Joe Londergan of Building the Dam was kind enough to chat with us right before Thanksgiving. He’s grateful for Hamilcar Rashed Jr, Isaiah Hodgins, the look of panic on a lineman’s face when he catches a kick, and a head coach who actually wants to be in Corvallis. Give it a listen as you flee from your familial gatherings.
Oregon St returned both of its great running backs from last year, #22 RB Jefferson and #21 RB Pierce. Combined with improved offensive line play under new OL coach Michalczik, they’re operating a pretty efficient rushing offense over their last four games. Prior to garbage time, I charted 58 successful designed rushing plays vs 45 failed ones, given the down & distance, for an average of 5.06 yards per carry. They’re moderately explosive as well, with about 15% of runs in this sample going for 10 or more yards - that’s about what you expect for a rushing offense with a pretty healthy 56% success rate.
(Reminder - you can right-click or long-press any of these videos to play them at ¼ or ½ speed)
- :00 - Nice C-gap run behind the blocks of #68 RT Kipper and #84 TE Quitoriano.
- :08 - OSU uses this 12-personnel under-center formation with the WRs in tight fairly often. Here Quitoriano and #73 LT Brandel seal the edge well, and #1 WR Lindsey chips the DB on his way out, delaying him enough for Jefferson to turn the corner with a great stiffarm.
- :15 - Here Jefferson presses the middle then bounces outside, with #81 TE Togiai coming underneath the formation to block the big end. The defense had sufficiently bitten on the inside run and he would have been successful even if he were immediately brought down, so the vault is just for style points.
- :38 - The DT is beating the block by backup #69 C Keobounnam on this outside zone run, but it’s a nice big gap due to great blocks by Togiai, Brandel, and #63 LG Lavaka, letting Pierce use his speed to run past the DT before he can get arms around him.
There are two significant problems with OSU’s run game. First, blocking by the OL and TEs is fairly inconsistent, getting solid blocks across the board only about half the time - they have a lot of trouble with both bigger and faster defensive lines, and I see assignment errors more often than I was expecting.
Second, they tend to give away the playcall with their formations. They use an offset-back alignment (with any of zero, one, or two TEs in about equal measures) a little less than half the time. An offset back is a strong pass indicator for the Beavs, as they throw the ball 78% of the time from this formation. The other half of the snaps are either pistol or under-center alignments with one or two TEs, out of which they rush about 75% of the time (the pistol in particular is a dead giveaway, with an 83% rush rate).
With this much tape of such strong tendencies, I noticed defenses lining up to take away the run against these alignments towards the end of the year:
- :00 - Just too many defensive bodies here, and neither Kipper nor #56 RG Cordasco get good blocks in.
- :07 - Kipper’s assignment is to chip and get up to the second level to block the MIKE, but that backer has studied his film and is downhill too fast for him to do so.
- :14 - The backer’s late movement from outside to inside scrambles the zone assignments - just about everybody winds up blocking the wrong guy. Cordasco needs to be moving up to the second level, Kipper needs to let the wham-blocking TE take a man, and Lavaka should be down-blocking to help the center with the twist.
- :26 - This stretch zone run is just too complex for the line to take on. Lavaka is losing his block, Cordasco isn’t fast enough out of his stance and winds up on the ground obstructing the back, and Kipper is blocking the wrong backer, leaving a free defender to help with this tackle for loss.
The effectiveness of the passing offense is tougher to describe. #6 QB Luton is a great pocket passer and has an excellent primary receiver to work with in #17 WR Hodgins (who was unconscionably snubbed as a Biletnikoff finalist, in my opinion), plus two more downfield threats who are finishing the season quite strongly in Togiai and #16 WR Flemings. In week 10 against the Wildcats, Luton’s QBR was 90.9, with eight passes of 20+ yards, throwing three touchdowns and no turnovers.
Six days later against the Huskies, his QBR was 14.5, he took four sacks and threw no touchdowns but one pick.
That’s why the per-play efficiency numbers I have for OSU -- 52 successful dropbacks vs 56 failed ones -- are really a composite of very different performances week to week. Given the time to set up in the pocket and throw against DBs who get beat by talent or scheme (and I really like this playbook, it’s basically the Huskies’ but without the dumb stuff), Luton looks like the best QB in the league:
- :00 - Very nicely executed play-action bootleg to a high-low read (actually four different options). Lots of teams use this flood concept, including Oregon, but the double-TE shift to the opposite side is a nice touch to disrupt the defense, and it’s a tendency-breaker too - even though they only throw about 30% of the time when under center, they’re often the most lethal plays because of Luton’s extra depth and the run expectation insulating him from the pass rush.
- :26 - Here OSU’s keeping eight blockers in protection and only sending two downfield - the ball is going to Hodgins or to the bleachers. Reader, note how early Luton makes his throw: not only does he rifle it from the far hash, but all he needs to track is how the DB has transferred his weight to know that Hodgins is going to beat him coming back to the ball.
- :40 - The defense is in cover-1 but boy does the high safety make the wrong choice. Flemings burns his man coverage on this post route and the CB never has a chance against his speed.
The best way to beat this passing offense is the simplest: put Luton on his back. He simply doesn’t have the escapability or the line to buy him a ton of time. You don’t even really need to bring more than four, just a bit of confusion as to what angles the pass rush is coming from:
- :00 - The defense backs out the OLB on the line to take away the first read which catches Cordasco by surprise, and brings the ILB on the field side who catches Lavaka playing pretty stiffly.
- :19 - Brandel and Kipper are decently well positioned but are just beat by the explosive contact by the OLBs here.
- :31 - Seven blockers vs four rushers, but the interior guards don’t manage the T-E stunt very well and the coverage enjoys a big numbers advantage.
- :49 - Here’s a 5-man blitz, but the defense isn’t winning with an overload, just a loop stunt the center is slow to get to and the RG getting beat by a much smaller DT. That pressure results in a bad throw that gets broken up, and note how everyone including the camera operator knows the outlet is Hodgins.
Like most Pac-12 teams, Oregon St’s rush defense is fairly poor - I tallied only 42 successful rush defenses vs 59 failures, and giving up 5.94 yards per carry outside of short-yardage situations.
On both podcasts we’ve recorded with Joe, we talked about the ongoing efforts to beef up OSU’s defensive line with transfers, as well as change the defensive structure to an even-front 2-4 to take advantage of being much deeper at linebacker than defensive linemen. While I think they’re going in the right direction, I’m seeing pretty similar things as I was last year: defenders in basically the right position, but then just flattened by the offense:
- :00 - Look at the size of the B-gap opened up between the blocks on #90 DL Hodgins (brother of the WR) and #99 DT Aydon (who’s enormous at 375 lbs but needs a lot of work on technique).
- :16 - A pair of combo blocks on the two down lineman get them cleared out. #42 ILB Taumoelau reads this well and scrapes across and into position … only to get run over.
- :36 - Without an extra big body on the playside, #56 OLB Sharp is easily blocked out and the guard is able to release off him and up to the second level, and the big #50 DT Whittley over the center doesn’t have the mobility to keep up with this outside zone run.
- :43 - I saw this problem quite a bit when the defense wasn’t reading run - the linebackers drop out, the DL gets contained, and then one of the OLBs tries to cross over to get to the inside lane. That leaves the edge undefended for a big outside bounce.
Last season I thought the DBs were out of position a lot, and expected to see new DB coach Adams -- who had some effective pass defense units at USF -- turn things around. I think I’m seeing some improvement, but still a lot of problems with assignment handoffs and tackling. They’re giving up a ton of yards after catch, and a 20+ yard shot once every seven passes:
- :00 - We’ve got four DBs to the field side against three in-cuts in this levels concept, with multiple defenders needing to slide into underneath coverage. Not only do both safeties play it wrong after the coverage handoff, they knock each other out of the play.
- :22 - Here the sweep man is the checkdown, and the problem is precipitated by both linebackers being slow to get over and cover it. But that causes the safety to hesitate on covering the wheel route by the back, who blows past him to get wide open for a big gain.
- :30 - This defensive structure is bound to fail against a screen pass with trips to the field, with only two DBs over them and the safety uncertain pre-snap where he needs to line up. It’s not a particularly good block by the WRs but it’s 2-on-1.
While OSU is only #107 in defensive SP+, that’s up 20 spots from last year. In my opinion, that’s primarily because they’re getting a much more effective pass rush, which is generating sacks and throwaways at a much greater rate. That’s gotten them up to an impressive 66 pass defenses vs 63 failures (though I didn’t chart the second half of the Wazzu game for this reason, to avoid skewing the data too badly vs the rush numbers). The star is the nation’s sack leader, #9 OLB Rashed:
- :00 - What’s really impressive about Rashed is that he’s getting this done without being physically huge - that lets him split linemen like in this play, but at the same time he’s a lot stronger than you might think from his stature.
- :27 - Rashed stutter-steps the tackle like he’s a wideout, then makes a sharp inside move to flush the QB.
- :53 - OSU doesn’t blitz too often, but they do prefer interesting ways of bringing four. Here they drop the OLB into coverage and overload the left side of the line by rushing the WILL instead, which the LT and RB in pass pro can’t figure out how to handle.