CFB Film Preview Part 2: Oregon at Michigan State

Last season Michigan State traveled west to take on Oregon in a highly-anticipated early season clash won by the Ducks 46-27. This weekend the two teams meet again in East Lansing. Part one focused on the Spartans offensive game plan, and here in CFB Film Preview Part 2, Mark Schofield looks at how Vernon Adams and Oregon plan to attack.

In last year’s tilt, the Oregon offense overcame a slow start with Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota finishing the day completing 17 of 28 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns. The Ducks used vertical passing routes and packaged play concepts. If new quarterback Vernon Adams is cleared to play after last week’s concussion, you can expect to see him running these same concepts – particularly given his familiarity with the offense that was on display both last season and in last week’s opener.

Vertical Concepts

Oregon likes to attack a defense is in the vertical passing game. This first play is an example of how both Oregon’s tempo and pre-snap movement can create confusion, and thereby attack a defense, using play-action to create advantages in the secondary.

Oregon has 11 personnel on the field for this 2nd and 5 play. Mariota is in the shotgun with pro formation to the right, and a slot formation to the left. MSU has their base 4-3 defense in the game. showing Cover 2 in the secondary:


Prior to the snap, the Ducks bring the wide receiver on the right in jet motion towards the football. In response, the defense shows an interior blitz, with all three linebackers showing pressure:


The Ducks run a three-vertical concept on the play, with the two slot receivers running straight streak routes while the tight end executes a corner route. Mariota uses a quick run fake to his running back before reading the coverage on the slot formation side of the field:


The three linebackers come on the blitz, but the real dilemma for MSU is in the secondary. Kurtis Drummond (#27) is the safety on the slot-side of the field. With the linebackers blitzing the Spartans are playing Cover 0. But because of the jet motion, assignments are missed.

Drummond is across from the slot receiver, WR Devon Allen (#5 – he’ll be wearing #13 on Saturday night). Compensating for the jet motion, Drummond looks to shift his responsibility to the receiver coming across the formation and continuing to the outside. This requires free safety R.J. Williamson (#26) to rotate to the slot side of the field and pick up Allen, but he cannot get there in time:

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Mariota hits the freshman receiver in stride and Allen takes the play the distance. The pre-snap movement created confusion and missed assignments, leading to a touchdown.

Packaged Plays

Packaged plays are a staple of Oregon’s offense. With multiple options and plays built-in to each side of the field, the Ducks offense can put pressure on a defense horizontally and, eventually, vertically. On this play, Mariota is in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field, again with pro formation to the right and slot formation to the left. MSU has their base 4-3 defense on the field showing Cover 2 in the secondary:


Just prior to the snap, Darren Carrington (#87), the receiver on the right, comes in short motion towards the formation. He will run a crossing route, while on the other side of the field the offense sets up a bubble screen:


The TE runs a corner route, which works to occupy the safety on that side of the field. This creates traffic for the cornerback who is trying to trail Carrington – and that defender gets knocked to the turf during the play. On the other side of the field, the screen look pulls the safety and the other defenders towards the line of scrimmage, opening up the middle of the field. Mariota buys some time dancing in the pocket before finding a wide-open Carrington:

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On this occasion, the design of the play creates the opportunity for the offense to succeed. The simulated screen pulls defenders from the middle of the field, while the route combination on the weak-side of the play generates traffic. These add up to a wide-open receiver and a big play for Oregon.

Here is another example of how packaged concepts are core elements of Oregon’s offense. Mariota begins the afternoon in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field, with a bunch trips to the right and a single receiver split left. The Spartans have their base 4-3 defense on the field showing Cover 2:


At the snap, Mariota shows the football, meeting the running back at the mesh point on the inside zone read. All the while, the QB is reading the action of the bunch trips, where the receivers are setting up the bubble screen. Mariota has his choice of either giving the football to the running back on the inside zone or pulling the football out and swinging it to the outside on the screen:


He chooses the latter here:

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Receiver Byron Marshall fails to secure the throw, and the pass falls incomplete. But as this still shot shows, Mariota made the right decision with the ball and the WR had room to run if he had completed the play:


If Marshall completes the catch, he has two blockers in front of him and room along the sideline. The formation and read option look keeps the bulk of the defense inside, opening up room for this screen play. This is a concept Oregon will definitely use on Saturday night.

Wrapping the Package

Finally, the Ducks closed the MSU lead to two points late in the third quarter of last season’s game using a packaged play. With 4:41 remaining in the quarter, Mariota stands in the shotgun as the offense is just outside the red zone. Oregon has 11 personnel on the field with a trips formation to the right and the TE alone on the left. MSU has their base defense in the game and show Cover 1 in the secondary with cornerback Darian Hicks in the slot across from Allen:


What does Oregon run here? The same look as the previous example. Mariota and his running back mesh in the backfield while the receivers set up a bubble screen on the outside. There is a twist, however, as the two “blocking” receivers are not setting up to block – they are running switch vertical routes:


The outside receiver cuts inside on a post route while Allen runs a wheel route to the outside:

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Mariota hits Allen in stride and the Ducks cut the deficit to two. From this angle you can see how the play develops in the secondary. MSU has three defensive backs (two CBs and a safety) set to cover the three trips receivers. Cornerback Trae Waynes (#15) sets up across from the outside receiver, with Hicks in the slot across from the middle receiver. At the snap the defenders recognize the screen action and switch responsibilities well, with Waynes breaking forward on the potential screen receiver while Drummond, the safety, waits for the receiver breaking to the inside. Hicks just needs to stick with the slot WR. But the cornerback gets knocked off his stride by the post route, creating enough separation for Mariota to find Allen:

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The CB cannot recover in time, and the Ducks have themselves a touchdown and new life.

The difficulty in playing defense against Oregon lies in trying to account for each offensive threat – both horizontally and vertically. A defense can do a good job in switching responsibilities or staying home, but the slightest misstep or hesitation creates an opportunity for the offense. Look for Oregon to use both packaged plays and vertical routes to create these chances on Saturday night.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

Video Courtesy of Fox Sports.

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