlled and run upon up front;
  • But they will cause negative and short yardage plays in the run game through their various looks and blitzes;
  • Susceptible to big plays in the pass game because of the man-style they play;
  • And they do a fairly nice job in the red-zone holding teams to field goals and not touchdowns.
I saw this formula play out time and time again.  Oregon will stop a team for sub-optimal (less than 4 yards) rushing attempts.  It is easy to forget, but they actually started out pretty successfully against Stanford's run game.  But if a team does not lose patience they can run the ball on Oregon.  Here are the rushing statistics against Oregon for the last 5 games they played::

Ariz St
Ore St.

As can be seen, while Oregon has done a decent job against the run, the better running teams have been able to compile big rushing statistics and get big plays out of the run game.

Going into specifics,  as discussed, Oregon likes to 'compress' their line down and gain a numbers advantage to the strongside.  Teams have  successfully countered this by going 'double tight,' and making Oregon choose between balancing out up front or leaving gaps.  USC did so by going 2 tight, 1 back, while Stanford accomplished it largely by going double tight out of the I.

For Stanford, not only did this balance out Oregon's front, but it gave them another man in the box to block Oregon's 8 man fronts.

Turning to specific plays, Oregon's fronts are particularly vulnerable to the power, or what Tressel calls the 'Dave' play.  (I said the same thing about the analogous OSU 3-4).  Though the front drawn is different than what Oregon plays, the diagram below shows the general blocking of the play.

The power play has been successful for the following reaons.  Oregon's fronts sacrifice the C gap for having players on the edge to play the spread, leaving natural 'bubbles' at the C gap where the power play is run.  Add to that that Oregon's front side has shown a propensity to get collapsed by the frontside down blocks on the play and numerous teams have gained consistent yardage on this play.  This has probably been the no. 1 rush play vs. the Ducks. 

You will see in that last clip how Oregon shifted and then slanted their eagle down, leaving a big hole.  Teams are then able to follow up that play with the lead zone or ISO for success (as can be seen in the Stanford double tight clips above). 

Once teams established the run against Oregon, they have had big play-action pass play opportunities down the field.  As discussed, Oregon will bring that 8th player into the box, leaving man coverage on the outside with one deep safety.  Stanford had a field day running 'three vertical' routes against this where, no matter what the deep safety did, he was wrong (the top right diagram below gives a good flavor of the this play against Oregon's Cover 1 man, courtesy of SmartFootball).  In fact, I've never quite seen a team run that play that many times so successfully.

Andrew Luck completed 12 passes for 250 yards or 12.6 yards per attempt.  USC had these same opportunities but failed in execution, with  Barkely missing several opportunities.  USC then could not stop Oregon and fell behind.  Teams also had success throwing quick WR screens (as can been seen in the USC clip above) and out routes versus Oregon's off coverage. 

As one can probably tell by now, from Ohio State's perspective, Stanford had the best gameplan and execution versus Oregon's defense.   Stanford came out mixing between pro-style and shotgun runs (they also had success returning kickoffs for field position).  In fact, they loosened Oregon by running a mixture of power and zone read out of the shotgun:

 Stanford was then able to turn to the power running, mentioned above.  As noted, Stanford went to a two-tight I look that both evened out Oregon's front and added another blocker in the box to counter Oregon's 8th man.  Oregon could not stop Stanford without cheating towards the line of scrimmage, and Stanford was able to hit big play action passes behind it.

Stanford was able to ride this combination of power formations, power running and deep play-action passing to the tune of 25 first downs, 505 total yards and, maybe most importantly 37:41 time of possession.

OSU Offense v. Oregon Defense

What can we takeaway from Oregon's season and apply to OSU's gameplan versus the Ducks?  I think these are the keys for Ohio State's offense.

1.  Ohio State is fortunate in that their primary rush plays--Power (Dave,) Iso, Zone read--are precisely the plays that teams have had the most rushing success against Oregon with.  Ohio State must establish the run game between the tailbacks and Pryor a la Stanford to open other things up.  To do so, they need to mix and match between the pro and spread sets to keep Oregon off balance and not let them freely flip between their 7 and 8 man fronts.  The Dave and Zone read plays, in particular, will provide big play opportunities versus Oregon that OSU must take advantage of.  I know the 'Dave' play has been much maligned in some OSU-fan circles, but it needs to be the base of everything OSU does here.  OSU needs to ensure that they find ways to run those plays into favorable fronts and not where Oregon has overloaded.  So long as they do that they should be fine.  Inside running is Ohio State' bread and butter and is something their opponent is vulnerable to.  Henceforth, it goes without saying OSU needs to establish this, meaning that the offensive line must continue their late season performance in the run game.

2.  As importantly, OSU must control the time of possession.  Nothing will help OSU's defense better than keeping Oregon's quick strick offense off the field.  Stanford kept the ball for nearly 2/3 of the game and must be the model here.  OSU needs to emulate their success late in the year against Penn State, Iowa, and Michigan and string together 15-17 play drives.  At the very least, Ohio State must average 2 first downs per possession (h/t:  CalBuck79).  If successful, Ohio State will control field position and give their defense a chance to rest and re-group on the sideline.

One of the keys to this game is who sets the tempo of play?  Oregon wants to play a fast-paced, offensive oriented game.  Ohio State wants to play a defense, ball-control game.  Whomever gets to set the tempo enjoys a huge advantage and OSU must look to play their style. 

3.  It therefore goes without saying that Ohio State needs a gameplan based around a ball-control, power rush game.  Which works well for Ohio State since that is who they are .  To accomplish this, Ohio State will likely take a page from what some of Oregon's opponents have done .  Specifically, look for Ohio State to use double tight or other means of balancing their formation to make Oregon 'de-compress' their defensive front.  OSU needs to be able to do so to run effectively to either side of the formation pre-snap to take advantage of whatever gaps Oregon may leave.

4.  From there, OSU needs Terrelle Pryor to be a factor in the run game.  Pryor's ankle has now healed, and he again showed his dangerous against Michigan carrying the football.  If OSU can equally mix in their pro-style power run game and some spread looks, Oregon will have to adapt to two different styles, which will keep Oregon off-balance.  Look for OSU to also continue to get Pryor outside on bootlegs, rollouts, and the like to give him opportunities to make plays with his legs, as he remains OSU's best big play threat.  

5.  Pryor and the passing game must hit at least one deep playaction pass opportunity in the play action passing game.  OSU succeeded in doing so against PSU, but failed against Michigan, missing the opportunity to open the game.  If the run game is working, those opportunities will be there and the Buckeyes must convert, as this could be the difference in the game. 

6.  Besides that, OSU must take advantage of opportunities Oregon affords by playing some off-coverage.  If OSU follows recent game-plans they will come out throwing early, and in so doing they should look to hit some quick WR screens and quick hitches and outs to get some positive movement and get Pryor and the offense in a rhythm. 

7.  Ohio State must handle the Oregon blitz.  Oregon will bring blitzes early and often and the line must continue their late season performance and pick up blitzes .  As, if not more importantly, Pryor must not hold onto the ball, but instead either get rid of it or, more importantly, look for holes to run when Oregon blitzes and plays man behind.

8.  With Pryor, blitzing is a two-way street.  This is an interesting choice for Oregon.  This is their bread and butter .  But Pryor has really hurt teams that have done exactly that.

So does Oregon sitck with this?  Or do they instead play a soft cover-3 behind their blitzes that will leave the underneath vulnerable?  Or do they try to spy Pryor?  Even if they do the latter, Pryor is usually fast enough to outrun the spying linebacker as can be seen above.  It is a conundrum for Oregon, and one Ohio State needs to take advantage of with Pryor picking up some crucial first downs scrambling.

9.  As I said in the defensive preview, it goes without saying that OSU must win the turnover battle.  They MUST take care of the football and keep their defense out of bad positions.  OSU must also get touchdowns, and not field goals, out of the red zone.  Oregon St. shot themselves in the foot against Oregon kicking field goals, and OSU must not replicate. 

10.  In sum, Oregon's defense sets up well for what OSU wants to do.  So long as they are able to stay away from running where Oregon has shifted, OSU's primary plays and style are what has fared best aginst the Oregon's defense.  Plus, Oregon's man coverage sets up well for OSU's biggest big-play threat, which is Pryor running the ball.  If Ohio State can a) run the ball successfully, b) have Pryor play a mistake free game where he makes plays both running and passing, c) hit some open plays in the play-action game, and d) control the tempo and pace of game, Ohio State will put their team in a good position to win a hard-fought game.

For further discussion visit the 'Ask the Insider's' Blog.


  1. I've really enjoyed your analysis and I noticed that this is by far the fairest assessment in the blog world leading up to this game.

    Thanks for taking the time and effort to do it. I think you're analyzed both sides of the ball quite well.

    It should be a good game. It'll probably come down to who tackles the best, takes care of the football and executes in the 3rd and 4th quarters.

  2. To beat the Ducks, you have to be able to throw, throw often and throw accurately. This keeps the Duck D honest, otherwise their LB's, who are rather quick, will keep the running game managable.

    Oregon's D is a bend-but-don't-break-no-name kinda D, they gave up points and yards, but in the red zone they were very stout.

    One of the reason the Ducks blitz so often, is because their DB's are rather good. PB's for the DB's is high and there is talent there to match the Buck WR's.

    Gonna be a good game all around.

  3. Geoff-Thanks, I really appreciate it. I'm obviously a Buckeye fan, but I do my best to objectively analyze what I see on film and give an honest assessment. I'm glad you appreciated it.

  4. Bob--

    It's a bit of a chicken-egg question. I agree that Oregon is definitely not averse to stacking the line of scrimmage when they are able to do so. However, even when they do so I do think they present opportunities to run inside because they want to play their two LBers/hybrids on the edge.

    But obviously you put Oregon in a bind if you are able to throw the ball downfield effectively. And I agree that your DBs are good players. But Oregon will take chances that provide opportunities in the pass game. That is why I say OSU must hit those.

    And I am very interested to see how Oregon deals with Pryor's running ability. Surprisingly, you all have not really played a running QB this year (other than Locker, but they now run a pro-style offense).

  5. A very nice analysis. Perhaps OSU can run the Dave play out of the wild cat, with Posey carrying - I would like to see some of that. Posey even can throw pretty well for a change up...

  6. As a followup I should say that OSU has been running the wildcat with Herron.

    I would love to see Posey, with the threat of throwing to Pryor. Any other ideas out there?

  7. Cliff-When OSU did do the Wildcat with Herron they ran 'Dave' out of it. They have also had Pryor run the play out of the shotgun with the halfback as the lead blocker.

    I would think now that Pryor is healthier again the 'wrinkles' will be around his running ability and plays off of that...

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