Jeremy Fowler of cbssports.com has an interview with Urban Meyer of Ohio State today that is so candid and wide-ranging it almost makes me like the Buckeye coach, a precipice of fan heresy that I’m pulling myself back from as decisively as I can. After all, it’s Urban Meyer, who won two national championships on the frequent felony plan.
Nevertheless, it’s a superb piece of journalism that covers a lot of ground about college football, the OSU program and coaching. In it, Meyer talks about the latest trend in the spread offense, the package or combination play, which he credits to Rich Rodriguez of Arizona.
Above: an example of a “package play” formation. Instead of reading a lineman the quarterback will read a second-level defender, like the linebacker circled, and either run at him or throw a slant or hitch behind him. With both a quick mind and quick feet, Marcus Mariota has the skills to terrorize defenses with this kind of play (NFL photo from the website ChipWagon.typepad.com).
It’s another way a spread quarterback can pressure defenses and make every choice wrong. The Eagles used them with great success last season in the NFL.
Put simply, instead of reading a tackle or an end, the quarterback reads a linebacker or a safety. If the key defender commits to stopping the run, the quarterback throws a slant route, if he hangs back to cover the pass, the qb might run or hand off.
Fowler and Myer point out that the rules in the college game allow linemen to advance three yards beyond the line of scrimmage on a pass play, which makes these kind of deceptive and versatile plays even more effective.
Package plays are combinations of plays or options in a related sequence of plays that start out looking alike and exploit the defense when they commit. Gus Malzahn and Auburn used the concept extensively last year, but it dates from Wing-T football and beyond. Chip Kelly frequently said that there is nothing new in the game, that coaches are constantly recycling concepts and strategies, looking for an edge, trying to gain a numbers advantage at the point of attack.
We’ll be hearing a lot more about them from the analysts and x’s and o’s guys next fall, including the guy in the too-tight suit who goes crazy with the telestrator. Brian Flinn covered the topic with his characteristic aplomb in a February post at fishduck.com.
What’s significant for the Ducks and Duck fans is that Oregon is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the new trend. They have a mobile, athletic quarterback who processes information quickly, makes exceptionally good decisions and is quick and accurate with the football. Mariota is the supreme weapon in the college game, equally adept running or throwing, putting defenders in an impossible bind when he has a well-designed, well-timed play call.
Additionally, the Ducks have a very reliable primary receiver in Bralon Addison who is physical, tough over the middle and extraordinarily dangerous after he catches the ball. And they have an experienced, athletic offensive line (107 returning starts) that is nimble enough to block at the second level and react to these kind of plays with intelligence and cohesion.
Marcus Mariota is the most capable triggerman in college football, and the package play concept is another way to take full advantage of his mobility, consistency and intelligence. Look for the Oregon offense to use these tactics to exploit teams that try to pound the line of scrimmage in hopes of slowing down Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman.
No doubt Scott Frost and Mark Helfrich are “going to school” on the package play this off season, and the Ducks will have some exciting wrinkles to spring at Michigan State and Stanford this fall, designed to get athletes like Addison and Darren Carrington the ball in open space.
Speaking of Mariota, he’s getting some much-needed R&R this weekend, back home in Hawaii for spring break. Today Morgan Mahalak and his dad ran into him, of all places, on an Oahu beach. The Mahalaks are enjoying a father/son vacation on the islands, and just decided to drive around the island in the morning, stopped at an inviting spot, and lo and behold, small world, there’s Marcus.
Unplanned, the two quarterbacks enjoyed an hour of body surfing together, a sight that would have caused heart palpitations among the Oregon coaching staff, but turned out to be just some quarterback bonding and good clean fun.
As hard as they work, it’s great they’re getting a few mornings to just be kids and enjoy themselves.