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Coach’s Corner: Oregon has a new coach and a new attitude

So what’s different about the Ducks’ offense?

Virginia v Oregon Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The Mark Helfrich era in Eugene ended with a whimper last year, and the Oregon athletics department made one of the better hires of the off-season in bringing Willie Taggart to Nikeland. Taggart is a nice fit considering he ran an offense that was helmed by a dynamic double threat at quarterback, Quinton Flowers. He also made, in one man’s opinion, the best coordinator hire of the spring in bringing Jim Leavitt over from the Colorado Buffaloes to run the defense. The jury is still out on how good the Ducks actually are—the loss to Arizona State is concerning—but they’ve looked much closer to the Oregon Ducks that consistently won eight-plus games than the 4-8 version from last year.

The thing is, offensively, they haven’t changed much. This won’t be a radically different offense to watch than what we’ve seen under Helfrich or Chip Kelly. The multiple formations are still there. The zone read is still the lead dog in the offense. Justin Herbert—before the injury—is still a great athlete running the show, and can hurt you on the ground or in the air. Royce Freeman is still an NFL-ready back. The tweaks in the offense have been very subtle. We’ll take a look at one in particular on the offensive line.

Before we get to Oregon, I wanted to briefly touch on the Y-Cross article from last week in relation to BA’s One Awesome Play from this week. He and I chat just about every week and bounce ideas off each other about what a play the Cougs ran actually was. Sometimes its super easy to figure out (mesh is mesh, four verts is four verts, etc.). But sometimes it’s... um... less easy. This week’s play is a really good example of that.

Brian ended up going with 96 H-Vertical and it completely makes sense. Curls on the outside, Renard Bell tagged on a vertical and Kyle Sweet running a middle-breaking route to pull down the safety on that side so Bell can run right past him.

USC v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

But I still think it could be Y-Cross, and not because it would make me look pretty prescient. Well, ok, not only because of that. Sweet doesn’t run the traditional Cross behind the Mike, but he runs a route that’s closer to a square in than a middle curl. And typically the trailing Z will run a dig behind the Cross, but with Bell running the vertical, that might have been tagged off. The outside receivers can convert to a deep stick route on Y-Cross, based on coverage.

And the crazy thing is, it could also feasibly be 6 Y-In. Verticals converted to sticks on the outside based on coverage, with Sweet tagged to run an In. Or 90 H-Vertical! Or 66 Y-In!

Now imagine being a defensive coordinator trying to scheme against all this. Plays that look incredibly similar but can be radically different based on alignment, coverage, and tags. It’s a headache for those of us just trying to break it down and get a read on what the call was, let alone having to teach college kids to read it and defend against it. Good luck, everybody else.

Anyway, let’s focus on the next game.

Oregon Offensive Formation: Trips right. This formation is almost always a package play from what I can tell. Run check on the inside, usually a zone read to the tight end, with either a screen to the trips if they have numbers, or a double move off the screen look if they catch the defense trying to cheat the screen.

The Play: Functionally, this is outside zone. But Oregon is going to pull both the center and the playside tackle, making it operate more like an old school power sweep. The other linemen are going to get in a phone booth with the guy across from them. Their primary objective is to turn their butt to the play and not let the defender cross their face to the playside. The right guard ends up cutting the nose tackle to free out his center to pull. The playside tackle kicks out the edge defender (illegally, as this play gets called back) and the center leads up through the hole, and Tahj Griffin is off to the races. Herbert gives a token zone read look to hold a backside defender, and the trio of receivers shows a screen look to the top.

That’s been one of the tweaks that has been noticeable with the Oregon offense this year. Their linemen are not pulling or moving nearly as often as they have in years past. Helfrich seemed to favor outside zone and the pin and pull by his big boys. Taggart seems to have more emphasis on the inside zone scheme, with a much more power- or iso-oriented attack in his running game. Here’s a look at a play against Cal this year that is an example of their “standard” run game.

Oregon Offensive Formation: Twins Left Pistol H-Nasty. This is a modern power run formation. Everything about it screams downhill run, even the wide splits from the receivers.

The Play: Inside Zone Left. Very simple, very straightforward, very “here it is, come stop it if you can.” The H-back leading up in the hole turns it into a kind of isolation play, usually giving Oregon numbers to the play side.

This isn’t to say that Oregon will never pull on Saturday night. They still do, and will, and with some regularity. But it’s not nearly as often as they have in years past, and when they do, it tends to be only one lineman giving it an inside trap look. And this also isn’t to say that Oregon’s offense has suddenly gotten very basic and simple. They still throw a lot of window dressing at you in the form of motions and formations, and the zone read is always a beast to defend with a back like Freeman and a moblie quarterback (even if it is Taylor Alie). But it just has a different feel this year under Coach Taggart.

#SpeedD defended the Helfrich version of the Oregon offense pretty well, here’s hoping they can do the same against the Taggart version.