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Coach’s Corner: Oregon State’s Screen Game

Sometimes it’s just easier to let the defense beat themselves

Oregon State v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Much has been made of the struggles of the Oregon State defense. They have given up yards and points in bunches. The Oregon State offense, on the other hand, has been effective, scoring 24 or more points in all but one of their games thus far. True freshman Jermar Jefferson has been their bell cow at running back, averaging 145 yards per game on the ground. They have a trio of solid receivers with big play capabilities in Isaiah Hodgins, Trevon Bradford, and Timmy Hernandez, each of which has a play of forty or more yards this year.

But don’t expect Oregon State to simply line up and overwhelm an opposing defense. Theirs is an offense that is much more adept at finding angles and getting defenders and defenses as a whole on the wrong foot using misdirection. In other words, they’re going to try and let the defenses they face beat themselves, then take advantage. One of the best play concepts in their arsenal that does just that is their screen game.

We start with a play that I’ve mentioned before. It’s one that I like, and could be a great weapon for our offense particularly because of the speed and playmaking ability that we have at the inside receiver positions.

Oregon State motions Trevon Bradford across formation, into Trips Left. After a token fake to Jefferson in the backfield, Jake Luton gets the ball into Bradford’s hand. The offensive linemen have all shown a pass set, then all but the right tackle release upfield to provide a wall for Bradford. This play is very well executed, particularly by the big guys up front. They allow an Ohio State defensive line that is thinking sack on third and medium to over-penetrate, then slip off to find second- and third-level blocks. Were it not for a fantastic hustle play by one of the Buckeye defensive tackles making a tackle twenty-plus yards downfield, this could have been six and an early lead for the Beavers.

The next play is a more traditional slip screen to the running back. It’s very similar to the shovel pass that we do in terms of scheme, but it allows the running back to get a bit further outside the defense than the shovel does.

This isn’t executed quite as cleanly as the slot screen was. One of the linemen—the left guard—gets hung up at the line of scrimmage and can’t release as quickly as he would like. The center doesn’t really ever block anybody, and mostly just gets in the way downfield. The right guard, however, makes this play go. Once the Ohio State linebackers read screen, they both spot Jefferson leaking out of the backfield to their left. Yanni Demogerontas, future All-Name first teamer, seals him off and lets Jefferson get outside, and does just enough to change the other linebacker’s path that Jefferson can slip his tackle attempt.

Lastly, we’ll look at a play that isn’t misdirection necessarily, but falls in line with the concept of allowing the defense to beat themselves—the RPO.

Conor Blount reads the outside linebacker, circled, who slides out to align to the slot receiver. In this case, Ohio State gives Blount a very easy read, as that linebacker blitzes off the edge. The Buckeyes fill the hook/curl zone with a safety—just off screen, arrowed—that drops down. This makes him a secondary read for Blount, and the quarterback reads him perfectly. Becuase he’s flying down, he’s basically flat-footed against Trevon Bradford, who runs a deep slant behind him. Easy pickings for Blount to hit him in the window, and Bradford catches it and is off to the races.

To state the obvious, Washington State’s defense isn’t quite as talented across the board as Ohio State’s is. However, ours is a defense that is known to be an aggressive, attacking front that is predicated on speed. That type of defense is susceptible to misdirection, and if an offense can be disciplined enough to take advantage of it, its the sort of defense that can inadvertently get itself into trouble. We’ve seen Jonathan Smith do exactly that to our defense in years past as the offensive coordinator at Washington. The Husky offensive line would allow our defensive line to slant themselves out of the play and Myles Gaskin would cut back into a lane that was as wide open as could be.

The Cougar defense is going to have to stay disciplined and stay home. As a coach, you don’t want your defense, taught to be hyperagressive, to step back from that edge or turn down the intensity. But the reality is that Oregon State’s offense is going to bait the defense into getting in the wrong gap, or overpursuing, or overpenetrating on the line. And they can make a defense look pretty foolish in doing so.

I think the Beavers are going to score some points on Saturday, probably more than most of us would like. But I think our offense is going to score a few as well. Get your popcorn and buckle up. #Pac12AfterDark is coming.