Inside the highlight tape: how Oregon completed the duckade of dominance

Washington senior quarterback Keith Price (17) is nearly tackled in the end zone for a safety but manages to just get the ball off in time. Price was also out of the tackle box and thus a safety was not called. The No. 2 Oregon Ducks play the No. 16 Washington Huskies at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash. on Oct. 12, 2013. (Nate Barrett/Emerald)On the first play from scrimmage in Husky Stadium, the Ducks ran an unremarkable outside zone read play. The charged-up Husky defense stopped it for a two-yard gain. On second down they ran a simple flat route to Johnny Mundt, sniffed out for another two-yard gain. Even though it’s not a big play, Mundt shows nice hands, taking the ball in naturally with his hands in traffic, early in a big game on national TV in a packed, jackhammer-decibel stadium. The poise is nice to see. He continues to be reliable.

At this point 10,000 Duck fans threw a couch pillow and started pacing. A few turned to their wives or girlfriends and screamed, “Why do they keep running those stupid predictable plays? Why are they so stubborn about what doesn’t work?”

The Price is wrong, Buck: DeForest Buckner pressures Keith Price in his own end zone. Buckner and the Oregon defensive got inside pressure several times, sacking Price four times, forcing him to flush outside the tackle box and throw the ball away on another six attempts. The sophomore from Hawaii had 5 tackles, but just missed on this near safety (Nate Barrett/ Oregon Daily Emerald photo).

Patience. Some plays are run to test a defense and set up other plays, establish the entire offense and make the opponent defend the whole field.

 

On third down the Ducks ran a stretch play left. Byron Marshall gets good blocks from Hroniss Grasu leading the play and Tyler Johnstone at the point of attack. Hamani Stevens seals off Danny Shelton on the back side. Marshall, who ran hard and decisively throughout the game, runs with authority, driving through a tackle at the first down line. It was a good day for both their feature running back and the offensive line: they got a good push throughout the game. Marshall finished with 19 carries for 106 yards. He was quick to the hole and finished runs beautifully, taking good care of the football throughout.

So the Ducks began the game with a first down, which is crucial on the road in front of an amped-up crowd. At this point they’re not running maximum tempo. The first three plays took just over a minute and a half off the clock. Oregon has three distinct tempos, red light, yellow light and green light. The green light is the one they are famous for, but it’s most effective when they employ it like a good fast ball pitcher, changing speeds. In this game, against an opponent that had made a ballyhooed push to the up-tempo style in the off-season, mimicking the Ducks, it was a wise move by coaches Frost and Helfrich to switch it up on the Dawgs, slowing the pace at times, calming the game and taking a little of the air out of the hyped-up home crowd. They saved the fastest pace for situations where they had the Husky defense on their heels, after a big play, in the red zone.

1st 10 Oregon on W 47, 13:27 1st quarter

Marcus Mariota drops back to pass. All day long the offensive line did a superb job of protecting him. He was sacked just once, for seven yards, and even on that play the right decison was to take the sack. Here he has plenty of time to survey the field and make reads on his options, and he sees readily that his linemen have herded the four Husky rushers into a tight, neutralized group at the line of scrimmage.

Mariota is quick and decisive. Two Husky linebackers are even with him as he takes off, but he beats them easily to the corner and dashes for an easy, demoralizing first down. He’s too modest to actually say it, but his actions tell the Husky defenders, “I can do this all day, and you can’t stop me.” He’s too fast, and they can’t cover him. They can’t drop deep in pass coverage to defend the seam routes, because the threat of Mariota scooting in the open field is always there. Again, plays set up other plays. Mariota’s early scrambles put the Husky linebackers in no-mans land in their pass coverage, a dilemma MM and his receivers exploited throughout the game.

We’ve made this point before, but it’s important: Mariota is a very intelligent running quarterback. He gauges very accurately how much room he has and how much to get out of a play. He uses his speed to protect his body. When he gets to the sideline and goes out of bounds he keeps running. This season he has 41 carries for 426 yards and 8 touchdowns, and he hasn’t taken many hits at all in those six games. Ominously, however, it has to be noted that it only takes one. But the Ducks sensational sophomore signal caller has been well-coached in the mantra of the running gunslinger: touchdown, first down, out of bounds or get down. He’s very consistent about using his talents and protecting them.

3rd 15 Oregon ball W 41 12:06

Here the Ducks take the play clock all the way down to :02. This isn’t the frenetic pace ill-prepared analysts talk about predictably, incessantly, repeatedly. It’s a complete change-up that sets the Huskies up for the switch to ludricrous speed later. Mariota takes a perfect snap, chest high between the numbers. He drops three more steps, a deep drop that gives him time and space to scan a five-man pattern. He has the arm strength and quick release to throw the ball from a deep drop, and looks very comfortable in the pocket; he had great pocket presence all day. His ability to process information and think calmly in the heat of the game are terribly underappreciated by people who evaluate quarterbacks merely by numbers. Oregon’s Heisman frontrunner succeeds because he consistently makes good decisions.

The offensive line again has perfect contain on a four-man rush, and Mariota enjoys four good throwing lanes. With everyone accounted for and under control Hroniss Grasu and Mana Greig can double team the defensive right tackle. Hamani Stevens completely stands up Danny Shelton, who doesn’t make it off the line of scrimmage.

Mariota settles on Bralon Addison on the crossing route, the receiver who’s most open, Oregon’s most dangerous player in the open field with De’Anthony Thomas out. This is again a play that sets up other plays. Linebackers can’t take a deep, supporting drop if they have to worry about the dangerous Texan working his way across the formation. Addison gains 10, making a 4th down try manageable.

The Ducks’ confidence and poise on fourth down gives them more options on traditional passing downs and long-yardage situations. The whole playbook is still open. They can bisect the yardage needed and give one of their many playmakers an opportunity in open space. There’s never a need to make high-risk decisions, plenty of ways to create a high-reward one.

Here the fourth down try fails, but the Ducks have moved the ball and established the ways they can beat the Husky defense later. With an unshakeable next-play mentality, the team isn’t bothered by the unsuccessful drive, and they all react with customary poise to a dropped potential touchdown by Keanon Lowe. Lowe would make a couple of tough catches in traffic later, a big block on a long, weaving catch-and-run by Addison, on another crossing route.

11:25 1st quarter, Washington ball on W 27. 

It’s the first running play of the game for Washington, an inside zone read play Bishop Sankey bounces out, but Tony Washington stuffs it. Three Ducks get penetration on the right side, so Sankey is framed and has no cutback lanes. Terrance Mitchell makes a great read as the force man and is on the play at the line of scrimmage from his cornerback position–he has the toughness and instincts of a linebacker in run support, a willingness to be physical that he shares with Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill. Not every team has cornerbacks who want to mix it up as run defenders. Mitchell and Olomu were superb throughout this game, both in pass coverage and run defense; they each had seven tackles. Washington had 5 from his outside linebacker/defensive end position, 1.5 for loss.

 Six Ducks are in the frame at the end of the play. Sankey did his damage in this game with a great second half, but the Ducks did a good job of containing him in the first, and a good job of making him earn his yards. They had major breakdowns on his two scoring plays that have to be corrected going forward, touchdown runs of 60 and 25 yards. For the rest of the day, he had 26 carries for 82 yards, a lot of one and two-yard runs. Oregon’s offense ultimately took the PAC-12’s leading rusher out of the game. In the fourth quarter, he had one carry as the Huskies were down by two, three touchdowns and went three and out twice.

3rd and 2 10:45 Washington ball on W 35 Going into the game the Huskies had been stopped three and out just 6 times in 65 series. The Ducks did it three times today, forcing six punts and a fumble for seven total stops, more than the Dawgs could afford in trying to match the Quack attack. This first one is a statement: third and two with a downhill running back, and the Oregon front seven denies a first down.

They get a tremendous push at the line of scrimmage. On both these highlight plays from the first series, Wade Keliikipi controls the gap in the middle and stands up the interior of the Washington line with powerful strength moves. For the game, the athletic big man had four tackles, 2.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks. Twice in the game he throws down Keith Price with one arm. Wade K was at his determined, disrupted best in this game, a big factor in the defensive effort. In all Oregon sacked Price four times for 25 yards.

Inside linebackers Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone were also active and physical. Malone had 10 tackles and a sack, Hardrick five stops. Torrodney Prevot, who continues to make plays in spot duty, had a crucial fumble recovery. Troy Hill put a helmet on the ball in a classic form tackle forcing that fumble by Sankey. He had four stops and a pass breakup for the defense. 

Nick Aliotti gave them a C- for the game, but in establishing the tempo early and closing in the fourth quarter, this group earned an A- minus contributing to the win in support of a dominating offense.

 

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