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Film Study: Oregon Part 1

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A game this great deserves more than just one film room session.

Washington v Oregon Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Sometimes re-watching these games can be a bit of a chore. Looking for good clips, capturing them, breaking them down, etc. Then, one day you wake up and realize that the 10 touchdowns the University of Washington scored against the Oregon Ducks were not something you dreamed, but rather an exuberant reality. We know that some of you have been waiting for this, ready to engage in a session of mass fist-pumping.

Let’s get to the film; up first is the passing game. An Ode to Jake Browning:

3rd and 8:

This is both a good read by Browning, and a play he might like to have back again, because there was more on the table to be had.

Oregon is running a delayed blitz from its right outside linebacker. The defensive line is slanting to its left; by doing so from a delayed blitz, it ensures that the Husky offensive line will effectively all be blocking “down” (to their right) and create a blitz lane with a one-on-one opportunity against the block of a running back. Had Oregon sold its blitz prior to the snap, UW could have adjusted protection with each man blocking one man to his right, leaving Trey Adams to pick up the blitz (a more desirable situation, for sure). As it was, with the slanting d-line, Coleman Shelton had no one to block.

Lavon Coleman is initially looking to help up the middle, and sees the blitz a bit late. However, he’s able to force the linebacker to go wide, which is nearly as effective as a solid block.

You can see that Browning is reading the safeties at the snap, and as he’s dropping back. Their back peddle clearly shows that Oregon is playing a cover 2; more precisely, this is what’s known as the Tampa 2, with the middle linebacker dropping into deep zone coverage in the middle of the field (see below). Once he sees the blitz coming, Browning knows that he has man coverage on the outside receivers. He knows the run to the side vacated by the blitzer is open, and it’s just a matter of how many positive yards he’s going to pick up. The secondary is clearly not aware of his run until he’s well beyond the line of scrimmage.

This is a good, safe decision. And it’s tough to be too upset with a 10-yard gain. But there was more to be had. If Browning had taken one step forward, or even held his ground, before he started to run, he could’ve hit John Ross in the middle of the field, with only a middle linebacker five yards away to beat for a potentially huge play. One quarterback fundamental is “Never throw back across your body,” but Browning had time to set his feet to make a solid throw. More risk, for sure, but potential for a lot more reward. In the same vein that the Ducks in coverage didn’t see Browning run, they also wouldn’t have seen Ross, who I’ve heard is rather fast...

Still, tough to complain about a very nice gain. The run was a smart play, especially since it was 3rd down.

Here you can really see Oregon’s defensive line slanting to create the blitz lane. Coleman doesn’t actually get a block, but he gets in the way enough. Also, you can see that the Duck covering Drew Sample had no idea Browning was running; Sample does a good job of simply continuing to run his man out of the play. Jake barely has to begin his pump fake to convince the corner that he will throw to Sample. Once he turns his back, it’s an easy scamper to the first down marker.

See John Ross open in the middle? See how far away the linebacker was from him?

2nd and Goal:

Ah, the fade....When it’s executed like this, fans wonder why teams don’t run it more often....

(Football 101 Tip - the difference between a “corner” route and a “fade”: A fade is usually thrown to a receiver with an outside release off of the line of scrimmage, and is thrown over the receiver’s inside shoulder. A corner route is thrown to a receiver coming off the ball straight up the field, and over his outside shoulder. Both routes require good touch on the pass, and the receiver finding the ball as quickly as possible in the air and adjusting to it.)

This is both a great throw, and a great catch. It’s a route that could’ve been called in the huddle, but it could’ve just as easily been a sight read between the quarterback and the receiver based on the defender’s alignment. The cornerback over John Ross is lined up in press-man coverage, with an inside technique, meaning that he’s looking first to take away the inside slant, and “giving” Ross the outside of the field.

This is a one-step drop from Browning, from the shotgun. The ball is thrown well before Ross makes his break toward the sideline. While the pass looks “underthrown” to a degree, throwing the fade short in this manner actually gives the receiver even more room to get separation from the defender.

Here you can see the inside technique from the cornerback. At the snap, he shifts even further inside, to ensure he’s not beaten with a slant. John Ross’ legs are apparently made with space-age technology, as his stutter step at the snap freezes the defender and keeps him from being able to jam Ross at the line of scrimmage. Ross gets an easy release, and immediately looks over his inside shoulder to find the ball. Easy adjustment, easy catch. Touchdown. You can see how the ball being thrown short actually gives Ross an extra step of separation at the catch. The defender simply doesn’t have the same opportunity to look back and find the ball.

3rd and 6:

The first thing Browning does on this third down is notice that Andre Baccellia is lined up on the line of scrimmage, which “covers up” Darrell Daniels and makes him an ineligible receiver. Browning motions Baccellia to get off the line of scrimmage to avoid a penalty for ineligible man down field on Daniels. That is some serious awareness in a loud, hostile environment with Oregon showing blitz to make sure his young teammate is positioned properly.

The Ducks sent their boundary-side cornerback on this play (the cornerback on the narrow side of the field). It’s also the corner coming from the quarterback’s blind side. The timing is good from the blitz as well; Browning doesn’t recognize it until after the snap, as he’s focusing on the offensive right side of the field, where he has four receivers. If Browning had seen the blitz, he would’ve been able to step forward and toward his left, and then work a scramble drill with tight end Drew Sample, or to Myles Gaskin who was also working back to that side of the field after coming in motion. The linebacker covering Sample would’ve either had to attempt to make a play on Browning (leaving Sample open), or stay in coverage (leaving the run open).

As it was, Browning does a good job eluding the rush, and peels out to his right. He does a great job keeping his eyes down the field, looking for one of his receivers on that side.

Darrell Daniels finds a soft spot in the defense but he loses track of where he is on the field and allows himself to drift out of bounds. Had he simply stopped this is an easy first down.

Baccellia is open down the field as well. It’s a risky throw, and Browning would’ve had to take a big hit to make it. On third down, the smart play is to pick up the easy first down, and to keep rolling down the field.

There’s no real reason for Daniels not to know where he is on this play. He just lost track. I’ll bet it’s not a mistake he makes again this season, but credit him for recognizing the pressure and finding an opening. You can also see Baccellia breaking free. On second down, the gamble might have been worth it. But Browning does the right thing, and as you can see above, when he begins his throwing motion Daniels is still in bounds.

1st and 10:

The real beauty of this play is showing how Washington was able to manipulate Oregon’s defense by formation and motion. Washington moves its two tight ends from one side of the field to the other, as they frequently do. This changes the side of the offense’s “strength,” and forces the defense to react. How they react frequently gives the Huskies some indication of the type of defense being run (man vs. zone), and may tip off or alter a blitz. In this instance Oregon’s linebackers both shift, and the secondary moves to a deep single safety, which usually means man coverage underneath. The cornerback over John Ross (top of the screen) backs off, which means he knows he has little safety help over the top and needs to keep his man in front of him at all costs. This is further shown by how the defense moves when Dante Pettis comes across the formation.

Jake Browning knows conclusively that he has man coverage with John Ross. The cornerback is exceedingly deep, which means this out route that Browning ends up throwing is going to be wide open.

This is by no means an easy pass, as it travels about 25 yards in the air, and has to be on a line. This isn’t the best example of this throw from last Saturday; it’s underthrown in this case. But Browning threw it three or four other times, about as well as can be done. It’s the type of throw NFL teams are going to want to see him make, and Browning was fairly exceptional Saturday.

2nd and 10:

Oregon has all 11 players within five yards of the line of scrimmage on this play. There’s no safety over the top of the offense’s right side, meaning the Huskies are going to have man coverage.

John Ross is the outside receiver on that side. He takes an outside release, and is basically running a streak down the field. Because there’s no safety help, though, Browning has the entire field to work with, and by leading Ross back to the middle a bit, it makes both the throw and the catch easier.

And make no mistake, this is a beautiful throw. It’s a 25-yard laser that hits Ross dead in stride, high and tight, right at the back of the end zone. After Ross prevented the corner from getting a good jam at the line of scrimmage with his wide release, this throw became indefensible.

Credit is due here to the protection as well. Oregon only has three down linemen, but blitz two linebackers through the same gap. Nobody panics; Nick Harris picks up the inside of the two blitzers, and Jomon Dotson cuts the legs out from the other. Browning is left with a nice, clean pocket in which to throw. Or squeeze some orange juice. Or both.

Highlights all around, boys. You’ve earned a bye.

The release of John Ross is over after the stutter step. The Oregon defensive back can’t even get close enough to grab Ross, although he tries a couple of times.

1st and 10:

This is another very well-designed play. The Huskies are in a trips formation to their left, with a tight end on the right side. Oregon has a single high safety. At the snap, the inside receiver of the trips set (John Ross) runs a slant. The middle receiver runs a go route to occupy the deep safety. Dante Pettis is the primary receiver on this play, all the way. Due to formation and his distance from the ball, his defender is playing him soft. Pettis drives hard down the field to 15 yards, and then turns 90 degrees back toward the middle; this is called a “deep drag.” The defender is playing soft on Pettis, and then makes the call to turn his back toward the middle of the field. This allows Pettis to make himself an easy target for Browning, and Browning delivers a strike. Notice that Browning actually delivers the ball well before Pettis is through his break.

Also note the spectacular work Trey Adams does in protection on this play. The Ducks have four down linemen, and then send a linebacker on a blitz through the “B” gap (which is the space between the guard and tackle). The Huskies don’t actually have this blitz covered, as the running back is helping on the right side. Adams gets a good “pop” on his man as he’s retreating to form the pocket. He’s aided by the fact that his man spins back toward the middle of the field; because this happens, Adams is in position to also get a shot on the blitzer. Had the defensive end (Adams’ man) stayed wide on his rush, he may have created a lane for the blitzer to get to Browning and force him to move or at least throw the ball earlier. As it was, Adams is able to block two men on this play, and do more than his share in keeping the pocket clean for Browning’s throw.

1st and 10:

Oh, the poor Oregon secondary....After being brutalized by John Ross the entire first half, they are starting to get gun shy here. The Huskies again use formation and motion to manipulate the Ducks’ defense to get the look they want. At the start of this play, the single high safety would’ve been in position to probably take this play away. But the Huskies motion Ross out of the backfield, and the Ducks rotate accordingly. Ross is given so much attention by the Ducks’ secondary that the safety is almost 100% eyes on Ross at the snap. After he realizes Ross isn’t going deep (and is entirely a decoy on this play), he then reacts toward the streaking tight end who is running a wheel route up the sideline.

Dante Pettis runs a nice route here. And as an aside, he’s the most polished route runner for the Huskies this season. The safety over Pettis is playing soft coverage. Pettis drives hard down the field to ten yards. At this point, he’s basically got the entire intermediate and deep route tree to sell to the safety; he could keep going long, he could break toward the corner, he could break toward the middle on a drag, he could break out on a deep out, he could come back to the QB on a dig or a curl. Basically, he’s putting a ton of stress on his defender. Pettis gives a hard jab step toward the corner, which turns the safety slightly, and then cuts back to the middle on a post route. He and Browning have the entire middle of the field to work with at this point. Oregon doesn’t blitz this time, and Browning has all day in the pocket. He delivers a strike over the middle, away from the safety Pettis has already beaten, and too far away from the safety covering the tight end’s wheel route for him to make a play.

The only mistake on this play is hard to see see in this clip: Pettis inexplicably puts the ball in one hand and extends it. It ends up coming free as he hits the ground. The refs are really picky on plays where pass-catchers end up on the ground. There was no reason for Pettis to do anything other than hold the ball tight with two hands as he went down. Reversing the incomplete call and allowing the TD was the right call, but it could have easily gone the other way.

3rd and 9:

Jake Browning, the actor.

The Huskies bring Baccellia behind the formation right before the snap, strictly to draw the Ducks’ attention. It works beautifully. Browning takes the snap and sells the screen hard to Baccellia with his eyes. The receivers on the offense’s right also sell the screen to that side by blocking. Meanwhile, on the back side of the play....

Jomon Dotson steps to his left as if he’s pass blocking. Jake Eldrenkamp and Trey Adams form a pocket, and then “pretend” to be beaten. As the pressure closes in on Browning, who’s still staring to his right, Browning then comes back to his left to find Dotson and a convoy of blockers. Special credit here is due to Drew Sample, who lines up split to the left, and does a great job of sealing the middle of the play and allowing Dotson to get from the middle of the field and up the sideline.

From behind, you can see the Ducks following Baccellia’s motion. Nobody in the back seven notices Dotson, nor pays attention to the linemen releasing down the field. You can also really see Sample sealing off the middle linebacker, and eliminating the one threat to this play. Browning’s eyes sell the play to the right, and then it’s then just a great effort by Dotson to find the end zone.

Here’s one other thing to notice, and it’s more about the Husky defense: Oregon’s defensive line is given a free rush to the quarterback, which is a dead giveaway that the offensive linemen have released down the field and there’s a screen play developing. Oregon ran several screen variations on Saturday, and what you’ll see if you watch those plays is that as soon as the Husky defensive linemen realize they’ve been left to rush the quarterback, to a man, they all stop rushing and begin looking for the receiver or running back that’s about to get the screen pass. Even if they don’t make the play, they clog it up well enough that the blockers releasing down the field have to contend with them instead of taking on the second level defenders. Or, they at least create “noise” the receiver has to negotiate instead of simply running down the field. Disrupting the timing, sucking up blockers; that’s good line play on the screen. It’s great awareness, and phenomenal discipline to take the counter-intuitive tactic of not taking a wide open rush toward the defenseless and back-peddling quarterback. Oregon’s line lacks that awareness or discipline, and instead continues a fruitless charge toward the quarterback, which is exactly what the offense wants.

Jake Browning played an exceptional football game Saturday against the Ducks. He had as many touchdown passes as he did incompletions (6). Credit should be spread around; the line, tight ends, and running backs did a fantastic job of providing him time, the receivers got open and made plays, and the offensive coaches created a fantastic design to get the players open when and where they wanted them. The part of the performance of the passing game that Husky fans should find most appealing is that it’s imminently repeatable. Everything was done within the context of the offense, as opposed to a special few players making spectacular plays. This was a bludgeoning of efficiency that was built in the week leading up to the game instead of sheer athleticism that came in the moment.