Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Rose Bowl Preview: Oregon Offense: Scheme

For a discussion of this article go to Ohio State Scout's 'Ask the Insider's' Site.

I'm going to break this up into two-part series on each side of the ball.  The first section will focus on Oregon's schemes; the second will address Oregon's personnel, how opposing teams have played against Oregon and what Ohio State might do.


By now much has been written about Oregon's offense.  Like Michigan, Oregon is a 'spread to run' team.   That means they go to shotgun and multiple wide receiver sets (4 x 1 or 3 x 1) to run the football.    First, I will discuss their run game, followed by their passing game.

Run Game

Oregon is a run-first team.  Oregon ran the ball 62% of the time this year (Ohio State, for comparison ran 64% of the time) for over 250 yards per game for the last several years.   

More specifically, as a spread to run team Oregon's offense is built around two plays:  the inside zone and outside zone read.  (See also here).  Based on a talk this summer by Chip Kelly, Trojan Football Analysis concluded that:

Oregon ran the ball 585 times in 2008. Using Coach Kelley’s 202 figure above this translates into 34.5% of the runs coming from the inside zone play. Outside zone was run 122 times averaging 6.8 yards per carry and comprised 20.8% of their rush attempts.

In other words, 55% of Oregon's running plays consisted of two plays.  Here is how Coach Kelly described his offense:

This offense (the zone read option game) fits for us. This past season we finished second in the nation in rushing the football.  We averaged 6.2 yards per carry. We have four main running plays. We run the inside zone, outside zone, counter, and draw . . .
Coach Kelly then explained his two favorite plays thusly:
The inside zone play is our “go to work” play. We want to get off the ball and be a physical downhill running football team. This is not a finesse play. This is physical football. The offensive lineman play with confidence because they know they have help from their teammates in their blocking scheme. This is the offense we run and everyone knows that. We have great players but we also execute it well. We ran this play 202 times this past season. We averaged about seven to eight yards per carry with this play.
The outside zone play is a complement to the inside zone play. The inside zone is a hole to cutback play. The outside zone is more of a hole to bounce play. The reason we run the outside play is to circle the defense. When you get good at running the inside zone the defenders begin to tighten their techniques and concentrate on squeezing the inside gaps.
If we feel that is happening or we start to get many twists and blitzes inside we run the outside zone play. It gives you speed in space and the offensive line can play with confidence when you have something to change the focus of the defense. We ran the outside zone play 122 times last season for 6.8 yards per carry. It is a good compliment to the inside zone play.

Courtesy of Smart Football here is the basic inside zone read:

And here is some shots of Oregon running the outside zone read (H/T:  Trojan Football Analysis):

The key difference between the inside and outside zone is the launching points for the offensive line and tailback.  Here is Coach Kelly distinguishing the two:

The blocking rules for the offensive line (on outside zone)  are the same as the inside zone. The difference is the aiming point of the offensive linemen. The “who we block” is the same, but the “how we block” is the difference in the outside zone. The linemen take a kick step to the outside and a crossover step to get up the field. The backside opens on the playside foot and loses ground . . . This is not really a cutback play (unlike inside zone). It is a cut up play.
From there, if the backside end starts flying playside to the tailback, the QB will keep the ball.  Masoli is very good at making these reads and immediately getting vertically upfield.

Oregon's inside zone and outside zone read form the basis of everything Oregon does.  But off of these two plays is where the "interesting" features occur.  First, Oregon will make variations to their zone read game, specifically by  reading the inside '3' technique defensive tackle.  Here is a Smart Football diagram:

By doing so, Oregon can disarm techniques teams use to defense the zone read, such as the scrape exchange.  As importantly, it puts a Defensive Tackle in a position he is not used to and has not practiced for.  I did not think Oregon would do this against a '1' technique (aka Nose Guard) because it compromises the front side zone blocking.  But while I believe they would prefer not to do it, they have in fact done so:

 Oregon also had great success adding an option to the slot receiver off the zone read play against Oregon  St.

From there, as Kelly mentions, Oregon likes running the counter play.  Specifically, they like faking zone, and then run the counter trey with the Guard and Tackle pulling and leading for Massoli.

The final change-up to Oregon's run game is that they like to shift their Halfback about a yard behind the QB.  They do this to get more of a 'downhill run game' feel, more like a pistol team.  Specifically, they like to use the QB to be able to reverse pivot and then run the bootleg off of it.  The primary plays they run from this is a fly sweep and 'power play.'

On the fly sweep, Oregon will either line up a yard to the outside and behind the QB or is bring the RB in fly motion.  They block this just like the outside zone read, but it hits quicker and designed to get outside, rather than bounce up inside.

Oregon consistently gained yards against USC with the power play (or as Tressel calls it 'Dave'), gaining over 100 yards on this play alone.   USC was determined to play Oregon in their 'eagle' front, giving Oregon a natural C gap hole.  Oregon took advantage of it.  Although the power play was very successful here, I did not see it the rest of the season, indicating it may have been something they employed for USC's front.  However, it may be something OSU sees because OSU's 3-4 is somewhat similar to the Eagle.

Inside zone, outside zone, power, and counter trey are the basic features of nearly every modern offense.  But it is the ability of Oregon to use their QB as an inside runner on the zone read and counter that gives them an arithmetic advantage over their counterparts and the tempo at which they run plays when they get going that makes them so difficult. 

Passing Game

I do not mean to make Oregon's passing game seem an afterthought.  But the spread run game is Oregon's bread and butter.  Teams that have successfully defended Oregon have done so by making them pass more than the 30-40% they would like because they are not efficient enough in the pass game.  Oregon's pass offense is not a sophisticated NFLesque down field passing attack (nor is it designed to be) and their Quarterback succeeds first and foremost as a runner and a faker. 

Oregon's pass offense's design is instead to get big plays off of teams overcommitting to their run game.  They are primarily a play action team.  They have two basic play action movement passes.  The first is off their zone read game where the QB will either pull back or take a half roll and look to get the ball vertical or on deep crosses.

They also like, off the deep tailback alignment, do a reverse pivot fake sweep bootleg.

Finally, like other spread teams, they will throw the bubble screen and other screens often off the zone read fake.  Oregon probably throws around 5+ bubble screens a game. 

Oregon's dropback passing game comes last in terms of importance.  That is not to say that Oregon is not proficient in this area, rather Oregon would prefer to not be in a position where they are relying on dropback passing.  However, like other spread teams, Oregon's dropback pass offense is based around the quick game and shallow crossing routes.  Masoli is also a threat to scramble against teams that want to play man coverage and gained several key 3d downs doing so against USC.

This covers the basics of Oregon's offense.  My next post will focus on their personnel, how teams defend their offense, and what Ohio State may do. 

For a discussion of this article go to Ohio State Scout's 'Ask the Insider's' Site.


  1. Thanks BB- great stuff and fun to read. Excellent work. Your commitment to the study is much appreciated. Keep it up.

  2. I was so excited to see a post this morning. I think this is my new favorite blog. I have been waiting for great Buckeye related football analysis since Keith left Buckeye Commentary. This site is awesome.

  3. Coming from a Duck fan, you summed it up very nicely. That is most if not all of the offense. Good luck to the Buckeyes in preparing for all of it! ;)

  4. Well put Geoff. You explain the stranghts of the Oregon offense very well and with a good amount of specifics that some higher level football dudes can understand. There are a lot of little ways that the line can change or adjust their blocking dependong on fronts and play off of those fronts. good explanations.

  5. Thanks everyone I appreciate it! Glad you enjoy it!

  6. Geoff-Glad you enjoyed it. I'm obviously a Buckeyes fan, but happy that I was able to come off even-handed and ably explain what Oregon is doing offensively. It is obviously a subject that draws a lot of interest and is also often misunderstood.

  7. Hey just wanted to say that if you watch the Fly Sweep closer, they actually block inside zone to the opposite way of the fly sweep. They leave the playside DE unblocked figuring the Sweep runner can out run that DE. This sets up the Fly Sweep fake where the QB keeps the ball and runs an inside zone...

  8. Brad-Great catch. I had not noticed that.

    It seems like generally, though, that Oregon does not run the inside zone out back the other way, but instead just start in empty and zip motion the guy into the backfield.

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