In a game that was much closer than the score would indicate, Oregon went into "Sack Lake City" last Saturday night and came away with a well earned 51-27 win. In a game that saw Marcus Mariota kept his place among the Heisman leaders and Royce Freeman proved why he had become the bell cow of this Oregon backfield, Oregon was able to turn on the afterburners late and pull away from the Utes. The play everyone will remember from this game is Kaelin Clay's Desean Jackson impersonation, but there were plenty of other things to take away from this game.
Travis Wilson sacked by DeForest Buckner
After Utah was denied a 14-0 lead by Kaelin Clay's dropped touchdown, the Utes took back to the field with any momentum they had gone. After a run for a loss and an incomplete pass, Utah was faced with a 3rd and long, which didn't go very well for them.
Hey look, Oregon bringing pressure! After the first couple games of the season featured Don Pellum dropping eight into coverage during any and all situations, Oregon has slowly started to change their defensive philosophy.
On this play, Oregon lines up with six defenders on the line, with one defender in nearly every gap. Utah does not have a tight end in on this play, so in order to keep the numbers game even Wilson should keep his running back in to help with blitz pick up - something he doesn't do here.
The defender labeled #2 above, Rodney Hardrick, drops into coverage, leaving Oregon rushing five against five Utah blockers. However, Wilson does not shift the protection scheme to pick up the blitz from the right side leaving the left tackle and guard only blocking one rusher, while the right side of the line has four rushers to pick up.
Wilson does a great job at avoiding a sprinting Derrick Malone and gets outside the pocket where. The issue is he can't find anyone open because Oregon is holding up pretty well in man coverage, leaving Wilson to eat the ball and take the sack.
Mariota picking apart Utah's zone coverage
A theme throughout this game was Mariota finding holes in Utah's zone coverage. Here are a couple examples.
For a lot of the game, Utah ran a cover 2 zone coverage look out of a 4-3 base defense. In this coverage, there is basically a "shelf" of coverage over the middle of the field by the linebackers. This allows the linebackers to keep their eyes in the backfield on Mariota making sure he does not take off running, while also keeping them in coverage.
Oregon countered this coverage by attacking the weak spots in zone defense - where the two zones meet. On the first two plays in the video, the Ducks have the two receivers on the side of the ball where the pass is thrown run a fly route and a deep post.
This combination of routes makes the deep safety turn and run with the fly route, leaving a gap behind the linebackers. Marietta's job then becomes putting the ball between the two linebackers in zone coverage, and letting his receivers do the rest.
The third play in the video is the same setup, but Utah is blitzing a defensive back off the right edge. Because of this blitz, the Utah secondary must adjust their positioning to make up for the zone the blitzer is vacating. This adjustment leaves a big hole for Pharaoh Brown and Marcus Mariota to exploit on the backside of the play.
Royce Freeman 33-yard run
This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but Royce Freeman may have had the best rushing game ever for someone who did not have 100 yards rushing. All night Freeman was bowling over would-be tacklers, leading to tweets like these.
Royce Freeman is a damn tank.— Sean Larson (@seanlarson262) November 9, 2014
Royce Freeman is a bowling ball with eyes— The Solid Verbal (@SolidVerbal) November 9, 2014
Royce Freeman is a sprinting Impala. Not fair.— Dan Rubenstein (@DanRubenstein) November 9, 2014
Royce Freeman is all of these things. This run early in the third quarter may have been his best work of the game.
Oregon ran a play very similar to this one last week against Stanford except the running back was Thomas Tyner instead of Freeman. The play essentially comes down to right guard Cameron Hunt (in blue) opening up the gap for Freeman, and center Hroniss Grasu (red) getting to the second level of the defense after chipping down on the defensive tackle.
The problem is that Hunt, who holds his block well, is moved directly into the lane Freeman is supposed to run through. The problem with that problem is the aforementioned impala/bowling ball/tank known as Royce Freeman. Freeman takes the handoff and cuts on a dime back to the new lane that is opened up in the space Hunt was forced out of.
Grasu gets to his linebacker, leaving the outside linebacker as the only defender left who can keep Freeman contained to a short gain. This defender is fooled by Mariota's read look, and takes a couple steps towards Mariota on the outside.
This gives impala Freeman more than enough space to easily pick up the first down, before he morphs into bowling ball/tank Freeman as he runs over Utah's safety for the remaining yards.
Royce Freeman isn't fair.