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Big Foot, Area 51 and the blueprint to stop Oregon

In their opening road game with Virginia Tech, Alabama won 35-10, but their offense, which features T.J. Yeldon, A.J. McCarron and Amari Cooper, was held to 206 yards and 11 first downs. In game three’s 31-6 win over lowly Colorado State, the Tide offense managed a paltry 16 first downs and 338 yards of offense. A blocked punt returned for a td boosted the scoring output.

So how come nobody talks about the blueprint to stop the pro style offense?

Oregon has lost just 7 games in the last four and a quarter seasons, winning 49. Yet after every one of those losses, there’s a flurry of columns and instant analysis, suggesting that defenses have finally “figured out” the Oregon spread, that it’s a gimmick style with no long term chance of success. Some critics still cling to the outdated view that it can’t work in a big game, though the Ducks have won two BCS bowls in two years.

Maybe they need a gimmick: Two-time National Champion Alabama is 56th in the country in scoring, and no one talks about a blueprint to stop them (Dave Martin, Associated Press photo).

The blueprint to stop Oregon is to play assignment football. Defenders must stay in their gaps and maintain responsibility, penetrate and disrupt at the line of scrimmage, pursue and tackle well, and limit big plays.

Which is the same blueprint necessary to stop any kind of offense dating back to the Four Horsemen and Amos Alonzo Stagg. Tackle. Get off blocks. Control the line of scrimmage. Steal the ball.

Last November Stanford had a good plan for the Ducks and executed well defensively in a 17-14 win. But the chief reason they succeeded was Shane Skov, Chase Thomas and Ben Gardner played great football. It wasn’t a mystery or a magic bullet; it was toughness, pursuit and aggression, and an uncharacteristically flat performance by the Oregon offense.

No-huddle spread offenses rule college football right now but everything goes in cycles. The history of the game is filled with innovations and adjustments. The T Formation, the Split T, the Pro Set, Wishbone and West Coast all had their day, and defensive coordinators came up with counters and adjustments in personnel groupings to defeat them. Players evolve. 1960s football didn’t have many 240-pound linebackers who run 4.6 40s.

Oregon continues to have a productive and exciting offense because they’re recruiting smart, fast offensive players, they’ve upgraded on the offensive line, and they coach them well. The strength of the Oregon system is that under Scott Frost and Mark Helfrich the team continues to innovate and adapt, not wedded to one plan or one sequence of plays. In every one of Oregon’s three early wins, the Ducks have had a different approach and a different emphasis. September 14th against Tennessee, they unveiled a lethal passing attack. Marcus Mariota threw for a career-high 456 yards, the most since Kellen Clemens threw for 425 against Washington in 2005. In game one against Nicholls the Ducks ran for 500 yards.

The flexibility and willingness to innovate and adjust keeps the Quack attack viable for the immediate future. Football will continue to evolve and change at every level. If the Ducks lose a game this season, it will be because they got outplayed or lost the turnover battle, not because they are handicapped by their scheme.

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