With some relief I doubt that USC will face this play again the remainder of the season. However for those interested here is the Oregon run play that I think just gives opposing teams terrible fits. Jeremiah Masoli ran this multiple times versus USC for big yardage and I recall that Oklahoma State had a terrible time defending it in the bowl game last season. Most teams run inside zone in some form or other these days leaving the backside DE unblocked to gain a numerical advantage on the line of scrimmage. Even USC runs the inside zone play…they just don’t have the QB run to keep the DE honest. Instead USC boots the QB away and makes the defense also respect the threat of the pass.
Oregon, Florida, West Virginia, and most good running teams run the zone option read play where the QB makes a decision on whether to keep the ball and run or to give the ball to a tailback. This play is pretty widely detailed in many places on the internet. (Note: Here is one example). I have some examples of the Utah zone read play on this site from when Urban Meyer was head coach. (Note: the video hosting service took down my videos mistakenly thinking they were from the TV broadcast. I’ll find another host during the long off season).
Anyway the inside zone play is the bread and butter run play for Oregon. What is unusual though is that Oregon does not always read the outside DE in the five technique position on the play. Sometimes they block the 5 Tech DE out on on the play and instead read the 3 technique defensive tackle to the inside of the DE. That is very unusual for most teams and hence an effective change of pace in the game. The defensive line starts to get confused regarding the play and starts to play tentatively or rush out of position. It was pretty clear that the USC defense got flustered as the game went on this past week.
Reading the 3 technique DT player is not unknown in football by any means. In fact it is quite common with option teams that run midline option especially from under center. The play can be devastating when executed with the right players. Here are some examples of midline option. (Flexbone association example here, Jerry Campbell explanation summarized here). To the best of my knowledge however it is relatively uncommon in Division I college football to read the 3 technique DT out of shotgun with more of a zone blocking scheme like Oregon employs. Unfortunately Oregon has released zero information about the specifics of this play in their clinic talks and won’t release run game cut ups (I actually asked the staff over the summer for them and was politely told no – but was given an invite to come up some time and watch practice and visit with the offensive line coach if I was in the neighborhood).
Here are some images of the play I am talking about clipped in small increments of time. I will show two examples from TV – one play from behind and one from more of a sideline angle. The angles are not always the best but you can see the play unfold and the giant hole that develops for the QB to run through. When the DT and LB are successfully removed from the play by the blocking scheme the unoccupied defender next in line to make the tackle becomes the free safety…in other words you are looking at a 15-20 yard gain.
Example 1 rear angle
|On this play Oregon has the TE left, the QB in shotgun and the back offset weak to the right. USC has their 3 technique player to the weak side and a loose stand up 5 technique DE player to the right as well.||It looks like USC slants the 3 tech DT and the 5 tech DE to the viewers right on the play. The play starts off similar to and inside zone read play except that the Oregon RT is looking to block the USC 5 tech DE out on the play…The Oregon RG is also going to bypass the USC 3 tech DT and head up for the linebacker…|
|To the viewers right the 5 tech DE is now out of the TV picture and the 3 tech DT is penetrating up field unblocked. The Oregon RG climbs to the LB level. The QB & RB mesh and the QB makes a give or pull read…||Masoli does a great job making reads and hiding the ball. it is tough to tell even after the disconnect who has the ball. The zone blocking to the left has USC defenders mostly distracted and occupied to that side….look at the hole on the right however.|
|Masoli keeps on this play and the penetrating USC defender to the left can not make the play. Conversely the penetrating 3 tech DT has run himself out of the play to the viewers right. The 5 tech DE is even further out of the play to the right.||Masoli hits the open hole and now the defense has a major problem…the next unoccupied defender is the deep free safety in the middle Taylor Mays a good 20 yards away. The offense wins in this exchange every time when executed this well and or played this poorly by the defense.|
Example 2 sideline angle
|Here is a 3rd and 15 example of the same play, same formation. USC is even cheating a safety down on the strong side at the top of the screen.||At the snap this starts to look like the IZ read option play being run to the TE or strong side. The USC DE has backside responsibility in the event the QB keeps and runs weak side C gap.|
|Here we can start to see though that the offensive line is going to let the USC 3 technique penetrate by design and kick out the 5 tech DE player.||Here the scheme intent is now obvious as the 3 tech player runs straight through unblocked on the play. The QB makes his give / pull read and decides to keep.|
|If the USC 3 tech DT had taken a better line to the QB this play might have been stopped for no gain or a loss. USC did make the play once or twice during the game but they executed against it worse as the game wore on…||Masoli is now through the gap past the 3 tech defender and now in open space. The USC DE does not make the tackle either…finally the safety stops the play after a 20+ yard gain.|
Here is the video of the above play on a 3rd and 20 situation.
Why make such a big deal out of this particular play? I think it sows the seeds for confusion in the mind of the defense. This play for a split second starts out like the regular inside zone, or the read inside zone option play. The backside DE has to stay somewhat wide in the event the QB pulls the ball and runs outside. The 3 tech DT is accustomed to chasing down the tailback and not being responsible for the QB on running plays. Once unblocked though he has to reorient and change his responsibilities. I don’t know the USC game plan though…perhaps the DT was to take the tailback and leave the QB to the LB’s. I suspect though that he was to take the QB and leave the tailback to the linebacker on the play (just my guess). This is not the sort of stuff the staff will openly discuss for good reasons.
Either way Oregon accomplished what all good run option or spread teams try to accomplish. 1) They leave one of your best players unblocked and read him instead of blocking him. 2) They make the defense pause and think – is this the play where I have the QB or the RB. And by the way this is 3rd and 15 so I am really thinking about pressuring the QB…3) A gap is created and the QB makes a give or pull read designed to take what is best or make the defense wrong. 4) A good player Masoli is now in open space against bigger less mobile defenders. The result is a lot of yardage on the play. 5) The defense gets depressed and disoriented. I could go on but this is what I suspect happened.
Oregon rushed for 391 yards on the ground and most of it was from inside zone, inside zone option read, and the inside play variation where they read the 3 technique. Not even Texas and Vince Young accomplished that versus a bad USC defense in the Rose Bowl. I don’t think Oregon even bothered to mess around with their outside zone, draw, or fly sweep plays in the game. I’ll go back at the end of the season and organize the Oregon run plays in this game by type, frequency, and gain. Last season USC held the Ducks to 60 yards rushing on 39 carries including the ones above when Oregon had a more veteran offensive line. Put in a new front seven for USC though and an entirely different result was obtained. The other odd part about a stellar performance like this is that Jeremiah Masoli at 5’11” and 225 pounds might not even get drafted by the NFL. In college football though a smart, tough, quick running QB making the right reads can be devastating.
Update: Per request here are some other general clips of Oregon runs versus USC in the 2009 game. There should be a mix in here of several types.
Here are some more when QB Masoli kept the ball.