What are the strategies that will bring the National Championship to Oregon? What are the two major keys to success for Oregon in our biggest game ever? Giving an opinion on something this big makes me feel like a Seer, but in my business as a Financial Advisor we are warned that, “if you make your living gazing into a Crystal Ball,--be prepared to eat Glass on occasion.” My prognostications come from viewing a different Crystal Ball, a Crystal Football from a great distance, which is the National Championship Trophy. I would like to think that my upcoming assertions are plausible enough to keep me from such a “cutting edge” meal, and I believe that when I’m finished here—we will agree that this will be the most entertaining National Championship Game ever.
The Spread Offense is designed to widen the field of play and attack inside, outside, and downfield through the passing element. In the case of the Auburn defense, I am very impressed with their interior Defensive Line run-stuffing abilities. Most say that the matchup of this interior defense stopping LaMichael James from running Inside Zone Reads is the premier amusement to this game. By contrast I almost concede the middle of the LOS to Auburn since we have the easier areas to attack in their flanks, (sidelines) and downfield via our passing assault. The Tigers are a great team, but two of the three sections on the field are very vulnerable to our offense. We need to storm these two sections and run inside enough to keep Auburn honest defending the Inside Zone Read.
Many of our formations line up near the nucleus of players near the center of the field whereas I would like to see more formations that Spread the defense from sideline to sideline. In the Oregon State game we saw a “Tailback-Twin” formation that had WRs and both our tailbacks on the very edge of both sidelines. This left only two defenders each side with a deep Free Safety trying to help out, thus a quick pass to the Tailback could bring an open field one-on-one juke opportunity against a CB or Safety. It also left only six defenders in the middle of the field and against our five blockers and a Zone Read of a DE—this meant we have five-on-five for inside running plays. Formations like this puts extreme pressure on the defenders in the box to keep the RB there, and on the outside defenders to hem in ball carrier. When we want to pass downfield, or run inside—Spread them out further!
In our usual formations we can run wide on Auburn because they DO run a rigid 4-3 defense; they don’t have four LB/DE/SS Cal type speed defenders hovering over three monster interior DL, hence it is actually easier to contain the D-Line in the box against a 4-3 and run outside. I like the solution revealed in the Arizona game of pinning or sealing the DE and OLB on one side with pulling OG and OTs and running outside of the box. The key block is the TE blocking down on the DE and we have a superb track record of Paulson and Williams executing it. I like the usual sweeps, but the Outside Zone Read should be a staple in this game to run around the tough interior 4-3 defense of the Tigers. When they react to pulling OL, then utilize the WR Double-Team we saw in the Oregon State game, where the flanker and TE block the OLB, with the flanker then peeling off to nail the Free Safety going by. It’s amazing how the same play can be successful by mixing up the blocking schemes.
When we run our Outside Zone Read and place the RB to the right at the beginning of the play, it is a signal to the defense that we are running the OZR to the left, hence they tighten their defense in that direction. It is then that QB Darron Thomas and the RB should take off to the right in a Speed Double-Option that catches them off guard. As the Auburn D-Line gets jumpy about moving to the outside after the snap from so many OZRs it then becomes time to run a Triple Option threatening the outside Double-Option one way, with an Inside Zone Read to LaMichael James the other direction. That is when LMJ can pop for the big touchdown runs as the defense becomes so conscious of defending their flanks. The LSU game for Auburn demonstrated that a good running opponent QB (Jefferson) can exploit this Tiger defense on occasion, so let DT run the Zone Read with some carries of his own.
This game will be unusual offensively because this is one time we WANT them to pack the box; their weakness is outside run plays and downfield defending the pass, thus the more in the box; the fewer defenders elsewhere which will create more opportunities in the Auburn areas of weakness. Frequently when the Tigers line up in their 4-3, they will have a LB covering a slot or flanker so we have real speed matchups that favor us when we pass the ball. Their corners give a huge cushion, thus I would throw slants and Bubble passes to the sidelines, which also continues to test their propensity to miss open field tackles. (Huff and Maehl are one hip move from scoring in these situations)
Coach Kelly has shown new plays nearly every game, and recently he was quoted stating that, “our big thing is when we add something new, which we have, (for this NC game) then you have to take something out.” Something new could be a variation on what we’re already doing within the game plan. For example, when we run the WR Double-Team block mentioned earlier, we might have the flanker peel off downfield and not at the FS to block him. We saw a similar play off the Bubble pass earlier in the year against Arizona State and Stanford where the blocking WR took off downfield after feigning to block the DB. While I’m guessing as to what the new plays are, it is evident that SOMETHING new will emerge since we had closed Bowl practices to spectators, media, and even parents.
How do you stop Cam Newton? You don’t, as I believe they will score over forty points on us. I admire, no, check that—I LOVE what they do on offense and how their Offensive Coordinator-Spread Offense Guru Gus Malzahn alters his scheme to emphasize the skill sets his players have. Both Auburn and Oregon have defenses that like to force you into a “dink-and-dunk” thirteen play drive down the field. However with Oregon playing twenty five Ducks on defense—it actually works in our favor if they continue this strategy in this game when the Tigers are on defense. (More on that in a minute)
Specific plays to watch for? That nasty OZR they run with a pulling guard that inevitably ends up with Cam running inside is their Bread-and-Butter; we MUST react quickly when a guard pulls to get another LB over to even out the numbers on their playside. We have safeties and backside DEs that can watch for the counter, but we must help our 235 lb. LBs against their 300+ lb. pulling guards or it’s a long night.
When they passed the ball in recent games, I noted how Cam’s passes frequently have flat trajectories, and his release point is about six inches above him or at seven feet. We have blocked more passes this year than many years combined and players like Bair (6’7”) and Hart (6’6”) will have their chances. I noticed how many times Newton would have only three rushing him, yet he would take off and get a first down running it in spite of the long yardage needed. I suggest sending three as usual in 3rd and long, but retaining former WR, now LB Spencer Paysinger as a Spy, or even Kenny Rowe on occasion to prevent being “Pryoritized” like last year. Since our downfield coverage will be a second longer than most SEC teams, I would use a delayed blitz more often with Matthews or Eddie Pleasant. Most of all I would mix up the defenses repeatedly as a moment of hesitation is the same as being a moment slow in speed. If anyone can put together a confusing set of defenses to read—it is our Defensive Coordinator, Nick Aliotti, who has coached a ton of big games in his career.
The TWO MAJOR KEYS to this Game:
I have read dozens of previews to this game and yet none have mentioned the most unique element to this game that will result in the most unusual outcome. Everyone knows that Oregon runs a FAST No-Huddle Offense, but viewing Auburn games showed me their ability to run as fast or almost as fast a No-Huddle Offense as Oregon when they wanted to. Sometimes when they got on a roll they were zipping from one play to another and generating errors from the opponent in less than ten seconds per play. We will have, for the first time, two No-Huddle teams facing each other in the NC game. Both teams will have more possessions to score than they ever have in any game they’ve played! This game will have more three-and-outs, more turnovers, and more scoring than ever before. Against UCLA—we scored sixty points in only twenty minutes of possessions; imagine the points when we increase the play count? Both teams believe they will win with eighty plays, and while our season average is 79 plays a game, (versus 71 for Stanford for example) it would not be a stretch for both teams to have nearly ninety plays apiece in this game with both running the No-Huddle Offense. Arizona State had NINETY NINE plays against us because we scored so quickly in that game! While both teams will have some rust to knock off before the offenses are clicking, the good news is that both teams will do it faster.
The second major key to this game was an area that I personally was critical of at the beginning of the season. Chip announced that he would be playing a second platoon on defense as often as the starters because the skill level was so comparable and to “wear down the offenses.” I had never heard of this concept, because it is the defense that has to defeat blocks and then run make the tackle play-after-play. They naturally expend more energy than the blockers on offense, and as I saw second platoon freshman and Redshirt Freshman D-Linemen get fooled and backup LBs take bad angles which gave up too much easy yardage—I became a bit more critical of this strategy with the personnel. Yet as the season continued these inexperienced players improved and began to make plays of their own and by the Civil War game were responsible for stops and turnovers as if they were the starters. Chip did this initially to overcome the TOP or Time of Possession problem our offense puts our defense into, but it has turned into a huge overlooked factor in this National Championship Game.
When you have this many more possessions for each team, the consequence is that both offenses and the Auburn defense will be fatigued going into the fourth quarter like never before, but it will NOT be true for the Oregon defense. Due to the rotation of former starters or young guns who have earned their stripes on the second platoon, we will have a defense that is MUCH fresher than anything Auburn can put on the field. We are fifth in the nation at Red-Zone defense, and it will be better yet as the NC game wears on. We are the best FBS team in the nation at creating turnovers; how many will be created by extreme fatigue from all the possessions in this game? In the fourth quarter our alternating defense WILL makes stops and turnovers, and hence be the deciding factor in this game as the Tiger defense is running on fumes.
There is NOTHING Auburn can do to counter this. Coach Malzahn wrote a book on the No-Huddle, and I don’t think he’s going to ball-control his high octane offense and risk knocking it out of sync or allowing Oregon to outscore them even with fewer possessions. As you know, nearly half of our scoring drives are under two and half minutes and less than five plays, and we won’t need as many points if Coach Chizik decides to ball-control. On the other hand he can’t play normal and watch his defense fade as I predict, and he cannot begin to play secondary reserves when the starters give up too many points as it is. While the Tigers have excellent depth on the defensive line, they have nearly no reserves that they can rely upon in the area of their weakness, the defensive backs. If they start playing the back-ups, then Oregon will detect this and attack them immediately, thus amplifying the problem. Truly, there is no solution to this for Auburn.
Oregon Defensive Tackle Brandon Bair stated recently that it takes TWO YEARS to develop the physical and mental stamina to play and practice like no other team in America does. It is not something the Tigers can install in the Bowl season. The best position for Auburn to be in is to have a twenty one point lead going into the fourth quarter, for anything less than that assures that Oregon will make the stops/turnovers and rapid drives to catch them. For the Ducks—we want to stay in striking range until we make stops and pull away in the fourth quarter.
So, a game of celebrated offenses and individual Offensive leaders will be decided upon by a second platoon defense?
Yes, and with all the possessions, skills on this field and fatigue that will create mistakes-—I will not be surprised to see a 58-48 Oregon victory. After the game ends we will see that I won’t be eating glass, but watching as Darron Thomas gazes into the Crystal Football, and drinks in the thrill that comes from holding the Trophy aloft as National Champions!
We Love our Ducks.
Charles Fischer firstname.lastname@example.org