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Coach’s Corner: Oregon continues its transition to a Power offense

They will also be playing an American football game on Saturday in Pullman

Oregon v California Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Hey. There’s a game on Saturday too. Let’s talk about it for a minute.

We talked a little bit last year about the Oregon offense’s transition under Willie Taggart. There was much more that was similar about Taggart’s offense and Helfrich’s offense than there was that was different. And that makes sense; the offense was never a problem under Helfrich, for the most part, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. New head coach Mario Cristobal was on staff last year, and probably had a pretty big hand in implementing some of the new mentality of the Ducks on the offensive line. No longer were they predicated solely on angles and zone blocking. They had transitioned into something of a hybrid between power and zone. And now with Cristobal fully in control of the program, the pendulum continues to swing ever closer to the power side of the offense.

The core of Oregon’s running game is still based on inside zone. They will line up in Pistol in the backfield and a number of different formations with the tight ends as some smoke and mirrors just to be able to run inside zone on, conservatively, fifty percent of their runs. And they’re pretty good at it. They’ve got some big offensive linemen that stand all but foot-to-foot and reset the line of scrimmage a couple yards into the defense’s side of the ball. CJ Verdell hides behind the big boys, finds a crease, and hits it hard.

One more look at Inside Zone here early against Bowling Green. It’s a medium gain, but the important part is what the Oregon coaches saw away from the play. Watch Justin Herbert after he hands the ball off.

It’s early enough that Oregon might still be on script. But if a coach sees this, it doesn’t matter what the next play call was going to be. Herbert’s running inside zone and forget the read on it, just yank that ball out of Verdell’s belly and run.

Et voilà.

Traditionally, Power is run with a fullback leading to the hole and a guard pulling to playside. Oregon doesn’t utilize a fullback, and instead pulls both guards, using the playside guard’s G block to replace the absent fullback. The general concept behind Power is exceedingly simple—outnumber the defense on the playside by bringing an extra lineman over. Oregon has gotten very good at that in the last six games. Here’s an example from the second quarter against Stanford. This might be the easiest touchdown Verdell scores in his entire career. It’s just a 55-yard sprint in a virtually straight line.

As an Offensive Coordinator, sometimes you think you’re in a pretty good play at the line of scrimmage. And sometimes you’re singing the fight song at the line of scrimmage because you know you got one over on the defense. I don’t know what Oregon’s fight song is, but I’m about 98% sure Mario Cristobal was humming it as Herbert clapped his hands here. Let’s zoom in on the box. I’ve drawn a red line to divide playside and backside. If you can count, I think you’ll see why Stanford was already in trouble.

Four green hats for four white hats, yeah? And really it’s five because Oregon will pull the backside guard and bring him around. Five beats four most of the time. Football is easy. If we were talking in Air Raidese, this would be what we would call “having leverage in the box;” based on alignment and angles, the offensive line is in a favorable position to effectively block the defense. Now, of course, talent will usually beat scheme. We saw that firsthand the last several seasons when Hercules Mata’afa didn’t particularly care about the linemen in front of him and just decided to break the offense. However, not only does Oregon beat Stanford with formation and play call, but they whip them on execution too. Go back to the gif and watch Jacob Breeland at the inline tight end and the right tackle, who I believe is Calvin Throckmorton.

Yeah, they just eliminated Stanford’s defensive tackle on that side with a combo down block. Completely put him on skates. And to make matters worse, Mustafa Branch, the linebacker on the backside, gets lost on the play. I’m not sure whether he misread his key or if he had responsibility for Herbert on the backside, but he’s stuck in the mud and never scrapes to the play. I don’t know how much he helps things, because Breeland probably slips off to seal him, but the results couldn’t be any worse for Stanford.

#SpeedD is going to have its hands full with this offense. I think they’ll be OK against the Power looks. Getting aggressive and getting in the gaps will disrupt that enough that they should be able to hold their own. The Inside Zone look out of the pistol worries me a bit more. There’s less room to jump the gaps than there was last year, and I think Oregon’s front five is better overall than it was a year ago (the injury to Penei Sewell notwithstanding). Plus, this is the first time that we’ve faced an actual Oregon starting quarterback since Marcus Mariota, and Justin Herbert is a couple clicks above the Jeff Lockies of the world. I expect a track meet. Turn off the clock and the first one to fifty wins; let’s have some fun.

Ok, now you can go back to watching the GameDay bus arriving in Pullman from every different angle.